• Dr. Kim Stephens

Racism is not welcome here

Updated: Sep 26, 2019

A Caucasian man asking an African-American woman and her five-year old daughter if they have showered before entering the hotel pool – this latest incident at the Westin hotel in Pasadena, CA is another example of a person acting on his bias. The problem was further compounded by the Westin manager’s behavior when he did not address the issue to the satisfaction of the offended woman. She was refunded her stay at the hotel, but she felt the man should be punished. But what punishment is appropriate for a hotel guest speaking rudely to another guest? Should he be kicked out of the hotel and banned from all Westin hotels in the future? Possibly.

What this incident brings to light is that racism and bias have not disappeared over time. The ugly thoughts about people that existed during segregation are still floating around in the minds of people. We would be naïve to think they disappeared during the last 50 years just because laws have changed, our schools are integrated, and we elected a Black president.

What did happen over the past 50 years is that society worked together to enforce its norms. We as a society decided what was acceptable and shunned those that didn’t meet that standard. And seemingly we had decided as a society that racism was unacceptable and those that chose to be racist would be forced to exist on the fringe and in hidden groups away from our civilized society.

In contrast, some people in the current environment feel emboldened to act on their biases – biases that they normally would have filtered or hidden. So what has changed? What did we as a society do to shift to a point where we are allowing racist language and actions to exist openly? What have we done to give the okay to racists to feel free to share their hatred without fear of being called out?

It’s very simple. We have failed to condemn it publicly. We, the keepers of society, have turned away from our obligation to all of humanity and become self-centered and isolationists. We talk about allowing people to have free speech, and I agree wholeheartedly with that. But free speech does not allow people to be free of the consequences of that speech. And we as a society are the enforcers of those consequences. We must openly condemn those that spew their racist feelings, words and actions on others. We are not infringing on their rights by doing this. Instead, we are embracing our responsibilities to call them out for divisive behavior. As a society we are molding the world around us. We use cultural norms as nudges to keep people from going too far out of the boundaries of accepted behavior. We have done this since the beginning of time.

So, for those of us that wring our hands at the state of society and the uncivilized tone of discourse, we have the power to take back our society and make it a place where everyone is included. And I even mean those that have racist ideas. They need to learn we do not accept their behavior, and they must conform or keep their ideas to themselves because they aren’t welcome here in a civilized society.

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