Racism is easy. All sorts of prejudices are. Some expressions of xenophobia are dramatic—like slavery and the Holocaust. The ones where human has hurt human on the sole basis of religion, ethnicity, or skin color. There are those that (especially with historical perspective) we can confidently label as wrong. The ones that make us shake our heads in near disbelief—exposing the sinister extremes of what humanity is capable of.
But prejudice isn’t just lynching one group or putting another in concentration (or internment) camps. Racism is easy because it also allows for subtle discriminations that are made without deep consideration. It’s the group(s) you exclude in your framing of beauty. (Where is the line between prejudice and aesthetic preference?) It’s the food you won’t eat—won’t even try and label “disgusting” because it’s foreign. It’s the impatience you feel in trying to communicate with someone who isn’t fluent in your language—or assuming someone is of lesser intelligence just because they don’t eloquently speak your language—or have a heavy accent.
Racism is easy because it infiltrates social conventions and becomes vague—burying itself under more acceptable (less incendiary) explanations. Is it hard for me to get a cab simply because I’m black? Or are cab drivers seeing my skin color and assuming I live in another borough? Is that sales associate being attentive in the hopes of earning a commission or hovering in case I plan to steal something?
Racism is easy because it’s everywhere. It hides in the places people forget to look. It establishes a status quo of injustice and then backs away slowly hoping no one will notice. If I’m to believe The Butler (a film I’m giving the benefit of the doubt with regards to its catalog of discrimination), black service staff in the White House were paid less than their white counterparts as recently as the Reagan administration. That shocked me. I was surprised by the where and the when equally. How easy it must be for an intentional bias to become an unexamined unfairness—remaining effective while it grows dusty from lack of inspection.
Racism is easy, but it’s hard to avoid. It used to be that the average person could only spread their intelligence (or ignorance) to a discrete pool of people. Now anyone with a computer can propel words (for better or worse) to near infinite distances (especially with the exponential effect of others sharing it). It’s at once inspiring and discouraging. Some choose to share the positive. Others take pleasure in spreading venom.
This is why my personal policy is to not repost things that I find negative or offensive. I don’t want to help spread unsavory messages any further. I will not be the reason someone sees a bigot’s words. There is enough of all that “out there” for people to stumble upon on their own.
I believe in free speech. I believe truly free speech means that I’m going to hear things that wound my sensibilities—that disgust, disappoint, or frighten me. But just because someone is free to speak his or her mind, doesn’t mean I have to repeat what was said and fan the flame of that negativity. I’d rather help hate die from neglect than see it revived (and spread) by the indignation of its righteous critics. I see nobility in the fight for justice, but not in a war of opinions.