This was not an easy post to write. Or to read. The title alone is a problem, as of course we are not ALL racists! Or are we? But I worded it that way on purpose, because the common human condition is to accuse always the other of being a racist, and not ourselves. Racism is an ugly word, and to accuse someone of being a racist is one of the ugliest attacks we can make. But to be self-aware, and I believe self-awareness to be one of the most important traits of a human being, is to recognize how prevalent racism is. Including within us. Within me.
A recent poll in the United States found that 50% of Americans believe their society is significantly racist. And what did the other half think? That they were not the racist half, and the other half was. Racism is a condition where you believe that the other has qualities that render them inferior, to yourself of course. It is a condition that is automatically blinding, the greatest racists don’t think they are. Closely connected is the idea of ethno-centrism, where a whole people group or nation believes they are the center of the world, the center of global historical narrative.
Racism is not the special problem of any one nation, but is present in every nation, in every human heart in some form. It takes deep self-awareness of the problem and a personal continual conversion to ferret it out. Sadly it is also present in many religious institutions, in many devoted followers of Jesus or Buddha or others. I see it in my own heart, and want to hate it deeply when I do. I was taught in my educational system to believe that my nation was the best in all of human history, the center of the world. But when I went to India in 1982 and found out that not everyone loved my country, it required some re-imagining and has ever since.
But it is not just the United States that has a major problem with racism. It takes different forms in many other nations as well. In India, where caste is one of the most pernicious forms of racism, those that are dark-skinned are virtually never featured in advertisements or in the movie and TV industry. Recently I started again looking at as many advertisements in India as I could, and could hardly ever see one with someone who was not “wheatish” complexioned. There are even facial cream advertisements, where you can buy a cream to make your skin “fairer”.
Recently an actress in Bollywood named Shriya Saran weighed in on the ads endorsing these creams. She was responding to a social media post by Abhay Deol, who decried campaigns by celebrities who endorsed these facial creams as “demeaning, false and racist.” A debate continues to go on in India about skin colors and the racism involved. Ms. Saran writes in a recent article in the newspaper The Asian Age, “To be honest, I think it’s a fair argument to ask actors not to endorse fairness products. We don’t need to be fair (light-complexioned) in this country, and there’s a whole lot of madness about being fair. Many advertisements are projected in a manner that if you aren’t fair, you don’t get married–and when you get fairer with the creams, you do! I think that’s a little troubling. There are also films that I’m not proud of… but there are two ads that I’ve done that I’m particularly unhappy with. I once endorsed Fair and Lovely and then Coca-Cola.”
That is rare self-awareness and candor in an actress from any nation. Racism affects us all, everywhere. It can be over skin color, over educational accomplishments, over our religious faith or lack thereof, over our nation as opposed to another. The list goes on and on. A radical conversion is needed in our hearts, a radical commitment to not just go on with business as usual. A radical self-awareness to see what is inside our own hearts and inside our neighborhoods and societies. There is a very important word in all this, the word repentance. It means to turn in another direction, to turn away from the racism in our hearts and nation and turn towards the other.
Yes, this is not a happy post. But these are not happy times. And to find true joy in the midst of unhappy times is to walk in the repentance of a heart self-aware to its own areas of pride and racism. Yes, I am a racist in my own heart. But I want to change. Please help me, please help my community, please help my nation.