Culture and Racial Unease

How do we come to consciousness considering that most of us R unaware of the racism &  disregard of the poor that is part of our culture?
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This special column was written by Robert Krouskoff - father of Pearl Shaw and father-in-law of Melvin Shaw. We share his words in hopes that they will inspire you. Learn more about Mr. Krouskoff.

We live in a culture of racism (and disregard for the poor) without knowing or thinking about it. This cultural conditioning is like a fog or an atmosphere in which we are totally enveloped. We don’t see it, it is not easily cleared away and without our realizing it, we find our fundamental values are obscured. One such value is the inherent dignity of every human being.

The question we must face is: How do we come to consciousness considering that most of us are unaware of the racism and disregard of the poor that is part of our culture? It could be that we are trapped, solidified, in the attitudes and opinions of our youth — what was talked about around the dinner table, and what was not talked about, who was picked on in the school yard, who was ignored in the school lunchroom. Later on at our jobs, in our churches—is someone missing or ignored? Injustice is easy for us to miss when it affects people of different color or different social status from ourselves.

It seems to me we must set an ultimate goal for ourselves: to develop a deep compassion and concern for those who suffer just outside of our sight. How do we care for those who are growing up in generational poverty? Those who have inadequate housing or no housing at all? Those threatened with intense police harassment or the possibility of deportation. In other words for those whom Christ had the most concern.

It is important to realize that the most disadvantaged often need allies in order for their voices to be heard and their conditions addressed. It is our responsibility as those who have the means and the power to take up the challenge of those who are suffering. However, from my own experience I have realized we are not easily moved to take action because we do not observe or fully understand the difficulties and sufferings of others. The culture we live in helps keep us from a consciousness that allows us to truly understand those in situations different from our own.

Personally, I have found that reading has helped increase my understanding. For a thorough examination of the deceitful use of the so-called War on Drugs as a mask for the wholesale imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of young black men, one can’t find a better book than Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.” Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy” details true stories of one man’s successes and defeats in a noble struggle against the racial misuse of the death penalty. If anyone thinks there are equal rights, equal justice — the devastating true story, “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” by Jeff Hobbs will be an eye-opener.

Once we become convinced of the reality of racial injustice, it remains for us to take that first step to combat it. But it’s not easy to confront someone who has just uttered a racial slur or someone who can’t see how policies can have disparate impacts depending on one’s race or economic status. One way to take a first step is to keep a few folded copies of this essay in your pocket, and rather than respond, just hand that person a copy. A letter to the local newspaper is a time honored way to get your message out there. And there is always the social media. Finally, a book club using one of the books mentioned above in a congenial setting could be effective.

Our country, our society is too precious to just ignore or wish away difficulties that have for too long threatened the well being and even, in some cases, the survival of too many of our neighbors.

Robert Krouskoff



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