Experience would tell me that if I hear a slur about Mexicans floating through the air of my local park, it probably was lofted by a white male.
Experience would tell me that if someone died last night in a gang-shooting in Compton, CA, it was probably a young black male.
Experience would tell me that if a school shooting and suicide happened yesterday, it was probably disgruntled white boys.
Are these the root of prejudice? Racism?
When I walk down Colfax street late at night in Denver, am I more alert to the presence of a homeless man, or a well-dressed urbanite?
This is painful to talk about, because there is prejudice in each of our hearts. A lifetime of side comments, misunderstandings, and lack of open discussion about our differences and similarities in society leaves these blank spots in our knowledge of our fellow Americans.
So this snap judgments, this hunches, are these prejudicial? On some level, I think they might be. But I do not think they form the core of racism, and not all of categorization is ill-intended (those hard nosed Irish-Catholics).
We must go deeper into the belly of racism. There at the core, I believe, is dehuminization. When I look at a man who has tragically chosen a life of crime in inner city Compton, and see “another black gangsta,” I have dehumanized him. When I hear that white man lofting his disrespectful remarks about Hispanics, and see “an ignorant redneck,” I have dehumanized him.
I have categorized him in a way that removes him from me, that makes him dissimilar and separate. In reality, that young black male is my brother, a fellow human. That young disgruntled white youth is tragically deceived, and probably believes that no one gives a sh#$ about his life, so why not take it and a few others at school?
Our cultures vary widely, and with it our values, beliefs, and behaviors. But at the core we are HUMAN. And when I look at someone, be they a success or a failure in the eyes of our society, I should see a brother, a sister.
And when that brother or sister–or myself–makes tragic choices, it is a cause for sadness. For when one of our kind drops, the ripples are felt throughout humanity.