A couple years back, I was explaining racism to my son, Dash. He was baffled by it, as was I at his age. He lives in a truly diverse neighborhood and goes to a truly diverse school. While he’d studied racism in class, he thought it was a thing of the past.
“Oh no,” I told him, shaking my head. “There will always be racists. Just as there will always be people who hate women, or gay people, or Muslims, or Jews.”
“Because it’s how they define themselves.”
“Nobody wants to be a racist!” he protested.
“Nobody wants to be called a racist,” I corrected gently. “But think about this. You’re ten years old, and already you can define yourself by who you are, what you do. You play piano, you draw — ”
“I play Minecraft!”
“You play Minecraft. You like Dungeons and Dragons. Those are all positive things. You define yourself by what you are.” I sighed. “Then there are people who can’t do that. Who have nothing they think that makes them special, or who have failed at their dreams, or who have never gotten the chance to do what they wanted, or weren’t good enough or lucky enough to have the success they feel they were owed. So they can’t define themselves by what they are. So they define themselves by what they aren’t.”
“Think about it. If you work an awful job, if you were bullied, if you didn’t get along with your parents, basically if you don’t like your life, the only way you have to make yourself feel good about who you are is by thinking there are people who are, by their very nature, worse than you. You don’t like where you live? At least you’re not black. Hate your job? Hey, you could be Mexican. Don’t have a girlfriend? Well, hey, you could be gay! Hating other people comes from insecurity. It comes from having nothing inside yourself that you believe in. You can’t create a positive definition of yourself, so you craft a negative one. Instead of ‘I am this and I do that’ you say, ‘I’m not this and I don’t do that.’ By its very nature, it’s a negative definition. And negativity is far easier to identify with than positivity.”
“That doesn’t make sense!”
“I know. But think about it. When you’re in class, and the teacher asks a question and no one answers, what are you all thinking?”