I want to convince you that not all incidents related to race should be considered instances of racism. And not all people who make comments about race are racists. In this book, I argue not only that we misuse these terms—“racism” and “racist” but also that this misuse of language damages society. My goal is to convince you that the way to repair the damage and to prevent further harm is to engage in ongoing, open, and honest dialogue. In essence, I am proposing that we do the opposite of what we’ve traditionally been doing. For example, in virtually all our public forums, we have a practice of harshly and negatively reacting to every incident related to race without thought for whether or not our reactions are justified. As a consequence of this reactionary response to such incidents, we automatically come down hard on racial offenders and then immediately shut down all reasoned conversation about race—until the next incident. Then the cycle begins again.
Unfortunately, there is a mixed bag of reasons why the United States continues to have problems with race. There is the unquestionably dark history and legacy of slavery that continues to affect our interactions with each other; one scholar calls this “legacy effects.” Another part of our problem with race is the fact that indeed there are still ignorant racists with malicious intentions to treat people of color poorly simply because of skin color. Also, on one side, adding further to the confusion and pain are erroneous accusations and claims of racism that leave innocent people feeling at a loss, while on the other side, there are legitimate claims of racism that fall on deaf ears, also leaving victims of racism feeling at a loss.
Perhaps our biggest problem—the one that leads to the issues I just mentioned, is that we do not fully understand what makes a particular incident racist. I emphatically state again that not all incidents related to race should be considered instances of racism, and not all people who make mistakes involving race are automatically racist. Ultimately, when we combine all of these reasons, many people are left feeling hurt, angry, confused, guilty, and afraid to say the wrong thing or anything about race! As a result, conversations shut down before they even begin, and as a further consequence, we cannot move forward with thoughtful, honest, and sustained dialogue.
The first step toward disentangling the confusion generated by labeling any negative racial incident as an instance of racism is to introduce another word into our everyday lexicon. This term is “bias” or “racial bias.” The concept of racial bias is distinct from racism, and, by the end of this book, you will understand why I stress the importance of making this distinction. With this understanding, you will also eventually agree with the necessity of distinguishing these terms and labels as we decipher incidents related to race when they happen. Moreover, you will also learn specific tools and language that will help you critically analyze situations that happen in your everyday life and in society, thereby affording you the opportunity to insightfully break down each situation into its simplest form and to make sense of it.
This book is not filled exclusively with theory and technical terminology. In other words, I don’t just talk about race, racism, and bias. I also offer solutions and practical advice on how to deal with situations related to race. My single most important goal, however, is to create a space for genuine dialogue on race, racism, and racial bias. Therefore, I have to caution you that there will probably be moments in your reading when you feel emotions such as anger, frustration, guilt, mistrust, and confusion. However, I encourage you to keep reading! Rest assured that by the end of this book, you will feel hopeful about the future and at peace in the knowledge that you are not alone.