The Journey to the Bottom

America faces a resurgence of ‘overt’ racism. I qualify this with “overt” because it had always been there, but our society is merely more comfortable publically expressing it. I’ve made a ham-fisted attempt to propose the framework of a solution, but the Twitter/Facebook reaction showed me that I’ve clearly failed to format the context. This is my latest attempt.

I propose that we have at least three stages to parse on a racist’s journey:

  1. The person has a propensity to group people and assign stereotypes. This is driven by a primal reaction to simplify issues in order to make sense out of their world. Anecdotal experience and the opinions of friends and family feeds this step.
  2. The person expresses these “groupism” positions to trusted people within their social circles. They hear themselves say racist things, and their friends re-affirm what they say. But, they are careful not to say it outside of their group. But, periodically they slip. Usually it’s with dogwhistle expressions or inferred assessments.
  3. The person calcifies their opinion and reduces their openness to counter-arguments. They express their racists positions with little regard for the reaction because they think that others should join them in what they believe is an obvious situation. With more support, they believe a solution could be achieved. Typically they enter this phase when they feel threatened and the alternative is more stressful.

Solutions?

Once a person has entered the third phase there is little hope for redemption. They need to either grow out of it or have a ‘come to Jesus’ moment. That is hard to engineer. Re-humanizing them during dialogue is a first-step, but navigating the dialogue requires a lot of skill, patience and courage.

The person in the second phase still feels apprehensive about expressing their positions because they understand the consequences of alienating their friends and family that are opposed to those positions. My unscientific poll of friends show that, unanimously, the only solution is to introduce these people to those they have racist views towards. Exposure to the humanity and equality of character in those they ‘groupified’ is the most powerful mitigator. Arguments will fall on deaf ears because of how they are comprehended. A world-view is an extremely difficult perspective to shift with words alone.

The person in the first phase is everyone. Yes, we all have a propensity to simplify people into groups and assign stereotypes. The issue is ‘to what degree?’ And, for those that are interested in influencing people who have entered the second and third phases of racism, this self-awareness is critical if they desire to make any progress.

Yet, there are degrees upon which some of those in this first-phase are devolving into greater and greater simplification of this world and society. It is that unfortunate journey that is at the root of mitigating racism. The more we allow simplification of groups of people — or what I refer to as “Groupism” — the further we stray from understanding and accepting the complexity — and inherent humanity — of our society. Stereotypes abound.

In my social media arguments with the more liberal-minded pundits, it became clear to me that addressing the overt racists clouds the solutions I’d like to propose for those in the first and second phases — the covert racists and simplifiers. The emotions are heated — and justifiably so. And that is why we need to separate the racists’ journeys from their ultimate end-state in the third phase.

This is a complex issue, so I Parse. I’ve attempted to separate out those that can be influenced more easily from those that are overtly racist. The third-phase people are certainly a threat to our society’s stability. Action should most certainly be taken to mitigate their influence. But it is those people in the bullpen — the people in phase two — that are the ones we should target with our anti-racist strategies.

The violent reactions I’ve witnessed in our local community towards the alt-right marches have provided emotional ammunition to people in phase two that are on the edge of joining phase three. While it may enlighten those in phase one to resists moving towards phase two, it calcifies those in phase three to double-down. Their ‘come to Jesus’ potential has dropped beyond the horizon. Are there more effective approaches? I propose that using embarrassment and absurdity is more effective. What other solutions might be standardized and promoted to counter-protesters?

Finally, I should address why I am writing about this issue. It is because I have family that are firmly ensconced in phase two. And, I have friends and family that are about to move from phase one to phase two. I’m sad about this and frustrated that my words have had little impact. It is a tragedy that I think I might help mitigate by describing how this might be unfolding. Maybe, with these few words, I can provide a common platform for dialogue and understanding.