Above, you see pictures of two men. What’s your immediate thought regarding each man?
The exercise you just did helps reveal what racial perceptions you may have. If you are typical, your immediate perception of the man on the left is that of a gangster or a thug or something probably less than positive. And, if you are typical, your immediate perception of the man on the right is that of a quality individual, something quite positive.
Let me introduce you to the two men. On the left is Lecrae, a Christian hip-hop artist. On the right is Bernie Madoff, who stole millions of dollars from multiple individuals and is currently serving a 150-year sentence at a federal prison.
Immediate reactions and responses to people we don’t know says a great deal about our racial perceptions.
I remember my wife telling me about how, when, many years ago, she worked as an assistant manager at a women’s clothing store, she was told to pay close attention to customers who happened to be black than she was to those who happened to be white.
Why was that? Because the perception was that being black meant being more likely to attempt to shoplift merchandise. It was a perception of a particular race.
And I believe racial perceptions, not racism, to be the biggest issue standing in the way of racial harmony in our country today. Racism is defined as believing one race is superior to another. And while there is still some of that present in this country, it’s not nearly as prevalent as it was many years ago.
What is quite present are perceptions according to race. Having black skin means one thing while having white skin can often mean the opposite.
And this is what must be addressed, and not in some superficial, “let’s take a superficial swipe at this so we can feel good about ourselves”, way. Real action that not only promotes racial harmony, but also racial unity while maintaining distinctions of each race is what is needed.
And it starts in my community and it starts with you in your community.