Racism is defined as the systematic subordination of certain racial groups by those groups in power . As a society, we must first eradicate ignorance in order to defeat racism. We must acknowledge that people have different ways of viewing the world and that even though someone may have a different opinion than you, it is not necessarily wrong. The idea that people have different ways of viewing the world stems from standpoint theory. Standpoint theory is based on the concept that people view the world differently depending on their social standing . A central theme of standpoint theory is that a person’s racial and or ethnic background deeply impacts how they view and interact with the world . Racial location and racial standpoints are both key elements of standpoint theory. A racial location is defined as the racial or ethnic groups to which a person belongs . Everyone has a racial location because everyone identifies with at least one or more races.
Having a racial location does not necessarily mean that one has a racial standpoint. A racial standpoint refers to a racial location accompanied by a deep and oppositional understanding that our experiences are influenced by societal and political climates . The way we behave and the way we think is a product of our environment and is a direct result of our childhood. As we grow up our beliefs and opinions are shaped by our experiences and the example set forth by our parents. My greatest influences on my views of race have been my parents. My parents emigrated from Nigeria to the United States in the early 1980s. My parents have always been open-minded about different races and cultures but they tend to be guarded when interacting with people of Caucasian dissent, indicating to me that they have had past negative experiences causing them to react this way. Ann Arbor, MI is very diverse and cultured city. Growing up in Ann Arbor meant that I was exposed to people of different races, lifestyles and creeds.
My childhood best friends were of different races then me, one being Polish and the other being Indian. I was a very inquisitive child and would often ask my parents about why people were different. They always took the time to explain different cultures to me. My parents have always taught me to be cautious when I interact with people of Caucasian dissent. They have never expressed any racism towards people of the Caucasian race but have always reminded me to “be on my guard” and that not everyone I meet has good intentions. I have noticed that this “cautiousness” has been a recurring theme in the Nigerian community that I am a part of. This message has been relayed to me by aunts, uncles and even my Nigerian friends. The idea that I should have to be “cautious” around specific races has always bothered me. I know that this mistrust of the Caucasian races isn’t completely unfounded. History has shown us that given the opportunity, some people will try and suppress you. I am of the mind that not everyone is out to suppress me and bring me down.
My parents will often tell me that I ignore the racism that is rampant in this country. I understand that racism exists and that there are people who will go out of their way to be prejudiced and racist but I don’t believe that we should always be looking for racism everywhere we go. Many instances of racism occur because people are ignorant of other cultures and allow their prejudices to blind them. Living in Ann Arbor means that I interact with people of different races and cultures on a daily basis. Many of my closest friends are from different ethnic groups: my roommate is Caucasian, another friends is Caucasian and my best friends is part Mexican. Whenever I interact with a person from a different race or ethnic group I look at it as an opportunity to learn something about a different culture or way of thinking. Even though I try to look at every interracial/interethnic interaction as a positive one, there have been times where these interactions have turned into negative ones.
One of the earliest incidences of ignorance and racism I experienced was in middle school. I remember being in Geography class learning about the continent of Africa, specifically the country of Niger. We were watching a movie about a boy who lived in a hut and had to herd cattle across a river as a rite of passage. Since everyone in class knew I was Nigerian, everyone in class assume that I had gone through this ritual. They then used this as an opportunity to ask me ridiculous questions like: do you run with lions? Do you swing from tree to tree and do you live in a hut? Naturally I was very upset because this view of Africans that my classmates presented was not what my parents had taught me. Besides, I was born in the United States and grew up there just like many of my other classmates. The worst part of that situation was that my teacher didn’t even correct my classmates. To me, that entire situation is a perfect example of how ignorance leads to racism.
Another negative racial experience that I will never forget occurred while I was in my sophomore year of high school. I had gone down to Atlanta to visit my God-family. My God sister Tara, who is also African-American and I drove around town looking for a barbershop so that I could get a haircut. We stopped at a place that appear to be open and proceeded to open the door. As soon as we opened the door, we both sensed that something awkward was about to happen. Before we even had time to cross the threshold everything going on inside the shop came to a grinding halt, it felt like being in a movie scene. Barbers turned off their clippers, people abruptly stopped their conversations and everyone just stared at us. At this point we understood that we were not welcome and walked right back out. Throughout this entire interaction not a single word was uttered.