What is racial prejudice?
To be racially prejudiced means to have an unfavorable or discriminatory attitude or belief towards someone else or another group of people primarily on the basis of skin color or ethnicity. For example, John is prejudiced because he believes that the new Hmong refugees in his community are stupid and barbaric because they kill chickens in their backyard. He has reported this to the local police many times.
What do you think should be done in this situation? One possibility is to invite John and Cha (his Hmong neighbor) to a meeting to help John understand the Hmong culture and to help Cha understand the state laws and regulations about killing animals in your home. The meeting should be facilitated by someone who has experience with conflict management and is deemed credible by both John and Cha. This attempt could result in change at the individual level.
What is racism?
When racial prejudice is supported by institutions and laws, racism is present. For example, when the Hmong neighbor, Cha, is arrested and put in jail for killing chickens in the backyard and no attempt is made to understand why he did it or to explain the laws to him (because he does not speak English), racism is present.
What do you think should be done in this situation? One possibility is to invite the police chief and other officers to a discussion about how the newcomers to the community are affecting law enforcement. It is likely that they have tried to explain the laws to the newcomers so that these complaints can stop, but it's not working because of cultural and language barriers. You might want to try and work with the police and local Hmong leaders to develop a strategy for increasing the police department's cultural competence and, at the same time, increase the newcomers' understanding about the laws in this country. This attempt could result in change at the institutional level.
While we can never be entirely free of racial prejudice, we have to be able to identify and address racism because it perpetuates the unearned privileges of some and imposes undeserved restrictions on others. The economic well-being of a group of people is intertwined with racism and unless it is addressed intentionally and thoroughly, a community building effort will not reach its full potential.
Racial prejudice and racism have most been perpetrated in the U.S. by people of European descent against various other groups, such as African-Americans or Latinos. However, because of the shifts in our communities' demographics in some parts of the U.S., racial prejudice and racism also lead to tensions between people of non-European descent, such as between African Americans and Asian Americans. As the U.S. becomes more diverse and the world's residents more mobile, we must be prepared to act in order to reduce the potential for hostility due to differences in our physical traits and other characteristics.
No matter what culture or part of the world you're from, you've seen the results of racial prejudice and racism, even if you've never directly felt it aimed at you. The results of racial prejudice and racism can be seen everywhere: stereotypes, violence, underfunded schools, unemployment, police brutality, shabby housing, a disproportionate number of African-American men on death row, etc. Racial prejudice and racism can be found in many different areas of society: in the media, in service organizations, in the workplace, in neighborhoods, at school, in local government, on your block -- in virtually every area of daily life.
Why is it important to reduce racial prejudice and racism?
Here are some further reasons why racial prejudice and racism should be reduced:
In addition, here are some examples of why racial prejudice and racism should be addressed in your community building effort if more than one racial or ethnic group is involved:
In other words, there are both moral and sometimes legal reasons to act against racism. There are also strong pragmatic reasons as well. Racial prejudice and racism can harm not only the victims, but also the larger society, and indirectly the very people who are engaging in the acts. What's more, some important new research suggests that in some cases, racist actions can cause physiological harm to the victims. For example, a recent review of physiological literature concludes:
"Interethnic group and intraethnic group racism are significant stressors for many African-Americans. As such, intergroup and intragroup racism may play a role in the high rates of morbidity and mortality in this population." (Clark, Anderson, Clark, and Williams, 1999).
While we try not to moralize on the Community Tool Box, let's face it - racial prejudice and racism are just plain wrong.
How can you reduce racial prejudice and racism?
While we try in the Community Tool Box to offer easy, step-by-step instructions for community work, changing a group of people's prejudiced attitudes and an institution's racist actions isn't so simply carried out and it doesn't happen overnight. Reducing racial prejudice and racism is a complex task that varies from community to community, so it doesn't lend itself well to simple, 1-2-3 solutions that can be adopted and applied without having a thorough understanding of the context and environment. Something like this takes knowing your community well and choosing strategies that best fit your community's needs, history, context, energies, and resources.
With that in mind, we offer a variety of activities and strategies you can conduct in combating racial prejudice and racism so that you can decide which of these tactics might work best in your workplace, school, neighborhood, and community.
NOTE! None of these activities or strategies alone will lead to sustainable change at the individual, institutional, or community levels. In order for such change to occur, you have to take actions that will allow you to consistently affect the different levels over a long period of time. Before you decide on the best activities and strategies, do the following:
Actively recruit and hire a racially and ethnically diverse staff. See Chapter 10: Hiring and Training Key Staff for more information.
While it's not enough just to fill your staff with a rainbow of people from different backgrounds, representation from a variety of groups is an important place to start. Contact minority organizations, social groups, networks, media, and places where people of different ethnic and cultural groups congregate or access information. If you use word-of-mouth as a recruitment tool, spread the word to members of those groups, or key contact people. Also, consider writing an equal-opportunity policy for hiring and promoting staff.
Actively recruit culturally and ethnically diverse board members, executives, and managers.
Racial prejudice can be reduced if the staff becomes diverse and raises the awareness of each other, but racism is reduced when power is shared by the leadership.
In order to move beyond racial prejudice and ensure inclusiveness, your organization’s board members and executives should reflect the communities or constituencies it serves. For instance, one group decided to reserve a certain number of slots on its governing board for representatives of the cultural and ethnic groups in the community.
Talk to the people of color on your staff and ask them what barriers or attitudes they face at work. Examine your newsletter or other publications and look out for negative portrayals, exclusion, or stereotypes.
Find out how you can improve your workplace for members from diverse racial and ethnic groups that work there. This will not only give you some practical ideas about what you need to work on, but it will also signify that the needs of every group is taken seriously. Look around at any artwork you have in your offices. Are any groups represented in a stereotypical way? Is there diversity in the people portrayed? For example, if all the people in the clip art used in your newsletter are European Americans, you should make an effort to use clip art that shows a bigger variety of people.
Form a permanent task force or committee dedicated to forming and monitoring a plan for promoting inclusion and fighting racism in your workplace.
Racial prejudice is reduced by developing relationships and ensuring that materials are culturally sensitive, but racism is reduced when there is a permanent task force or committee that becomes part of the governance structure to ensure inclusive and just institutional policies.
Andre's purpose is to reconnect people to their Dignity and Honor in Being Human.