Allegations of prejudice, racism, bigotry and discrimination are an ever-present reality in the United States, but are all the accusations legitimate? Are there actually large swaths of our society that despise their fellow man simply because of his or her race, religion, orientation, etc.? If that is the case, why does everyone, including racists, who now prefer the “white nationalist” moniker, hate being called racists or bigots? Another explanation for the increased numbers of bigoted accusations is that many Americans are hyper-sensitive snowflakes? Could that be the case? Both assertions, although true in some instances, are flawed and overlook the problem: MISCOMMUNICATION.
Are there racists and bigots in the US? Definitely! Are all accusations of racism valid? No, not even close. Miscommunication is at the heart of a significant portion of racial allegations and misunderstandings. There are three main types of communicators whose comments result in racist or bigoted accusations and altercations. I call them the big 3 “I” communicators: Insensitive, Ignorant, and Ill-informed. As you read further, you’ll probably recognize some of them.
Insensitive Communicator (InC) - Insensitive - adjective: defined as lacking feeling, tact, or empathy. The Insensitive Communicator is often mistaken as a racist due to the cavalier way they interact with others. All societies have theses insensitive members, and it is likely you know a few.
Think of that uncle who tells that you in front of everyone that you look like you gained a few pounds since he last saw you, or the sibling who “helps” you after your heart is broken by confiding that it would have never worked because the love of your life was way out of your league, or the best friend that says with all the work you put into your GMAT/SAT/LSAT/ACT that they thought you would have scored higher. Since these people are inconsiderate, it is easy to assume less than honorable intentions when there is a racial component to their comments.
This is unfortunate, but the reality is the InC lacks subtlety and is in desperate need of a brain to mouth filter. Without solicitation, the InC will: 1- tell a 2nd or 3rd generation Asian American they English speak well and ask where they are really from; 2 - comment to a gay person that the church believes homosexuality is a sin; 3 - ask a Hispanic high school valedictorian if he/she thinks he/she would have been accepted into college without affirmative action; 4 - ask an African American woman if her hair is real or a weave; 5 - state that his/her parents would be upset if he/she brought home an Asian, Black, Hispanic, Muslim, Jewish, Multiracial, Native American, homosexual, etc. partner. These clumsy conversationalists are oafish and exhibit a total lack of boundaries, which often leave the recipient of the comments annoyed or hurt, but malicious racism or prejudice is not the source. The source is often limited exposure, curiosity, and clumsy attempts at conversation. Although the InC’s impolite manner generates racial anxiety and exasperation that is often mistaken as racism, he or she is not a racist but merely an inconsiderate ass in all interactions.
Ignorant Communicator (IgC) - Ignorant - adjective: defined as lacking knowledge. Many offensive comments thought to be racist originate with the Ignorant communicator (IgC). The term is not used here as an insult, but as an adjective describing a person lacking knowledge. Everyone is ignorant about something. For example, do you know: 1- Who Ronald Wayne is? 2- What year women gained the right to vote? 3- Who was the first president to live in the White House?
From the preceding questions, many will discover that being ignorant is neither good nor bad; it is just a state of not knowing. The ignorant communicator lacks information, so when he or she says: black people can not tan (they can), Asians can not wear contacts (they can), or refers to all Hispanics as Mexican (they aren’t), it may appear racist or bigoted, but it is actually a person without knowledge trying to surmise information based on physical appearance (skin color and eye shape) or geographic proximity in the case of Hispanics. Information is key with the IgC, not condemnation. So the next time you encounter an IgC, do not attribute racism to their lack of knowledge, simply provide information to combat the ignorance (e.g. for those “ignorant” of the answers to the questions posed above, the answers follow: 1- a co-founder of Apple Computer, 2-1920, 3- John Adams). To label the IgC as a racist misses an enormous opportunity to educate and build good will among our diverse population.
Ill-Informed Communicator (IlC) - Ill-Informed- adjective: defined as believing lies (now called alternative facts) or confusing factual information. The third and final person commonly mistaken as a racist is the Ill-Informed Communicator (IlC). Armed with and emboldened by the rise of fake news and agenda driven false information, this hoodwinked person believes and spreads inaccurate information.
These IlCs repeat falsehoods from dubious sources heard on talk radio, read online, or seen on Facebook and other forms of social media. Sometimes an IlC will unwittingly contaminate or ruin legitimate news or information due to lack of proficiency in reading comprehension or data/graph interpretation. This unintentional IlC could also be elderly or have diminished hearing capacity, which could cause a small, but important, word like “not” to be missed. Blatant lies are harmful, but misunderstood or misheard information can be equally significant.
For example, if a news report mentions a lice outbreak and implores parents/grandparents not to use a kerosene-on-scalp home remedy to end the infestation, you can easily see the danger.
Both IlC types, those duped by fake news and the unintentionally confused, are often the most ardent in their opinions and refuse to believe their information is in error using the rationale, “If it was on tv or online, it must be true.”
They are the population that still believe widely discredited items like: 1- there were weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) found in Iraq, 2- George Washington had wooden teeth, 3- going outside in winter without a coat can make you sick, 4- three to five million “illegal” immigrants voted in the 2016 election, 5- Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act, has death panels. Of course all of these are false, but IlCs are stubborn in their beliefs because they heard (or thought they heard) or read (misread) it. They are absolute in their faith of the information, and you will not convince them otherwise. When race related fake news is consumed, these gullible people just parrot what they are told.
There is no racial malice or contemplation, only repetition. It would be common to hear the IlC repeat debunked things like: Obama is a Muslim and was not born in the USA, Islam is a violent religion that hates Americans and Christians, Jews are greedy and good with money, Hispanics and African Americans are more prone to commit crime, Asians study a lot and are not creative. When the IlC says these things, they are understandably viewed as racists, but the speaker is not…unless he also acts in an unfair way (discriminates) based on his words.
The IlC has been manipulated and inundated with bigoted lies and stereotypes presented as facts from unscrupulous pseudo-news, politicians, and sadly, political charlatans pretending to be people of faith. IlCs are often good, yet simple, people who would not intentionally hold racist views, but seeing terrifying fake charts of African American violence or hearing frequent lies demonizing another religion can scare otherwise decent people into accepting lies (alternative facts) and complying by disseminating false and objectionable information.
Although racism is real and we do not live in a post-racial society, it is counterproductive to label each uncomfortable interaction involving race as racist or bigoted. This overreaction diminishes true instances of racism and deeply offends those wrongly accused.
This well meaning but false accusation is a direct assist to full fledged racists in their recruiting as they depict people of color and liberals as hysterical snowflakes who are similar to the little boy who cried wolf too often. Credibility is wasted on unsubstantiated claims while true cases of racism require further scrutiny.
When you encounter one of these poor communicators, don’t let the racial accusations fly. Try to sensitize the Insensitive, educate the Ignorant, and provide unbiased resources for the Ill-Informed. In our compassionate attempt to defend the marginalized, we sometimes close our minds and ironically display the same harmful prejudgement that we accuse others of. We can not and should not accuse people of racism solely because their comment pertains to race, religion, or sexual orientation. Doing so is a monumental mistake and missed opportunity.