I was both saddened and angered by a story that made the news this week.
The mother of two young, biracial boys took to social media to tell the world of hurtful, racist comments directed at her sons because of the colour of their skin.
In one instance, her son was prevented from entering a washroom by another student who told him that he could not use the facilities because he was black and the washrooms were for the use of white kids only.
What is so troubling about stories like these, which sadly are all too common, is that young children making these comments did not reach these conclusions on their own.
These are learned thought processes and all learning begins somewhere.
I would think a lot of learning takes place around family dinner tables, whether intentional or not. Obviously I have no knowledge of whether this might be true in this case, parents who plant prejudicial and racial thoughts into the heads of their children are teaching them to become as limited in their thinking as they are.
They are also depriving their children of ever experiencing the richness of life offered to those who do not view the world through the myopia of prejudice.
In other words, in my opinion, they, as parents, are abject failures.
It has been said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. If this is indeed true, it is time to shine a very bright light on those who believe it to be appropriate, or even amusing, to teach children to judge others based on pigmentation.
A lie believed is not a lie. Racism is not only based on a lie, but is also based on the total absence of logic. It is perpetuated by those whose capacity for clear, intelligent thought is extremely diminished.
In other words, racists are not very bright because it requires an above average level of stupidity to believe it is accurate to assess others, and determine their worth, solely by the colour of their skin.
The damage to these kids can be deep and irreparable. We cannot refute experiences we have had and, I fear, these young boys, by virtue of these encounters, have now had the innocence of their youth yanked away while awakening them to the sad realities of life.
Their father said he had hoped his children would never be subjected to any of the racist comments and actions he has experienced over the course of his life. His sons’ recent experiences at school have unfortunately taught him that, just like other family traditions, racism can be passed from generation to generation.
Renowned statesman, political theorist and philosopher Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
And for much too long, many good people have done just that. Nothing.Far too many of us have stood silently by as others have made racist comments, told bigoted jokes and hurled hurtful xenophobic epithets at others.
I shamefully include myself among those who have remained silent. I did not want to get involved, did not feel it my place to interfere, or perhaps, I was fearful of repercussions my intervention might bring.
And I was wrong.
In my day job as a coach, consultant and trainer I spend a great deal of time talking with clients about the remarkable power behind one word: consequences.
There is no such thing as an action or a behaviour that does not produce a consequence. Consequences increase or decrease the likelihood of a behaviour, or an action being repeated and when something is rewarded it is generally repeated.
When a puppy receives a treat for obeying a command is very likely it will obey the next command in anticipation of another treat.
Rewards do not have to be a material. In the absence of feedback to the contrary, everything is positive reinforcement which means, when we stand silently by while others hurl racist comments, we are now rewarding their behaviour, thus increasing the likelihood it will continue.
By our silence, we are now part of the problem and are training them to keep doing what they are doing.
It is not easy to stand up for what is right., nor is it risk-free. But if we ever hope to live in a world where hatred and bias have been relegated to the annals of history, we must be willing to be a voice for good.
And if we choose to remain silent in the moment, we forfeit our right to voice our opinion later when in the safety of others who share our viewpoints.
The continued spread of racism today is proof positive of what happens when good men do nothing.
We know “you can’t fix stupid,” be perhaps by standing up to it, we can help in silencing it.
I invite you to stand up and do something, however big or small that something might be.
Till we read again.