A few months ago, I received a phone call from a very upset man from our community who wanted my help in suing his employer for racism. We spoke for quite some time about the matter. He was clearly upset and there is clearly a problem at his place of work, but nothing he described was racism. There were many problems such as poor management, ignorance on behalf of his employer, rudeness, but nothing that amounts to racism. Since I am not a lawyer, I gave him the names of a few lawyers he could consult.
My earliest recollection of racism is from childhood. However, it was not an attack on my person or that of another Latino. Rather, it was a Latino who was making derogatory, racial comments about someone who wasn’t Latino. On another occasion, while shopping with my mother, I remember overhearing a woman say, “that woman gave me a racist look.” I was very young at the time and didn’t think much of it, but it stayed engrained in my mind.
A few years later I began to question the logic behind that statement. What exactly is a “racist look?” As I grew into adolescence and later, adulthood, my understanding of racism, and the many false beliefs associated with it, grew also. Racism is not something we “feel”. It is a deeply held bias and discriminatory outlook towards those of another race.
My greatest discovery is that racism is both inclusive and exclusive. Disliking a person or a group and excluding them from equal treatment due to their race is racism and so is giving preference to a group or person, and therefore including them, based on their race. An example would be the election of President Obama. If you voted against Barack Obama because he is black, you are a racist and by the same token, if you voted for him because of his race then you, also, are a racist.
This is not to say that I have never witnessed or been the victim of racism. Quite the contrary. my parents immigrated from Mexico, then moved to Chicago along with the families of my two aunts. My uncle, Rafael, was the leader of the family and felt that there was more opportunity in Chicago than in Southern California where we had family. It was there in Chicago, first in the inner city and then in the suburbs, that I became intimately acquainted with racism. I have witnessed people being assaulted because of their race. I have watched high school students, in Chicago, hurling racial slurs at a businessman who was walking through the foyer of my high school all because he was a different race. In order to being guilty of racism an act has to be committed that displays a racial discriminatory bias.
All too often an upset individual will call me claiming to be the victim of racism. After discussing the incident for a few minutes, the real complaint is the way they were treated. If a person is rude that doesn’t mean that they are racists. It makes them rude and poorly-raised, but whether they are committing racism is more than someone’s opinion or hurt feelings. Many of the people who complain to me about being the victim of racism did not get what they wanted, they had to pay a consequence, or someone was rude to them. The only types of racism that will ever affect any of us directly are racist acts. No one on the face of the earth, and I believe the research confirms this, can read someone else’s mind.
If we wish to counter someone’s viewpoint or opinion, we do so with facts not feelings. Calling someone a racist because you disagree with their message or because it hurts your feelings is childish. The road to racial equality begins with self not laws.