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Pet Sins January 2005

Excuses for Remaining Racist. Hope for Change?

I had a Chinese friend G who didn't care for black folk. When I first met G years ago, he had the view that it was perfectly 'natural' for Asians to hate and fear blacks. Other friends and I pointed out that such attitudes were based on unfair generalizations about black people, but he was convinced of the rightness of his views. A few years later, I mentioned to him I heard of instances in which Asian parents intervened and broke off their children's relationships with black individuals through threats and other forms of pressure. I told him that this bigotry hurts real people. This time, he was not able to insist on the rightness of Asian racism against blacks, but he was still unable to rest the blame where it lay - with the racist parents. Instead, he put the blame squarely on the children and their black friends, "If they were strong and believed in themselves, they wouldn't have let anyone break them up. Therefore it is their fault, and not the racist parents'." Anything to make ourselves feel better, eh?

At that time, G also said that he did not find himself attracted to any black people, and that it 'wasn't racist'. It was just that he hasn't met a black person he found attractive, he said. I said that it is media brainwashing that presents certain 'races' of people as less physically attractive than others. He was of the opinion it had nothing to do with the media, but added, "Even if we don't find blacks attractive because of media brainwashing, why should we change our views? No black person is going to suffer because I don't want to date her. She can always date someone else. This kind of racism doesn't hurt anybody."

But somehow, after yet another few years, G's views had apparently changed. I would like to think that it is because the friends who did not agree with his biased views influenced him indirectly. When one of his Chinese friends said he was attracted to Asians,but not blacks, G reminded his friend that such preferences were due to racism, but in a humorous way (Chinese don't seem to like verbal confrontations). When another Asian friend passed hostile remarks about blacks, G told him that there were good people and bad people in any race, and that people should be judged as individuals. Just a few years ago, these biased views expressed by his friends were held by G himself. I don't believe in trying to talk racist people into changing their minds, but the example of G shows that people can change if there are positive examples around them. Although I find dialog or contact with racist people rather wearisome, I still think some good can come of it.

There is another Asian American woman whom I've been in contact with for a number of years. Although we have little in common and don't particularly enjoy each other's company, we converse occasionally on issues of 'race'. She is not a person who is respectful of religious or cultural differences in general. She has condemned Christians, Blacks and Vietnamese, amongst other groups, in very 2-dimensional, black and white, simplistic terms.

Like G, she has progressed over the years from being unapologetically racist to defending her right for remaining racist: "I am racist. Everybody is racist. As long as you don't act on it, it is ok." I wonder how one can justify something that's morally wrong just because everyone does it. If she's on the receiving end of things, perhaps she would think differently. I also wonder how someone like her can be racist and not 'act on it' - sure, maybe one can "not act on" one's personal racism and give a job to a qualified black candidate even if one doesn't like blacks, but there is the personal realm where people continue to be rejected because of race, and we can't deny that this hurts too. Perhaps rejecting a potential friend based on race is a more subtle form of injustice, but it is injustice nonetheless.

Who knows, in the future, she might chuck her racist attitudes altogether? Much as I am often offended by her bigoted and opinionated remarks, I decided not to stop contact with her. Cutting her out of my life may be comfortable for me on a personal level, but I believe that greater good would come to all if we keep channels of communication open. If we stop dialog, we miss opportunities for growth and change.