Some supposed acts of racism sound like everyday life to those of us who don’t think about racism all that often. I’ve been pulled over and harassed by police without justification. I’ve been in social situations where I didn’t fit in culturally. I’ve had letters ignored, and been given the cold shoulder. Racism is not on my mind, so I don’t ever even suspect it’s a cause.
Not so for my minority friends. Even though racism is uncommon, it’s a possible explanation, and sometimes a tempting one. And the more you use it, the easier it gets. I don’t think that most cries of racism are like the boy’s cry of wolf — meant for entertainment and deception. But the effect is the same. Because when people like me hear all these cries of racism, but all we see is everyday experiences that everybody goes through, then we start suspecting that racism is nothing but a specter, and give it little heed. And that’s not good, because it makes minorities feel like they are being ignored, which ratchets up the pressure to exaggerate claims of racism for attention, which makes it easier for non-minorities to dismiss, creating a divisive feedback loop. Hence, you have the student body president making up stories about the KKK, and a growing backlash against the Mizzou protests over race.
How do you break the feedback loop? Do what Alexander Roberts did, and allow for dialogue, and admit the possibility what might seem like racism is really just the ordinary frictions of life.