Knowledge Is Power

By Michelle Kim on February 9, 2014

A couple weeks ago, my brother and I were on our way to a local coffee shop, when a Caucasian man, who seemed to be probably in his mid 60s, approached us and said, “You Chinese … quit taking away my intelligence … you’re taking over our land…” He was mumbling most of the time, but those were the only phrases I could make out. Just to clarify: I’m Korean; you shouldn’t blame someone else for your lack of intelligence; and his belief that the “Chinese” are taking over “his” land is both literally and figuratively untrue.

That was probably the first racist rant I’ve heard that was directed towards me, but honestly, I was pretty calm about it; I guess I already assumed that I’d be victimized by racism at least once in my life. In addition to that, I just happen to be in one of those states that is predominantly caucasian, though there’s evidence of its growing diversity.

Racism has minimized as our society has become more progressive, but make no mistake it is still very prevalent and there is a long way to go. Unfortunately, the world I’m living and breathing in today is not a complete racism-free world, yet there still remains hope of the fate of future generations are to face. According to the 2010 census report, the multiracial population, or those who identify themselves to be of more than one race or ethnic makeup, has shown a 32 percent increase between 2000 and 2010, which adds up to 9 million and is continually growing. One could argue that this phenomenon showing an increase in mixed races could completely wipe out any form of discrimination as years pass by … But reality says, “good luck.”

In an interview with BBC last year, Oprah Winfrey seemed to be a little controversial with her answer regarding the possibility of racism ceasing to exist. When BBC’s Arts Editor Will Gompertz asked if she thought racial problems had been solved, she said, “there are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it — in that prejudice and racism — and they just have to die.”

Though I highly respect Winfrey, it’s hard for me to agree with her this one time. It may hold true that older generations are more likely to perpetuate racism since they lived through a segregated era and a time when racism was more acceptable. But we cannot fully blame them or pin them as the cause of racism that remains today. In a way, Winfrey was being prejudice herself, over generalizing a group of people. Though she did not specify a certain race, she considers older people as racists, who are somehow pollinating racist ideologies onto the new generation and therefore saying their deaths will prevent future racism. Her belief is establishing a barrier between generations and is further stressing the idea of being different and of prejudice.

While racism as a whole might be alleviated within our world, I believe that prejudice and discrimination are unfortunately common elements that will continue to exist in one form or another. It’s a natural tendency for human beings to differentiate themselves from others, whether it is by the distinction between races, ethnicity, or occupation, it is all a matter of external features. It’s a matter of values that outline who we are and how we define others, and sadly, it’s a factor that society cares most about. Dr. Caleb Rosado, a sociologist, educator, consultant, futurist and visionary with a Ph.D. degree from Northwestern University, said in his book “The Multiple Futures of Racism: Beyond the Myth of Race through a New Paradigm Resolution in the Third Millenium,” that discrimination does not happen due to the color of one’s skin, or even with gender, but it’s the value systems people have that are rationalizing and justifying inequality and oppression. Though the reality of this world is not simply based on our physical features, those biological factors set boundaries that provide an excuse for feeling superior to other people.

If humankind has a natural instinct to want to feel more power or superior over others, can we really say discrimination will be completely extinguished after all? Even in hundreds of years, when a majority of the population is likely to consist of multiracial people and when judging based on skin color becomes less prominent, would discrimination still be an issue? Absolutely. Though people would start judging less based on racial physical features, other forms of prejudice and discrimination will continue to exist.  As long as we, humankind, are prone to living based on comparing ourselves to “others” and defining ourselves in groups that we feel we belong, inequality is likely to remain constant.

The old man who insulted me in front of everyone blamed me simply based on my racial physical appearance because race is what society now focuses on as a way of categorizing and differentiating. Future generations may prejudge each other based on other features or qualities.

But as long as we understand our natural tendencies and the way the human mind works, there is hope that at least we can combat the proclivities, which we subscribe to, that at times, can chain us down. Knowledge is truly power that can transform our society as a whole to something better.

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