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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tools for Dealing With Racism

Tools For Dealing With Racism:
By: Christine Smith (McFarlane)

Racism, what is it? Racism is defined as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” (Oxford Dictionary)

Encountering racism is something we have all have faced in one way or another. It can happen anywhere, your school, your workplace, a store, or between groups of friends etc. Someone can spew hate towards you, make fun of you in some way or another, and it leaves you angry, upset, even fuming and feeling hurt. You shake your head when it happens, and you wonder, “Did I do something? What did I do wrong?”

You may think that it is something you have done or said, but in all likelihood, it is not something that you have done. It is in what the other individual believes and is saying to themselves and then projecting it onto you. They say hateful things because they have been taught that from someone in their own lives or have witnessed it and think its alright to put someone else down because of their race and what they think it represents. It makes them, as an individual, feel strong.

You know in your heart, that racism is wrong, and you can either let the words or actions of this racist person knock you down or you can ask yourself  “what can I do to combat racism?”  Sometimes it can take one incident of racism to make you act, or it can take a few incidents before you act, but the important thing is-you make the move to stop it from happening.

First, when we encounter racism or discrimination, it is easy to turn the other person’s words or actions inward and blame ourselves, especially when it attacks our character, our family or our community. But if you stop and think for a second, this reaction is something the person spewing the hate wants to see. You cannot give them this satisfaction because if you do, then this person wins. Easier said than done right? Believe me, I used to think the same.

So what do you do then? If we think that we cannot change things, that some situations in life are beyond us and that we must leave it to others to fight, we do what we do best- let people (usually with hidden interests) manipulate our emotions and we react.
If someone insults you or ridicules you, your faith, your race, or whatever, don’t react-respond. Reacting is what the other individual wants from you. By refusing to react, you are making a stand. Use skills that will disarm the other person-be patient, use humor, try to understand why they are thinking the way they are, speak up when you come across something that is blatantly racist, but speak calmly.  If you cannot do it verbally, walk away from the situation until you have cooled off and then address what you felt was wrong, or do it in writing.
Racism is difficult and hard to deal with. We often ignore or laugh off slurs because we do not want to create a scene, but what we can do is calmly question the belief that is being projected onto us and take the opportunity to initiate a discussion-a calm discussion!
To fight against racism individually, you can be a role model to others, treat everyone fairly and with respect – the exact same way you would want to be treated. On a community level, you can go to friends who are not involved in the racism, to your Elders, or an adult you trust, and ask them to help you create a community dialogue.  This can be done through awareness programs, volunteering, using social media in a respectful way, or once again writing about it.
Last but not least, the most important lesson for you to learn about dealing with racism or discrimination is, “You are not alone”. It may feel like you are, but really you are not. Do not be afraid to go to someone you trust. Tell them what is happening to you, and do not be afraid to say “I need help in dealing with this.”
To admit that you need help with someone/something does not mean you are weak. In fact, you are showing a strength that not many people can appreciate. Change begins with you.

(Previously published in New Tribe Magazine 2013 )

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