Racism is a weird concept for someone to participate in. Based on little substantial evidence, someone can make huge judgments about a person based exclusively on his or her race.
Besides the obvious moral implications, racism is entirely irrational and actually does a lot to harm the person who regularly practices it, as doing so can severely limit that person’s perception of reality. Yet, it is an entirely human concept that has been around for so long that even the most enlightened individual is prone to dabble in it on occasion.
The reasons for this are numerous, but I think it all stems from the very normal human behavior of applying a narrative to different aspects of our lives.
For instance, a recent Burger King commercial showing Mary J. Blige singing about the restaurant’s “Crispy Chicken Snack Wraps,” came under a certain amount of controversy from the media and general public for being potentially offensive.
Now without me telling you, you could probably figure out why someone would find that commercial offensive. Just to clarify though, the offense comes from the long-held myth that black people are naturally fond of chicken, and that Blige – a prominent, black R&B singer – might perpetuate that myth by enthusiastically singing its merits.
Then there is the ubiquitous Trayvon Martin case, where George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who found Martin to be suspicious, shot Martin –a black teenager in a gray hoodie .
Based on that admittedly simple description, one might make a number of assumptions regarding the ethnicity of Zimmerman and whether or not this was a racially motivated hate crime.
For example, one might make the assumption that Zimmerman is Caucasian – as many media outlets did, according to NPR – based on stories of brutality committed by Caucasian law enforcement on black civilians, when in fact Zimmerman is officially recognized by his ethnicity as Hispanic.
One could even go to the extreme that NBC is being accused of, and purposely report the case to fit the narrative of a racially motivated crime. Even if this accusation was not true, it is not an unusual thing to imagine happening because news organizations know that a racially motivated narrative is one that a great number of people will observe.
We all have a natural disposition to impose a narrative on someone, for proof, just imagine the last time you judged someone based solely on his or her appearance. It is a perfectly normal function but one that has to be used productively.
We are a new generation, and we have the power to write our own, positive narratives.