You Can’t Legislate Racism

I continue to have these little aha moments.

Working in corporate Human Resources as a trainer I realized that it didn’t matter how much money you threw at harassment free workplace training, it wasn’t really going to work. Why? It’s kind of like addiction. You have to want help. You have to hit some kind of rock bottom and realize that you have a problem. Until that happens you’re never really going to change. Outwardly you might make it look like you’ve seen the error or your ways but then, when you get home, you consume a quart of vodka.

African American siblings, early 1900s
My grandmother (left) and her siblings circa 1935.

It’s the same way with serial harassers. You can tell them not to treat another person in a manner that would upset them if the behavior were directed towards a loved one, spouse, parent, child, sibling (which makes perfect sense to me). You can go through exercises and role playing, show them videos that make them cringe and think they’ve learned something. Heck, they may even think they’ve learned something. The next thing you know, you’re in a meeting with them trying to review an employee’s maternity leave and they say, “I don’t understand why she can’t just keep her legs shut anyway.” What, like you’ve never had sex with your wife? How many children do you have? But I digress.

What I’m getting at is that you can pass laws intended to grant people equal access and treatment. Those laws, rules or guidelines however are not going to change the way we think and feel, only the way we  behave, mostly. Laws don’t change mindsets. Laws don’t change the root causes of stereotypes. In many instances opposition to the laws and rules, et al. will intensify any feelings of “otherness” and increase any perceived justification for mistreatment. Basically, any law intended to mitigate racism always holds the possibility of increasing it. Chew on that.

So what do we do? I’m not an expert but I’ve been absorbing as much information as I can. This musing is based on observation, some reading and watching and little else. I truly believe in the value of education, open mindedness, self observation and a willingness to learn. Watch your own behavior. Be aware of the stereotypes that you invoke. Let your friends know when they say or do something offensive. Don’t let a resolution made in the aftermath of another tragedy fall by the wayside. Recognize, respect and embrace everyone’s differences regardless of… anything. Sit with discomfort.

The pecking order of discrimination was again amplified by the Trump administration and that is the topic of another percolating post.

Some of my recent inquiry was conducted with:

My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem

A Promised Land by Barack Obama 

The 13th a film by Ava DuVernay

Leave a Reply