Is racism a choice?

Changing the Metaphor to Change the Action.

“I am a man” a digital photo montage by Whitney Turetzky from http://whitneyturetzky.com/i-am-a-man/

In 2003, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson published, Metaphors we live by. They argue that our actions are governed by concepts and that we understand those concepts through metaphor. They provide an excellent example in the metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR. In their words:

"We don't just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and defend our own. We gain and lose ground... If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack."

Lakoff and Johnson propose the possibility of adopting a different metaphor such as ARGUMENT IS A DANCE. They suggest that this may impact the behavior and emotion related to arguing.

If this is the case, what if we changed the metaphor we apply to racism. It seems that the current metaphor is that RACISM IS A CHOICE.

What if we talked about racism the way we speak of depression or alcoholism?

Whether it is at work, at family dinner, at the grocery store or on social media we have all witnessed racist behavior. What do we do, not only to shut it down in the moment, but to help prevent it in the future?

Perhaps changing the way we discuss racism may be beneficial in our attempt to address it in ourselves, our homes, our communities, and our institutions.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the therapies used to help treat depression will aid a person in overcoming their racist biases. I only suggest that from my observations and self-struggles, telling a person to stop being racist isn't any more beneficial than telling a person to stop being depressed. It may occasionally help, but it will likely have the opposite effect most of the time. In racism, as in depression, it seems we face the challenge of assisting someone (quite often someone we love) in overcoming attitudes and feelings deeply rooted in the psyche — attitudes and feelings that have developed through circumstance and experience.

I do not know how to eradicate racism. If I did, I would write that article. If you thought this was that article, I sincerely apologize. I do not know if we can effectively change the metaphor, or if changing the metaphor will have the desired result. Yet, I can not help but feel that we must try.

I would like to propose a possible route towards a solution. What if we created an organization similar to AA and other support groups, one where a person is encouraged to openly admit their feelings of racism as part of a path toward overcoming and erasing them. I do not know the best way to organize such an organization. How many steps would it have? What would those steps be? Would it be anonymous? How would the organization encourage members to integrate their lives?

These are the questions I pose to you.


You can see more art by Whitney Turetzky online at her website (http://whitneyturetzky.com/) or in person at her next show (http://www.rawartists.org/whitneyturetzky).

Among many other places, you can read Metaphors we live by here: http://www.sociosemiotics.net/files/Cognitive%20Linguistics%20-%20Lakoff,%20G%20&%20Johnson,%20M%20-%20Metaphors%20We%20Live%20By.pdf