Racism has become a catch-all word. Some use it as a convenient epithet aimed at
anyone deemed insufficiently tolerant.
Of course racism, the notion that my race is superior to other races, is a serious problem and leads to predictable behavior that ends in long term harm. Some people are openly racist and others do not recognize their own racist thoughts, attitudes or actions.
Not everyone is a racist, and not everyone sees their race as superior in one way or another. Even if they have racist speech or attitudes, they may not recognize them in themselves. Many times leveling the charge of racism falls on deaf ears. The person you are talking to doesn’t identify as a racist person. When you call them racist, they don’t know who you are talking about. You lose credibility and they need to defend themselves from one of the most damning accusations in our society. The conversation ends here.
Besides, being racist isn’t the standard. Human decency isn’t satisfied by simply avoiding contempt for other races.
My efforts to avoid being a racist aren’t enough. While I am not a racist, I may be a bigot – intolerant of other opinions or social groups. Or I may demonstrate that I am prejudiced – holding negative, preformed opinions of individuals based on their sex, religion, country of origin, economic status, etc, etc. I may be needlessly fearful of other groups or show undue favoritism to my own. There are plenty of ways that I can hurt others.
Loving our neighbors is more than avoiding hate, disrespect, indifference. It is more than avoiding the pitfalls of racism, bigotry, prejudice, fearfulness and favoritism.
Christians teach that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. So, in various ways, do Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and others. We teach that it is right to treat others in the way we desire to be treated. And we teach each other to avoid doing the things we ourselves find hurtful, unkind, inconsiderate.
When I love my neighbor in the same ways I love myself, I avoid causing them pain. I also find ways to show kindness and attend to their concerns. When I love my neighbor as myself, I will feel the pain they feel, experience the suffering they experience. When I love my neighbor as myself, I will be moved to action to heal their pain and end their suffering. I will be moved to compassion.
Our efforts may seem small or insignificant, but they will find their mark. They will ease a little pain and put aside a bit of suffering. So we begin by smiling, shaking hands, offering kind words. We give away socks, power bars, some laundry soap and quarters. Little tiny acts of compassion.
Our longing for human decency is satisfied in compassion. It is rooted in our ability to feel how others feel and then to take action on the behalf of others to ease their pain and suffering. This is the standard for decency. It is the standard for loving our neighbor. It is the fulfillment of the golden rule. When we evaluate the weight of our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions, and if we desire to contribute to human decency in our day, compassion will be our standard.