The world recently celebrated United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and I wanted to write about it.
I thought I would discuss the importance of ending racism and progress being made in that direction. But as I began researching to prepare, I found that what I expected would be simple became a much deeper, more introspective—even soul-searching—endeavor.
I’d never thought of myself as a racist. But had I ever truly examined the subject? Taking a personal dive, I realized that at a young age I’d been a product of my environment and failed in many ways to do my part to curtail the spread of this particular brand of hate. It’s difficult to admit it, but I see now that I have said or done things that contributed to it. Confronting this made me realize why so many racial issues still linger today.
“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”
Beyond “researching” and “writing” about it, a more essential task seems to be discovering what I need to do myself to combat racism. And I then saw clearly that “the answer” is for each individual to take responsibility for their own actions—those that have enabled such hate to maintain a foothold in our society.
Even seemingly trivial things like laughing at a joke can perpetuate the problem. I never thought of my parents as racist before, but my own mother used to use a Yiddish word for people of color that had me laughing as a child because it sounded funny. Considering this from my perspective now, I can see it for the bad example it was.
Of all our various social ills, racism reaches the highest climes, causing atrocities like slavery and genocide. It’s hatred borne from fear of others different than oneself. It’s fostered in children who emulate adults, and later cemented by a confluence of similar attitudes until it becomes systemic.
Nelson Mandela’s quote is apropos: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
The United Nations marked the 21st of this month as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and this year’s theme was “youth standing up against racism.” If adults can restrain themselves from displays of racial animosity, then there’s hope that the next generation can grow up without it. As Mandela says, it’s much more natural to love.
So let’s do our part and let’s stand together. The United Nations has been working to address racism since 1948 with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a worthwhile read for anyone who sincerely wants racism conquered.
But at the end of the day, it really boils down to the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
In the end I realize that, on many fronts, no matter my age or experience, I’m still a work in progress. The same can be said for ending racism. It’s a work in progress.
And let’s keep the emphasis on progress.