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Deconstructing Racism

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I don't know about any of you all, but when I was growing up in my community during the 70's and 80's there was a lot of stereotyped bigotry aimed at every single ethnicity except whites.

Somehow white people always seemed to escape the worst of the vitriol, but always, in my mind, seemed to have earned it the most. It was the other groups of people who had the names attached to them, names that were so mean, so powerfully loaded.

My dad used to freely use the "N" word until I aggressively admonished him (to put it lightly). My sister could often be heard saying "chink" or "flip" in a derisive manner about the woman down the block at the convenience store, or about my friend, Mary Jay who was Filipina. The word "paki" was commonly used (george bush used it publicly recently, claiming ignorance over its derogatory connotations; if thats the kind of "leader" the us feels comfortable with then no wonder so many people do not like the us, but thats another post) and freely used with no distinction made between people actually from Pakistan and people from Indian; in this revisionist labeling scheme, all of "those people" were "pakis". My cousins could be heard calling each other "bush n****er" freely.

My mother was the only person in my family, aside from me, that I remember who had friends other than white or NDN. She was also the only one that I remember who was vocal about her dislike of white people for their racism and her rejection of their racist legacy. She is the only person who talked with me about the use of racial slurs and why it was wrong.

This use of slurs came, of course, from the white community who had coined them; my community adopted them because they wanted in some way to align themselves closer to the locus of racist power and further away from the focus of it. By adopting white racist behavior they could fool themselves into thinking that they weren't that bad after all, there was someone who could be worse than them, and using those words set up the border between "us" and "them".

And so it is that in my collected lexicon I have an entire section of racial pejoratives and slurs that bubble up to the surface of my mind, unbidden, from time to time when I interact with someone who is Chinese, African-American, Japanese et al. The word rises to the surface like a bubble rising from deep inside the earth, like those bubbles that rise to the surface of mud pots at Yellowstone park; they burst and smell like sulphur.

Racism makes victims and colluders of all of us. If we are not actively rejecting it and working at re-wiring the cognitive structures in our minds that support a racist framework, then we are allowing it to continue. If we are denying the depths to which racism has implanted itself in all of our minds, then we are allowing it a place to thrive in peace.

It makes victims of all of us because it dehumanizes all of us. It dehumanizes the white racist by allowing them to only experience life as a segmented being, trapped within their rigidly defined roles of what "human being" means and is; it requires that they stifle their sense of humanity and justice by requiring that they deny it of and to others, that they retard & delineate their capacity for compassion. It results in twisted, distorted human beings.

It makes victims of the targets of racism for obvious reasons; by denying our full membership in the human community and all that entails and is a consequent. Again, resulting in distorted human beings.

Maslow's theory of self-actualization posits that we climb through a hierarchy of needs toward an ultimate realization of our humanity and our inherent connection & relationship to all members of our species by the mere fact of our existence alone.

It is an old Cree tradition that we are all related--human, plant and animal.

So long as power is seen as a commodity with no reponsibility attached to its use; so long as it is seen as the privilege of a "chosen few"; so long as it is misused and abused; so long as it is seen as a drug and not as a terrible burden that must be employed with responsibility and discretion, human beings will always be in conflict.

We are such a sad, sad species.

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