If you have yet to hear, a school board in Tucson, Arizona has banned an ethnic studies course from being taught in their district. Not only is the policy created out of ignorance, but it is also overtly racist. Some of the most outrageous instances remind you that ideology is often a factor that blinds individuals from the truth. So much that they are not afraid to get on a national stage and preach that ideology to the masses, all the while not even realizing how they are continuing a long legacy of racism, colonization, privilege, and oppression.
I could rant all day about how offended I am by the Tucson’s School board banning Mexican-American Studies in their school district. I could ramble on explaining how their unjustified white fear is now further marginalizing students that were doing well in schools and learning from these ethnic studies programs. I could go on a tirade and give an historical analysis of how the blind confidence of this school board is so obnoxious that they do not even realize how unconstitutional and unjust their acts are. I COULD do that, however, I think it would be a better use of time to explain how one might engage in a discourse with individuals who honestly think teaching cultural history is a bad thing. Or in other words, how does one engage with individuals whose beliefs are essentially racist?
It is far too easy to dismiss ignorance and label the racist as idiots. However, the school boards across arizona are still making policy. And other people with this type of problematic ideology continue to breed their ideas to their offspring. So at some point in time we need to figure out how to engage in honest conversation, even with those who aren’t interested in changing their ideas. So, once again, how do one talk to a racist?
I think we must start by finding some common ground. Individuals in any argument will not be interested in what you know if they feel as though you do not understand their point of view. I think to talk with a racist, as difficult as this might be, one must find the commonalities we share with that individual. But this proposal still does not answer the “how.” How does one built a connection or find common ground, so that they can start to chip away at some of the racism that plagues so many ideologies.
Ultimately, I believe that strongly held beliefs can be changed through process of social learning. Direct conflict over ideas is hard to manage and will inevitably lead to more arguing, not any version of understanding. However, if we give the racist (or change racist with any other belief that is fueled by hate or fear) consistent interaction with the individuals they are prejudice against and it can ultimately shift paradigms.
Causal conflicts reinforce stereotypes, but sustained contact (building friendships and regular interactions) can change how they think. Extended non-competitive association with the out-group has an ability to change people. So instead of having an argument with a racist (particularly referring to the man from the daily show video), we should in fact take them to a Black or Mexican church over a span of 6 months.
Prolonged interaction changes racist into revolutionaries. And if that doesn’t work, lets just organize and get the racist voted out of power.