Why We Can’t End Racism


(Courtesy of Sarah Mirk/Flickr)

By ALEX SEYAD, Opinions Editor

I want to start this article with an extremely unpopular opinion: we are all, to some degree, racist. Whether we realize it or not, we all have had at least one moment in our lives in which we have felt or thought something that was racist towards someone or a group of people. Some of you are probably wondering if such a thing is possible or shaking your head because you believe that the notion of you being racist is ridiculous. Unfortunately, our society has wired us to make false predispositions about the people around us based on their skin color and social background.

Think back to the last time you were walking alone, late at night, on the streets of Manhattan and there was one or more men of color walking behind you. Whether you consciously thought it or not you were most likely afraid because you believed that there was a possibility you were going to be attacked or mugged. This is because when we think of a late night on a lonely street in New York City, we assume that a shady character is out to get us; but think deeper to who you picture that character to be and then tell me if my initial premise was incorrect.

You may be thinking that this doesn’t mean you’re racist, but I argue that this is racism on its most basic level. I, as a man of the Islamic faith, will admit that I get concerned when I see someone dressed in a full niqab (Islamic dress for women that covers most of the face) on my flight. Do I really believe that this person is a terrorist or poses any threat to me? Not at all, but some small part of me still accepts the notion that anyone who fits the media’s description of a terrorist may possibly be one. I find it absolutely ridiculous that I would think that about someone of my own religion, but I had to come to terms with the fact that I still hold a lot of predispositions about people that I have collected from my environment.

Many of us have family, especially those who are elderly, that still hold conservative views about certain minority groups. While we don’t hold the same views as these family members, we inadvertently carry those thoughts with us in our daily lives. In the world we live in today there is no clear way to identify who is racist and who isn’t, but this has become more concerning with the recent white supremacist uprisings. As we saw in Charlottesville, the average white supremacist looks just like the average person. They work with us or stand next to us in line to get coffee, but we are none the wiser. We see that in situations like these many people rise up to challenge the status quo of white supremacy, but we are often faced with the same question: why does racism still exist?

Racism exists because we choose to accuse others of this crime but forget to look at ourselves and those around us. We often forget that we fear what we don’t know, and that in itself can be attributed to racism. A person from an upper middle class white family can never understand the struggle of a person of color whose family, at some point of their history, had to start from the bottom. We can say that we are forward thinking and that one of our goals is to change the lives of those who are marginalized, but what do we really know about their struggles?

As a heterosexual male, I can’t claim to understand the struggles of a person who identifies as LGBTQ. But, as a brown-skinned Muslim, I can identify with the struggles of those who face the oppression of Islamophobia because it is a battle I’ve faced every day since I was five years old after 9/11. No one can claim to understand my struggle, but at the same time not one person can say they haven’t felt that sense of uneasiness sitting next to a stereotypically dressed Middle Eastern person on a plane. The grander point that I’m trying to make is that if our society wants to make greater strides to end racism on a social level, then before we speak out against others, first we must address the possible demons within ourselves. As it says in the Bible: “Only he without sin can cast the first stone.”