Everyone I know agrees that racism is wrong. We express our incredulity when something overtly racist happens.
However, what I keep noticing is that it never seems to be skinheads or KKK members who commit these horrendous acts. It's always the average "Joe"...people who could be (and probably are) our next door neighbors, our relatives, our friends.
The Jena 6 incident has become the latest, most widely publicized display of racism. Nooses were hung from a tree to send a message that it was a "Whites only" tree. I've heard differing stories as people argue why it happened, who did it, who should be punished, and how. But the bottom line is that nooses were hung. A non-verbal message was sent out to the community. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what that message was. Just the other day I read another article about a noose being hung on a black professor's door. Noose on Door at Columbia Prompts Campus Protest .
I think we give ourselves too much credit when we think that we (or other people we know) don't participate in racist, sexist, homophobic, et al, behavior. If we really examine what we say or what's being said around us, what are we saying...what are we doing...that covertly encourages this kind of behavior? What do our words, actions, and attitudes say to our children and the other people around us?
I heard a story once that talked about life and racism being like a people mover (you know...the conveyor belt things in the airport to get you from point A to point B without a lot of walking). Our society is like standing on a people mover. Though we may not be actively walking with it, if we're standing on it and not intentionally walking backward against it, we are still moving with it. I think that's hard for us to accept. We want to think if we are not walking with the crowd, we show that we are against it. Unfortunately, that's not true. The people mover takes us right along and moves us with the current.
It takes a lot of effort and energy to walk in reverse on a people mover. Similarly, it takes a lot of effort and energy to work against racism...sexism...homophobia...classism...et al. How much effort and energy are we willing to put toward walking backward through the crowd?