DC: Racism Redefined?
One of the oldest and most defended characterizations of human nature is our innate desire to be hateful for no reason. Racism has been woven into the fabric of our culture, of our upbringing, and has long worked its way into our daily lives. And while racism still rules in smaller cities and communities throughout this great country, in larger, more culturally diverse cities like D.C., the nature of our diversity disproves the beliefs that racism is founded on. Right?
Admittedly, D.C. has long been a city where racial lines run deep enough to tear the city into pieces. But racism, by definition, is the belief that there are differences in people based on race and skin color. The fact that there are so many colors, so many cultures, and so many characters in D.C. makes it impossible to be racist. Sure, you can hate a group of people based on the color of their skin, but the only thing you can prove that they have in common is the color of their skin, and even that isn’t the same from person to person.
Which brings up racism’s brother and sister: prejudice and stereotyping. Prejudice takes racism to a new level, allowing an opportunity to hate someone for whatever reason you can come up with: sexual orientation, obesity, homelessness, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. And our prejudices are often based on stereotypes that we inherit and develop through environmental situations, first-hand experiences, TV and social influences.
As a culture, prejudices and stereotypes will always exist. Attributing them to other people is part of our human need to make sense of the world around us. But it doesn’t have to be negative. George Carlin said about racism that it isn’t the words we use that are bad, “it’s the racist * who’s using it that you ought to be concerned about.”
That being said, is it possible to make prejudices and stereotypes funny? For example, when you see an Asian person parallel park, do you watch to see if they can do it on the first try? Are you ever shocked when your North African cab driver doesn’t drive like he’s being shot at? Or have you ever said “Hola” to a Latino person and they reply “Hey, how ya doin’?” in plain English? What about a white man who rushes past a crowd to get to the door first, only to hold it for everyone else?
On another level, D.C. has generally two types of residents: those who live here because they live here, and those who live here because they work here. Still, it often seems like everyone here is on his or her own mission. But with D.C.’s high rent, high gas, high cost of living and horrible traffic problems, who has time to hate, really? Granted there are some nice paying jobs in this city, but seriously . . . most of us are working two jobs (or more) just to pay rent and buy food. Then again, the stress from that can cause anyone to lash out I suppose. Even then, our frustrations and aggression need not be taken out on others.
As Washingtonians, we should be working to set an example to the rest of the world on how cities can function. D.C. has the ability to break stereotypes based on color and ethnicity and race. This city teaches us that we’re all different in ways that should be celebrated instead of degraded. D.C. gives us an opportunity not to judge a book by its cover, a person by his or her skin color, or cultures by the people who represent them—because just when you think you’ve got it figured out, someone will come along and prove you wrong.
Deklan is a writer & photographer living in D.C. by way of the BP oil spill.