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Posted February 12, 2012

The anatomy of racism

By Father Eugene Hemrick

"He is doing a number of right things, but I still wonder about blacks in leadership positions."

When I heard this from a fairly educated person, I thought to myself, "Racism still persists despite the enormous strides made to overcome it and despite how much schooling a person may have had."

Racism takes many forms. It involves envisioning all people who speak with a strong Southern accent as lynching-mob members of the Ku Klux Klan.

It is seeing Muslims as terrorists, or hearing Koreans, Vietnamese or Japanese speak their language and still considering them enemies of the United States.

It is encountering a black youth walking down the street and feeling the need to take precaution, or watching Jewish boys wearing black fedoras and wondering whether the Jews are behind our economic woes.

It is being irked when hearing Latinos/as speak Spanish even though they can speak English.

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once remarked, "The United States has been called the melting pot of the world. But it seems to me that the colored man either missed getting into the pot or he got melted down."

A form of racism seldom addressed is the melting pot mentality that holds that everyone else must "melt" into "my" culture.

What is behind such attitudes and feelings?

U.S. civil rights activist Bayard Rustin once wrote: "The resort to stereotype is the first refuge and chief strategy of the bigot."

To be a bigot is to be intolerant. In Latin the word "tolerant" means to lift up. On the other hand, intolerance means to put down.

Ironically, the basis of racism is a sense of inferiority in a person brought up in an atmosphere intolerant of other cultures. Or perhaps this person has never tried or desired to eradicate his or her ignorance regarding other races.

Racists tend to be little people living in a narrow world. They resort to belittling others as a means of being above them and preserving their provincialism.

Racism has been and will always be among us. The next time we detect it, it would be wise to dissect it in order to learn its anatomy.

Studying the makeup of a disease is the best way to stop it.