Racism works by keeping people of color the center of attention, and white, ruling class men the center of power. Certainly, racism greatly benefits some while others end up becoming victims of it. A case in point: Hines Ward is an “Amerasian” (American-Asian) athlete. His parents met when his father was stationed in South Korea and his mother was working as a waitress in a nightclub. They moved to the U.S. when Hines was a toddler. After the couple divorced, a court awarded custody to his father because his mother spoke little English. But Ward ran away when he was 7 to live with his mother, Kim Young Hee, who managed to support herself and her child by working three jobs. Even in the United States, Korean immigrants excluded her son from their gatherings because of his racial background. In ethnically homogenous South Korea, such mixed-race offspring are generally viewed with contempt. And because social status is based on being registered under the father's name, children raised by their mothers alone in effect are treated as non-persons.
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This is an indication of how pervasive and deep rooted racism is--how it goes far beyond our personal attitudes or prejudices. We have been made to believe that racism is a question of particular acts of discrimination or violence. Calling someone a name, denying someone a job, excluding someone from a neighborhood—these certainly are acts of racism. But what about living in a white suburb where people of color are excluded or harassed? What about working in an organization where people of color are paid less, have more menial work or fewer opportunities for advancement? Racism affects each and every aspect of our lives, all the time, whether people of color are present or not.
What is racism? Racism is often referred to as a problem of prejudice. Prejudice is a result of racism, and it triggers acts of violence towards people of color. However, it may be assumed that racism is the institutionalization of social injustice based on skin color, other physical characteristics, and cultural and religious difference. White racism is the uneven and unfair distribution of power, privilege, land and material goods favoring white people. Although we can and should all become more tolerant and understanding of each other, only justice will eliminate racism.
Sexism is another form of discrimination against people based on their sex rather than their individual merits. Sexism against females is one of the most common types of sexism. A case in point: Capt. Alicia Mathis, a 17-year veteran firefighter, filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging gender discrimination, hostile work environment, harassment and retaliation. The complaint is an administrative prerequisite to a class-action suit.
Apparently, sexism against gays also exists in societies around the world, but this has seemed to gradually decrease in number as gays have been gaining social acceptance. In the United States, for example, social acceptance of gays is readily apparent in everything from television sitcoms to corporate anti-discrimination policies to recent U.S. Supreme Court opinions.
Having cited three separate examples of racism and sexism, it is important for us to realize the need to unlearn prejudice, widen our understanding of racism and sexism and learn to recognize injustice when we see it happen. We must understand the complexities of how racism and sexism work without becoming weakened by our understanding. More importantly, we must take part in the battle against racism and sexism. There is a need to recognize the profundity of our emotional response to racism and sexism without becoming overly affected by our feelings.
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