‘Covert racism’ runs counter to American ideals

Published 9:58 am Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Contributing columnist

Lately, I’m attempting to become cognizant and attuned to covert racism in my presence. Covert racism is hard to spot because it is racial discrimination that is low-key or subtle.

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It’s the black girl who works her tail off for 13 years in public school, gets a full ride to the school of her choice, and then gets told by her peers it’s because she’s black.

It’s having a meeting about a student and someone saying “Well, he probably doesn’t have a father at home,” or “He’s just going to grow up and live off our taxes, anyway.” Such statements are meant to be light or witty, but they are statements one would not want targeted towards themselves.

I refer to such actors as line-toers. They are indeed racist, but are able to skirt through life without being called out on it — by consistently toeing the line.

We hear these statements all the time. Sometimes we recognize what they are, sometimes we don’t. Rarely do we speak up. Rarely do most of us stand up for those who do not look like us or hold our beliefs.

But the receivers of this racism, they feel it. They feel that they are different, and they know that they have no control over that difference.

This concept, this feeling, of covert discrimination relates directly to religiosity in our area. How many of you have heard a Jewish joke at work? How about calling Catholics drunks? Or Catholic priest jokes? References to “towel-heads?”

Although Catholics, Jews and Muslims are not members of the predominant religion in our area, they do live here. They live here and they live under the words of the same Constitution that we all do. The Constitution that states in the foremost Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This is a basic American tenet, along with the belief that we all have the right to pursue our own happiness.

When we treat our religious counterparts with covert contempt, however, we are breaking these basic American ideals.

For most of us, our religion is passed down to us from our parents. And until we are knowledgeable adults, we do not have much control over this. When a child, whose parents are non-believers, is asked in a public school if he “wants to walk with the devil or accept the truth of Christ,” not only does he not know what that means, but he begins to feel different from his peers in regard to something over which he does not understand. He is essentially being alienated for something he doesn’t control.

I recently went to a workshop that taught elementary-school children about activism. The initial brainstorming question was “What do you want to change?”

Among answers such as global warming, equity in education, and housing for all, one parent said, “religious equality.” This wish, for our country to practice religious equality, was immediately met with blowback from another parent in the room: “I want to change the government to reflect Christian ideology.”

I empathize with that initial parent; I understand her feeling of separation from others in the room. The response to her response alienated her from the rest of the people; labeled her as “non-Christian” or a religious sympathizer. Due to a masked judgement, an inclusion activity suddenly became exclusive.

It is often noted that one’s religious relationship is between him and God; that it is an intimate relationship that man shares with his maker. However, a youth pastor recently told me that if a person declares herself non-Christian, then a Christian doesn’t have the right to judge that person. But if she declares herself a Christian, and supports gay marriage or abortion, then it is a Christian’s duty to step in and correct her thinking.

If we want to hold our relationship with God as intimate and closer than any other, we must let go of our judgements and comments to others.

In the above instances, not only are judgements made cross-religiously, but also within the same religion. The result is this feeling of being different from peers and colleagues, of being wrong for something that may be out of our sphere of control. By alienating these kids — or adults — for their religious or non-religious beliefs, we are breaking the words of our own forefathers and blocking progress, blocking happiness.

We are all living here, and we are all living together. We have been granted the right by our great founding documents to hold any kind of relationship with any kind of god. Yet, still some are punished daily, and clandestinely, for their beliefs.

This is not only an injustice to our friends and neighbors, but an injustice to our Constitution.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

Megan Berketis is a high-school English teacher. She lives in Danville.