Rejecting Unconscious Discrimination

Alex Kling Guest Writer Hatred rules us all, for hate can envelop the human soul. I’ve heard it from parents, teachers, rabbis, and friends. I’ve heard how southern black Americans were lynched for crimes they didn’t commit. I’ve heard about the Middle East, where amidst the rubble of every intifada hatred is born again. I’ve taken a class on Nazi Germany and I’ve heard the cries of twelve million men, women, and children as they stumbled into the showers. I’ve heard, and I have listened. Every day as I’m coming home from school I pass a park that lies two houses from my door, a park filled with slides and swings and trees. Every summer kids swarm the park, yelling and screaming as they play, only to raise their voices one more step as I open the front door to walk my dog. All kids love my dog. They ask if he can come play, but he knows better; the omnipotent sign forbids it. It was this sign that caught my eye one October day, a thick black permanent marker adding two blunt words: “No Dogs or Bicycles or Jews allowed in Park”. I live on the north side of Chicago. That means I get to feel safe. No guns, no gangs. No open racism. I attend a small private school where the administration steadfastly prohibits any harassment based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, body type, or personality. We have careful conversations within fishbowls, any arguments limited to polite speech and raised hands. I can guarantee that nowhere at the Latin School of Chicago will there be any acts of discrimination. I cannot guarantee the lack of discrimination. There’s a difference. “Sorry, someone just left my office. What were you saying?” My mother was on the phone. “No Jews. On the park sign.” I only spoke with half my attention as my eyes focused on the sign. My mind raced. I walked into a closet to find a roll of masking tape to form a veneer but none was there, and I asked where it was. “What do you mean you don’t know where the tape is?” I looked in the closet again. The tape appeared. I taped up the sign. I’ve thought for a while now that modern discrimination lies below the conscious mind. The outward racism of the fifties and sixties, the Jim Crow Laws and the KKK, has all but disappeared. The large majority of Americans refuses to be outwardly racist, if only because the large majority of America prohibits racism both legally and socially. Yet discrimination remains. The census continues to display lasting economic gaps between black and white, men and women alike still associate with typical gender roles, and the government denies gays their rights again and again. Though at Latin, LAW and feminist ISPs have attempted to change the societal views of feminism, outside the school doors, gender roles flourish. My mother is one of only nine women in one hundred and sixty at an executive level at her firm, and my father has told me numerous times how he doesn’t feel as comfortable mentoring a young female associate as he does a male one. It’s not that he’s sexist, or doesn’t believe women can achieve the levels men can. It doesn’t feel the same. I walked home that day not angry or scared or upset or sad but confused. Did writing those words give some sort of sick thrill? Was it fun? If someone meant to cause fear, they could have done a whole lot better. If you want to scare me, burn a cross on my front lawn. Two words on a sign make me think more about you than me. Have you ever met a Jew? I doubt it. Do you hate me? Yes. Do you know why? No. You just do. Never questioning, never wondering why. People don’t want to hate. Everyone always has the greater good in mind. From 1939 to 1942 Nazi Doctor Karl Brandt ran a program in which hundreds of thousands of mentally and physically disabled children were put to death. We call it murder. He called it euthanasia. He ran medical experiments within concentration camps that tested the effects of starvation on the human body. We call it torture. He called it progress. The Nazi Party truly believed that the Jews wished to take over the world. It was kill or be killed. They thought they were in the right. I must have told the story a dozen times the next day, watching as shock leapt into each face. No one had a story to match. As I walked down a dimly lit stairwell at school, I ruminated on the day before, ruminating as I’m apt to do when descending five stories on dimly lit stairwells. I thought once more about the person who had written those words. History has shown that mankind naturally leans towards hate. With that in mind, could I truly fault anyone for doing what is natural? Xenophobia rules the world, and I don’t mean that princess fighter girl. We fear those who are different, and maybe it will always be this way (perhaps regardless of how many Touré-themed moderated discussions and assemblies we have). So I return to the previous question: Can I blame anyone for feeling this natural xenophobia? No. I blame them for giving in. Mankind cannot be complacent with its age-old faults; we must always revise, for contentment with our flaws leads but to their continuation. Racism will only end with a recognition of unconscious biases so that they may be consciously rejected. An inability to do so can only result in two words appearing on a playlot sign, two words that could only be written because someone felt comfortable enough to write them. Two words written by someone who gave in to his unconscious biases and that illustrate to us all what will happen if they follow: The slow but real regression from American equality.]]>