You can play the role; but don't let the role play you.
By Reggie Smith
"If you had a choice of colors, which one would you choose, my brother? If you could be day or nights, which one would you prefer to be right?"
Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions
We all know that stress is a major cause of illness, and racism is certainly a cause of stress. Racism is stressful for the perpetrator and victim alike. In many instances the media, because of a slant in one direction or the other, has fortified the mindset that supports individual and institutional racism. The reported facts of a story reaches so far, so fast, via multimedia, that it has the effect of coloring public opinion one way or the other. Those opinions, when fed by the information portrayed in the media, can cause racism to perpetuate itself, and people to act out on bad information.
There is a big difference in reading the news and being the news. My first experience with the media on this level was when my father, who was a NYC police officer, was said to have died from a heart attack at a party while off duty, when actually he was shot to death at that party. After seeing the difference between what was fact and what was reported, I learned to not trust everything I see in the media. When I was younger, I had already learned the difference between the report and reality when I would listen to my parents and their friends discuss the issues of the day. Their interpretation hardly ever was the same as what was being reported. I try not to let the news stories stress me out, and I try to not act until I'm satisfied that I am properly informed. The stressful effect of racism is a real health issue.
My individual reality often is very different. For instance, on a recent Sunday morning, my wife and I wanted breakfast while in Sanford, Florida just prior to the beginning of the racially incendiary trial of George Zimmerman, the accused killer of young black man Trayvon Martin. My instinct was to not spend any money in Sanford in boycott support of my domain opinion that Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin because he was black, the police let Zimmerman slide because he was white, so Sanford, Florida is a racist town and I should not support it by spending money there. However, we were curious (and hungry) so we went to the Sanford Cracker Barrell and observed that there were a number of interracial families dining there.
Everyone there was more than cordial, we saw some historic pictures of black people on the walls (a rare sight at Cracker Barrell), and I conversed easily with two of Sanford’s police officers (pictured right) who happened to be a black man and a Latino woman---->. So, I still feel pain for the family of Trayvon, and I still think there is institutional racism hiding in Sanford, Florida (and America); I have to be careful about how I act on what I think. I do not in any way condone the rationale for the perpetrators actions, but I understand how media fed stereotypes may have negatively influenced his thinking. Zimmerman was playing the role of a security guard, but he took the role too seriously and the role played him and it became his reality.
Racism has diminished in America, but the vocal minority are messing it up for everybody by not letting go of an outdated behavior. Most people realize that judging people according to race is counterproductive, at best, and deadly dangerous at worst. In my life I deal with institutional racism regularly, but have had no problems with individual white people based on race. So, even though we have ideas about the role we see ourselves playing, it is a shame to let that idea get in the way of reality.
The media does not help the situation when a company like General Mills does an interracial Cheerios commercial and most people love it, but the news is about the few that don't. Young people, for the most part, as evidenced by their lifestyles, are showing that racism is played out. I'm glad I was willing to be open-minded to the possibility that all of Sanford, Florida was not racist. Love, forgiveness, and open mindedness are not always easy, but that is what it takes to overcome the ignorance of racism. Ironically, those are the same qualities that help create an atmosphere for healing.
"In our deepest moments of struggle, frustration, fear, and confusion, we are being called upon to reach in and touch our hearts. Then, we will know what to do, what to say, how to be. What is right is always in our deepest heart of hearts. It is from the deepest part of our hearts that we are capable of reaching out and touching another human being. It is, after all, one heart touching another heart."
~Roberta Sage Hamilton~
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