Deliberate ‘blinders’ of ignorance to discriminatory justice

ABy Jon Farnsworth As a white male, I have been born into a class of privilege. I do not have to walk down the street while getting dirty looks, worry about being pulled over by a police officer solely because of my skin color or walk through a suburban neighborhood and have racial slurs yelled at me. And I can certainly go to a job interview and not worry about being rejected or being accepted solely because of my skin color. Despite not being exposed to discrimination directly, I see it around me on a daily basis and it does personally affect me.

The American culture is and has always historically been disproportionately discriminative and racist against people of color (not to mention inherently sexist as well). Since the inception of our nation in 1776, minorities (American Indians, blacks, gays, those in the religious minority, etc.) have been systematically refused rights. Blacks were deemed three-fifths of a person under our Constitution, Article 1, Section 2 (later reversed by the 14th Amendment in 1868). Adding further injury, blacks were said to be noncitizens under the Dred Scot Supreme Court case of 1857. Thus, the rights and freedoms granted under the Constitution did not apply to blacks.

Even when blacks were eventually allowed by law to vote, they were subjugated to Jim Crow literacy tests, poll taxes and the grandfather clause, not to mention the threat of violence upon them and their families if they attempted to vote.

One of the many privileges that white Americans enjoy is a choice of racial ignorance. Because race is a touchy subject, most of those who have a choice to ignore the subject – primarily whites – choose to do so. Caucasians can elect to put “blinders” on and ignore the systematic racism and discrimination that is inherent within our society. But then again, why would any rational person want to burden themselves with something unnecessary?

Unfortunately, avoiding the issue of race and discrimination is detrimental to the progress of equal rights for all. A bumper sticker reads, “No one is free while others are oppressed.” I am inclined to agree with that statement.

Deliberate ignorance is part of the problem. The mentality of racial indifference and ignorance indirectly supports the current inequities (the status quo) that are intrinsically built into society. If you are not part of the solution for eliminating discrimination and oppression, you are in part perpetuating the current problematic system. Since most, if not all, prejudice stems from the lack of knowledge, those who overlook the issue of race would tend to be more susceptible to holding prejudicial ideas.

I will be the first to admit I am not 100 percent free of prejudicial belief – no one is. Furthermore, because I am a straight white male, I do not fully know how it feels to be anything other than what I am. I do not personally know how it feels to be discriminated against because I am not in a distinct racial or sexual minority group. I only can attempt to empathize and utilize the knowledge I have to base conclusions on how it might feel to be a person of a different race, sex or sexual orientation in today’s society.

So what can we do as citizens to help this problem? A plan of action is ultimately up to each individual; however, I believe knowledge coupled with personal experiences and leadership positions equip a person with the best weapons to fight actively against discrimination and oppression.

A few suggestions: Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort level.

Attempt to dispel your own as well as other’s illegitimate beliefs on a daily basis.

Fight for equal rights of all human beings.

Object to racially or sexually charged jokes – if you remain silent, you indirectly affirm what has been said.

Ignorance is not bliss; it is a cop out. In the end, each person is responsible for taking responsibility for their actions. We might not be able to drastically change the world today, but our daily efforts will help bring a brighter future for tomorrow.

Jon Farnsworth is a former University student who now attends Gustavus Adolphus College. This column originally appeared in the Gustavus Weekly. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]