LETTER: Don't be unfair to 'Unfair'To the Telegram: For months now I have been reading angry and defensive comments about the Unfair Campaign and have wondered why so much ado about nothing regarding this controversy — a lot of it involving over-sensitivity and racial paranoia.
To the Telegram:
For months now I have been reading angry and defensive comments about the Unfair Campaign and have wondered why so much ado about nothing regarding this controversy — a lot of it involving over-sensitivity and racial paranoia.
Apparently, many are angered by what they interpret as bias accusations that would put their own skin color on trial. But I think it is obvious these accusations were not intended, or even delivered, by the Unfair Campaign.
Rather, the message intended by those who organized the campaign was simply to shed light on the fact that none of us can fully understand the social obstacles and barriers encountered by members of races other than our own — for a very simple reason — because their races are not our own. This applies to our understanding of what people of different religions, classes and ethnic groups experience. Similarly, we cannot fully appreciate the everyday challenges faced by those with disabilities or chronic illnesses, simply because we don’t require a wheel chair or special medications. We also cannot fully understand the cultural barriers faced by women, nor can men completely understand what it is like to give birth.
I don’t think anyone wants to point the finger of blame at others merely because they might experience anxiety when meeting someone of a different race, religion or ethnic background. After all, being somewhat uptight about these differences is a matter of social conditioning and probably exists — at least a bit — in all of us.
If I see one black man in a room otherwise full of white people, it is not racist to immediately become aware of that person — just as it would not be racist for a black man to immediately notice one white man in a room full of African Americans. I admit that if I were to see an olive-skinned man wearing a turban, boarding the same jet plane as me, I would probably be a little anxious. And, I would probably feel this anxiety even though I know full well that, not all Arabic people are Muslims, and very few Muslims belong to violent terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda. Some of my fear would undoubtedly result from the fact that, because I was raised as a Christian, I know very little about Islam, or the political forces in many Arabic countries.
Our president recounted a story from his youth as a student in New York I think, when a white man in a fancy looking car tossed him the keys, telling him to be careful not to scratch it when parking. Just because Obama was standing in front of a ritzy restaurant, and because his skin was dark, he was automatically assumed to be a parking valet. Being a white person, I can appreciate the inappropriateness of this kind of prejudice, but I cannot really understand what it means to be confronted by such things on a daily basis — the way many people of color certainly must. I have no direct experience of being judged solely on a different genetic code that determines the pigmentation of my skin. Nor can I really understand how demeaning it must have been, to be forced to use a rest room designated for only “colored” people.
I don’t believe the Unfair Campaign really intends to make me, or anyone else feel guilty because of the color of our skin, and, I have little doubt that none of my Scandinavian ancestors, going back dozens of generations ever owned, sold, or dealt in slaves. But because I don’t even carry a genetic legacy of wrongdoing on this account, I am possibly even more unaware of racism because of my specific family tree.
I did not own slaves, none of my ancestors owned slaves. I was a supporter of the civil rights movement as a teenager, and I happily voted for Barack Obama in 2008. However, I am a person who, because of my European background, is the recipient of traditional and unmerited social privileges, just because my skin happens to be white — that’s just the way it is.
The people behind the Unfair Campaign don’t intend to make me feel guilty or anxious because of my racial heritage — they only mean to make me and others aware of the way things are, because remaining unaware, we tend to respond only with apathy and indifference. Neither quality will bring positive change to the world.
Peter W. Johnson,