Is racism environmental? Does it even matter?

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 29, 2016, 6:56 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that I found most difficult about my teen and college years was trying to understand how people could be racist. It's easy enough for me to say that it isn't logical, but as a learned behavior, environment obviously matters. I can anecdotally observe that there are fewer people who are blatantly racist every generation, especially if you compare my grandparents' generation to Millennials, for example, but where does it come from?

As much as I can write it off as something that's simply illogical, I'm willing to admit that maybe my own experience leads that thinking. Starting in second grade, I was a part of the desegregation effort in Cleveland. I was bused across town so the schools would not be overwhelmingly black or white. Naturally, as a kid that age, other kids were just other kids, and if it weren't for the fact that school administrators weren't always taking race counts, we wouldn't know any better. It wasn't until I moved to an almost entirely white suburb in high school that I encountered racism, and it was shocking.

College ended up being surprisingly diverse for a school in rural Ohio, but involvement in residence life and a robust international program certainly helped with that. It was my first exposure to the non-Christian religions, and a broad group of people from India, Japan, the Middle East and Europe. And of course, working in software, I don't have to tell you that it's not entirely unlike working in the United Nations. I feel very strongly that this diversity has given me a more complete world view.

Here's the thing though... I really can't reconcile the idea that a grown adult can engage in hate based on race, religion or any other factor, just because they may have been subjected to it in their youth. Eventually you reach a point in life where you should be deciding for yourself what you want to be, and how you want to exist in the world. There is no upside to racism, misogyny, homophobia or any of the other -ism's. None. You gain nothing.


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