Why we need to become comfortable with the uncomfortable
It is an understatement to say that the recent incidents of racism on campus have sparked outrage among students and faculty. From an extremely offensive poster that seemed to mock international students in the cafeteria to vile posts on anonymous social media app, Chillabit – there is no justification for the actions of these people.
Racism is rooted in a prejudiced ideology, ethnocentrism.
Translation: it is a tendency to view the world through one’s own perceived superior cultural lens. It is an ideology that instills people to view what they perceive as being uncomfortable, strange or foreign as abnormal, incorrect, inappropriate or wrong.
However, it is sometimes neglected that racism is a learned behaviour acquired through our interactions with our environment. People are not born racists, but rather incorporate negative stereotypes, prejudiced sentiments and hateful perceptions from their interactions with the world they live in.
For generations, society continues to give a pass to prejudice and discriminatory rhetoric. Whether it be in media, sports, culture, fashion, politics or family the discourse regarding attitudes of prejudice toward minority groups continues to be reinforced. Unfortunately, this process ends up accentuating negatives stereotypes against different groups of people. In the end, people who hold prejudice end up developing a selective perception where they see only what they want to see.
Whether it be explicit or implicit, denouncing prejudice and racism is critical to the collective well-being of the Augustana Campus. Outrage is a healthy first step, but it should not be the only strategy for tackling such an issue.
In the 1950s, a psychologist by the name of Gordon Allport proposed the “contact hypothesis” which claimed that through intergroup contact, prejudiced attitudes may decline. This concept has been criticized for being too simplistic, too naive, or idealistic.
To some extent, one has to acknowledge the flaws of such a theory. That just by meeting someone, getting out of our comfort zone we can somehow change another person’s worldview and even our own. The idea of getting out of our comfort zone and interacting with one another should be promoted, but it is to the benefit of no one if we are unable to have a civil conversation about the topic.
This is not an undertaking that can be implemented by a student government or an administrative official. It is a process the entire student body must undertake to adopt a new attitude towards conversing about sensitive issues like racism.
It demands respect and an acknowledgement of equality from those who hold prejudice along with the recognition that their view and behaviours may be interpreted differently in the eyes of someone of a different race. It also demands those who are targets of racism to acknowledge the humanity of the individuals who hold prejudiced views and realize that most of them are not monsters but a product of decades of racially discriminatory discourse in society.
It is an endeavour that demands individual action from individual students to engage with those who we would not usually engage with and challenge our selective perceptions. It is an active effort that requires us to be comfortable with what we perceive to be uncomfortable.