The Racist Reset Program

*Originally posted July 2013, while I was living in Japan*

Today, for Yeah Write’s 31DBBB challenge, we are writing opinion pieces. Thanks to my “Noble Hero Complex” article being Freshly Pressed the other day, I have not stopped discussing opinions on morality in video games with lots of awesome commenters (Thank you everyone!) Here’s to hoping we can carry some of that constructive and reflective energy into a new topic with even murkier waters…

We need a reset button for discrimination.

A man shoots another man (boy?) in the chest. One dies, the other walks free.

George Zimmerman & Trayvon Martin
…is it just me or have the majority of photos of Zimmerman out there been photoshopped to make him look more “white?”

An airplane crashes tragically.  The public jokes about it and the press joins in.

Racist pilot names "prank"
Have fun with that lawsuit, KTVU. You earned it, and no amount of blaming the proverbial intern will save you.

A couple of men (boys?) kill and maim scores of people at a marathon. An entire swath of the population that share similar beliefs or skin tones as the pair, but nothing more, tremble in fear of the backlash.

Boston marathon crowd of potential suspects
After the Boston Bombing, before anything at all was known about the suspects, social media “detectives” were quick to point out potential suspects that “looked like” terrorists.
image: Gawker

There has been lots of shameful news lately which makes it very clear that even in our multicultural, globalized and information-inundated world, racism is alive and kicking. So far, we have not been able to find a lasting solution. The internet is trying: there are wonderful people on here using it as a tool to stand in support alongside total strangers, such as the folks at “I am Trayvon Martin,” and even “We are not Trayvon Martin.” Unfortunately there are also terrible people on here using it to broadcast their bigotry to a whole new and wider audience, as painfully illustrated by many of their words collected by Public Shaming.

Like many of the commenters on the “We are not Trayvon Martin” Tumblr page, I am a young, university-educated white woman. Unlike many of them, I have felt the stares. I do know the feeling of someone moving their purse when I come near, or putting themselves between me and their child when they walk past, or assuming I am of a certain origin I’m not and judging me based on that assumption. Because of the colour of my skin. Because I live in a country where “white” is not the “default,” and where “being white,” as comedian Louis C.K. quips, is not “clearly better.”

man crosses street to avoid man of different ethnicity
And, yes, people have crossed the street to avoid me on multiple occasions.

I am not asking for sympathy, or a pat on the back. I am under no illusion that what I have experienced comes anywhere close to some of the great injustices many of my fellow humans have experienced and do experience on a regular basis. All I am asking is for you to play along with a little thought experiment.

What if we could push the “reset” button on people’s perceptions? What if we could pluck people out of their worlds for a while and drop them into another world entirely, to give them some time to experience life in a place where their ethnicity means something entirely different – or where it means nothing at all? If we were able to enact a “Racist Reset Program,” what would that look like? Could we allow everyone to experience, for a time, the challenges of expat or immigrant life? Could we put people in online groups and assign them to interact constructively with the stories of people outside their usual realm of understanding? Could we put them in classrooms like this one? Could we build a virtual reality, a video game of sorts, for people to experiment with ethnic identities the way we experiment with moral ones?

"Nintendo is the only 'N' word you'll ever need"

I wonder… if everyone could step outside of themselves, outside of their worlds for just a little while, and experience and reflect on what it’s like to be the “other,” the “them,” if we would have more grace for one another.

*** Update: This post earned the honour of being an “Editor’s Pick” over at Yeah Write for their weekly writing challenge #118. Hooray for everything!

20 thoughts on “The Racist Reset Program

  1. This would be perfect for teenagers and young adults. I would certainly participate, I need a cultural slap in the face – I think we all do from time to time. But this would be great for the youth, get them whilst you can still mould their spongy, adapting brains into compassionate humans. Excellent post.

  2. I enjoyed this post very much and the title caught my eye. In lieu of all that is happening I am glad to see someone has the ability to employ constructive thought and not reactive and emotional back lash. 🙂

  3. I still cannot comprehend why people feel the need to think other people are less worthy of respect based upon anything other than character. I’ve tried to write about this too and it is difficult. Is it human nature to be wary or is it taught? I hope it is taught so that as we teach our children and they teach theirs, all of this bigotry will someday come to an end.

  4. I think the virtual world does help, in one way b/c people can “meet” without any preconceived notions about what “that sort” of person would/should be like. But on the other hand,I think the anonymity of things like twitter & tumblr & etc can exacerbate: I wonder if hte people on publicshaming, for instance, would say any of these things publicly? Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be called out on it, but it just means that sometimes not seeing people face to face can make things worse rather than better. Which means I’m kind of throwing my hands up in despair — except to say, as you point out in the comments, that actual engagement with difference matters. Live somewhere else, move somewhere else, know someone else…shake yourself out of your ruts… that’s what will get us to a world where Trayvons will be safe…

    1. For sure. Anonymity does make people a lot braver, and not always for the better. I think it’s encouraging that people like those behind publicshaming can use it as a tool for accountability, though! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. This is a really thoughtful and insightful response to the problem of racism.

    I like your idea of a classroom and a virtual game, but I truly think the best thing we have is the internet, as it allows us to connect with the ‘person’ before we necessarily find out the matter of ‘race’.

    1. I agree, the internet offers a whole new forum for interacting with others that we wouldn’t easily encounter otherwise – I love reading the stories of others from totally different worlds than me. It’s a shame when people use it to fling hatred rather than to learn from one another, but as with any tool of technology, the potential for using it well or poorly always exists.

  6. I love this idea. I am a white girl who came from a very multi-cultural area, and honestly feel uncomfortable when there isn’t enough diversity – it really exacerbates the “us” vs. “them” dialogues people tend to have when their culture is too insulated.

  7. This is an awesome idea. I would be especially curious to find out what things would be like if we just had no notion that race, religion, gender or orientation mattered. Not that they were gone, just that they weren’t on our radar as a difference that was appreciable. Sort of like eye or hair color. More often than not, these are things that we don’t take into consideration for most anything other than personal attractiveness preferences.
    It would be really cool to see how people would react to other people when all they saw them as was PEOPLE and not part of some larger group that they have thoughts about.

    1. If only, eh? I wouldn’t ever want to do away with differences entirely either, I just wish we could collectively learn to see them as something that makes life richer, not as a way to build ourselves up by looking down on the “other.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  8. Congrats on the Freshly Pressed! Enjoy it!

    The high school I taught in for over ten years was very diverse with dozens of different countries and ethnicities represented. And there was a different power dynamic within the student body than in the society at large. The “Racist Reset Button” would be lovely, but it needs to apply to everyone, not just one segment of society. Oh to create a Utopia!

    1. Thank yoooouuuu! (*^O^*) And I agree that it needs to apply to everyone, you may notice I took “Redneck” out of the title… I was originally planning to talk about the redneck stereotype and the idea that only white people can be racist (or “rednecks”) but I didn’t get there in 600 words (for Yeah Write’s challenge) so I realized it wasn’t appropriate. Another day, perhaps! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 😀

  9. Love it. Fascinating video! We live in a very “white” town in an increasingly multicultural country, so I love the school my kids go to – I think at least half the class that my daughter and son are in are from overseas. For my oldest son’s eighth birthday party, he invited his three best friends for a sleepover – from three different countries and two different religions. My daughter’s best friends are called Ashleigh, Bhavya (I think I’ve misspelled that), and Saki. I’m hoping that experience of diversity will inoculate them against racism in the future – although my primary school class was equally diverse and I’m aware I still hold stereotypes. I do my best not to act on them though.

    1. Thank you! I think growing up in a multicultural environment definitely helps kids have a better understanding of the value of diversity – but I think it’s equally important to see a positive attitude toward that diversity modeled in the adults and leaders around them. If they see adults modeling negative attitudes towards people that are “different,” they’re gonna pick that up. If they see adults embracing and celebrating diversity, they’re gonna pick that up.

      Personally I grew up in multicultural neighbourhoods as well, between two homes: when I was very young, I watched my stepdad and his friends make some pretty derogatory comments as new immigrants from other cultures – mainly South Asian ones – gradually moved in. So, I was uncomfortable around these newcomers. However, several years later my real dad reacted entirely differently and when his next door neighbours, from India, moved in; he befriended them and tried to learn a bit of their language. So, I became very interested in learning about other cultures. This is oversimplifying it a lot, but I didn’t reach the attitudes I have today in a vacuum – a lot of people, for better or worse, influenced me along the way. All that to say, kids are super impressionable. Thanks for your comment! 🙂

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