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The debate over intent in racism is becoming more complicated and further debated every day due to big movements such as Black Lives Matter, and the recent movements against Islamophobia. Commonly, people will say things and not realize the underlying meaning or affect it may have on the person it was said to. Just because a statement was not intended to be racist, does not mean that it was understood that way and does not have lasting impacts on the person it was said to. As the nation becomes more diverse, this problem is becoming more common, with people saying unintentionally racist things to others, causing people to feel awkward and segregate themselves in order to avoid these situations. In order to fix this issue, we need to understand intent versus impact, and how it is relevant in modern day society. Intent in racism applies to many categories, including implicit/unintentional bias to people of a certain racial group, or the belief that a person must have to act a certain way or have certain characteristics common to a particular ethnic group just because he/she is part of a certain race.
Lauren Edelman, a professor of sociology at the University of California Berkeley argues in a section of a book about racism that even though there has been legal mandates and anti-racism movements across the country, racism still persists. Organizations and companies have agreed to work to achieve this symbolic agreement with the law, however, this compliance often fails to eliminate discrimination. (Gaertner, xviii) This problem continues to be a gap that is yet to be filled because intention versus impact is something that happens subconsciously, which makes it hard to place a ban on an idea that people do not even realize that they are having. Many people do not realize that they are being racist because they tell themselves that they “do not see color.” However, it is easy to tell themselves that and ignore the fact that not only do they see color but so does everyone else. Not only is this idea inaccurate, but it also reveals the central awkwardness around the discussion of race and skin color as well as the general anxiety that people share when it comes to the known-to-be tense topic of racism.
Intent versus impact is very relevant in modern day society. As the country becomes more diverse, we get put into unique situations with people that are of different ethnicities than us, and sometimes comments are made without being thought thoroughly through and end up coming out/sounding racist. These awkward situations make people feel more comfortable and have an easier time relaxing when they are with people of the same culture, which results in people self-segregating themselves based on their race. In a research study conducted in South Africa in 2003 by Dr. John Dixon who is a professor in the Department of Psychology, at the University of Lancaster, found that the “rates of interracial contact on the beachfront were extremely low, with over 97% of interactions occurring between members of the same racial group.” (Clack, 4)
Even though this study was conducted a few years ago, this is still common in modern day society, as seen more commonly in elementary, middle and high schools than anywhere else. (Ordfield, 5) This is unfortunate because those are some of the most critical years for development as a cultured individual. Even though it has been almost half a century since the anti-segregation laws have been passed, segregation has become normalized in schools due to one’s mere comfort of being around people that are of similar upbringings, beliefs, and ethnicities. Although the schools may have a number that supports the fact that they are indeed a diverse school, students are not gaining the enriching experiences and broadening their horizons due to their own self-segregation. In order to fix this problem, people have to be willing to move out of their comfort zone and intermix with people of other ethnicities and cultures, even if it may feel awkward for them at first. In order to fix this problem that persists in modern day society, the first step would be people having to realize that even though they do not intend to sound racist, sometimes what they say does come off to others as racist to others, and rather than talking about the situation and facing it, both parties ignore what was said a lot of times and move on. Many times, people that had the racist comment made to them feel awkward and ostracized, which makes them less likely to spend time with that person or group of people. In some situations, people will realize what they said came out as racist, but because they said it without intention, they think that it is okay to quickly forget about the situation and move on.
Rather than facing the problem and stopping to think about what they said, people want to brush it off, because let us face it, no one wants to be called or considered a racist. The takeaway point that Dr. Imani Perry, a professor of race and African American culture at Princeton University in her excerpt from “More Beautiful and More Terrible The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States” was getting at was no matter how many laws and bills are put in place to try and stop racism, it will never end. Racism without intent is a perpetual cycle, and unless people work to try and end it in themselves, we will never see an end to this issue. (Perry, 6)
All in all, unless we ourselves make an effort to recognize and end racism, it will continue to be a perpetual cycle. No more laws or acts can be put in place to stop this issue, the change starts with us. Next time when talking to someone, be mindful of the things that you are saying. Think twice, even though what you are saying may sound normal to you, it might come off as racist to another. Unintentional racism is around us all the time every day and unless we act upon it and realize when it is happening, we will never see an end.
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