In reading the remaining four essays before the trip, I have come to realize how institutionalized (and I mean that in every sense of the word) discrimination in this country is. Of course I knew slavery was an institution of suffering in its own right, but I always thought that was the lasting effects had been mitigated with time. I also knew that Jim Crow was not something of the distant past (it had been the reality less than a century ago). I knew that Jim Crow laws were a reaction to the passage of the Civil War Amendments’ abolishment of slavery and so I’m not sure why I didn’t make the connection until now. I suppose I, like many people, have the tendency to view history as far removed from myself. But in reading these essays, I have come to realize that the actions of the past continue to affect me directly.
The book chapter “The Rebirth of Caste” really put the history of discrimination in perspective for me. Never before had I looked at the true reason why our country treats race as it does. I always thought that the answer to why this country behaved the way it did/does was just because of racist people determined to hold unto their illegitimate privileges. But that answer is incomplete. The way that discrimination has been weaved and bred into our laws and social norms speaks far more to our current issues; just blaming racist people ignores why they’re racist, why this country abides by their “rights” to be racist.
All of these essays speak to how the issue of discrimination is treated in this country. I view the issue similarly to this analogy: if you have a potentially fatal illness and there is a potential cure but it will take years of hard work to achieve so you choose to treat the symptoms instead of the illness itself, you will die. This county continues to treat the symptoms of discrimination instead of the causes of discrimination itself. I admit that I used to treat just the symptoms too. I used to volunteer mornings at a homeless shelter feeding people breakfast. Instead of asking what causes these people to be homeless, I was wondering why is this specific person poor. I was also trapped in the “bootstraps” theory, which only serves to perpetuate the problem.
The history of discrimination has to be fully acknowledged, and not just the history that is comfortable to discuss, but the history that is uncomfortable too. The psychology of the discriminator and the discriminated has to be analyzed to understand why it is so pervasive and why it has not yet been put to rest. The dichotomy of other and self has to be abolished because it only serves to perpetuate differences that divide. The current system of meritocracy, while great in theory, continues to hurt those who have been affected by discrimination. All of these have to redressed, and that fact is daunting, but it needs to be done. I’m sure that those who lead the Civil Rights Movement were overwhelmed and scared, but they did what had to be done anyways. I’m sure that women during the first and second wave of feminism were overwhelmed and scared, but they did what had to be done anyways. I think that because racism and discrimination has become covert instead of overt people have become complacent with the status quo. My dad used to tell me that people will not rise up until the status quo has been so disturbed that inequalities can no longer be ignored. Why wait until the situation becomes so dire that the choice to create change becomes no choice at all? Why not start chipping away at institutionalized inequalities now?
I’m excited to confront some of the history of discrimination this country experienced so that I can take it with me and confront today’s issues better informed.