Thursday, November 17, 2005

Article: Racist

Since were on the topic of college and racism, here's an editorial I wrote for my college newspaper a couple of years ago (with a few edits).


By David Hamstra

Lately I’ve been wondering: Am I a racist? I’ve never asked myself that question before. I just assumed that I wasn’t, because I was raised to believe racism is bad. But now I’m wondering whether I’m a racist myself.

Consider the evidence: It was easy for me to say I wasn’t racist when I was living in Minnesota and Montana, where I grew up and went to school. As a white, upper-middle class American, I was exposed to very few people from other races, and those who I did meet had generally adopted the white American culture. Now isn’t that really a racist attitude—that people can have other cultures but not around me.

But wait a second; I’m not that bad. I’ve since traveled around the world and enjoyed various cultures. I even went to work at a Spanish speaking church for a year. I came to school in Canada because I wanted to experience life in a different country. My best friends at this school are a Portuguese-Canadian, a Moldovan, and a Korean; I’m even going to marry a Canadian. I enjoy all the cultures of the world and want to experience as many as possible.

I’d better stop there; before I start sounding like the patron saint of multiculturalism or something. I’ve got my dark side too, although I don’t like to admit it. This dark side resides in a deep, emotional level of my being and takes shape in the form of stereotypes and prejudices.

It tells me black people are too loud and don’t study enough and that Koreans are uptight and study too much. I think that Russians are cynical and materialistic and Hispanics are lazy and never on time. And, most hypocritically of all, I think that Serbs, Croats, Israelis, and Palestinians are racists.

Wow, I don’t really seem like a nice guy anymore, but we’ve all got this dark side don’t we? As an American living in Canada, I get this sort of thing all the time. I think Americans are probably the most disliked race in the world. Apparently I’m narrow-minded, have a poor knowledge of geography, and am overly patriotic. I’m also expected to account for President Bush’s decisions and apologize for American foreign policy since WWII. So we’re even now; if you can be racist against me, I can be racist against you.

What a terrible way to live. I hate it when people stereotype me, and I don’t want to stereotype people either. We can talk as much as we want to about the characteristics of different races, but it is people who are important.

That’s why I’m so thankful to have come to CUC. I have come to be good friends with people of many races at this school, and that has helped break down my stereotypes. For example, I don’t consider my Eastern European friend to be either cynical or materialistic, and that challenges my stereotype. That doesn’t mean that something so deeply rooted can instantly leave me, but it does mean that I can approach Eastern Europeans with a more open mind.

Having an open mind is the key. When I meet an American, I don’t think of him as an American but as a person. However, when I meet someone who looks like an American but speaks with an Eastern European accent, I think of her as an Eastern European and assign those Eastern European qualities to her. In some ways this helps me approach her in a culturally sensitive way, but it also inhibits me from getting to know her as she is.

So am I a racist? I don’t even know how to define racism, but I think the fact that this question bothers me indicates that I am not. Yes, I have my stereotypes and prejudices, but I’m trying to keep them from affecting my interaction with people from other cultures. My opportunities for fulfilling friendships and exciting experiences are limited enough as it is without the constraints of racism. No, I am not a racist.

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