Sunday, July 08, 2018
Racism isn't innate, it's learned | Opinion (Tallahassee Democrat column by Michael Dobson)
Evocative column by Tallahassee lobbyist Michael Dobson -- I agree, racism is learned. "You have to be carefully taught," says the song from the musical, South Pacific:
Who is a racist can be a gray area for me. I am slow to label someone a racist, while recognizing racism quickly.
For some, my slowness to judgment suggests my own allegiance is questionable. It can be tricky when the postulated racist outing of the day is someone you know as a colleague or a friend.
No one is born a racist. After entering this world, we go to an environment that shapes us. Until then, we are all innocent and in many regards equal.
That place we are taken to — that family — is where our social class is defined. It's where we are taught attitudes about how we interpret the world and the people in it.
For some of us, our lives are a cocoon existing only of our own cultural makeup. We never venture out, mix or depend on someone who is different from us. This is where racial indifference is bred. It’s pure and unapologetic, and is based on ignorance. It only changes when one’s life journey takes us places foreign to our base upbringing. It’s the proverbial blind spot we often call "tone deafness."
It’s important to see the world outside your own. My small town permitted only a pinhole view of the world. As a child of the segregated South, I was blessed to also live intermittently in the Northeast.
There, we were only segregated by income. For the first time I had white, Jewish and Puerto Rican neighbors. It opened my eyes to a world upside down from the segregation we accepted as normal in the South.
I returned to Florida the first year of school integration. I was re-entering a South in which white teachers had never taught black kids, and vice versa. And black and white kids had never gone to school together or played together.
My journey took me to college, where I learned the cultures of people from different parts of the country and the world. I later lived in California, when it had a diversity Florida had not yet experienced. My experiences have allowed me to see God in the triumphs of humanity — in what man has overcome.
All men are created equal, but it benefits few to hold to that truth. That would lay bare the fact that postulated superiority is a myth. And if that’s a myth, then the idea of one pigmentation by nature destined to hold all wealth and knowledge is a myth. It's a pathological construct made of greed, selfishness and insecurity — social and economic engineering of the most sinister kind.
So, when I see good people I know say something racist, I blame something larger than them. They are a product of a narrow environment. None of it was their choosing, as no one chooses their parents.
And yes, in a free society we can all strive to overcome the disadvantages of our birth, but starting the great race of life behind is indeed a dogged challenge.
In 1982, while riding in the mountains of San Diego County with my dad, he looked into the hills and lamented, “I sometimes wonder why God made two races.” He said he thought it was to make us get along.
I believe Dad was right. We all have been done a dirty deal about race. It truly is time to just get along.
Michael Dobson is a longtime Tallahassee lobbyist, founder of Dobson, Craig and Associates, publisher of Talking Florida Politics and founder of the Florida Renewable Energy Producers Association. Reach him at Michael@dobsonandcraig.com.