The recent Muslim travel ban has resulted in a public outcry. Because the ban affects travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, activists argue it is a form of religious discrimination and therefore unconstitutional. The ban is certainly a slippery slope towards outright categorization of people by religion, something Donald Trump proposed multiple times during his campaign in the form of a Muslim registry.
Despite the Trump’s administration refusal to call it a Muslim ban, the executive order was almost immediately (and, in my opinion, correctly) labeled as such and followed by vehement protest. Religious discrimination is certainly not new in America, but it is not what we use most often to categorize people. In times like these, it’s important to be aware of our internalized biases that cause us to see people as part of a demographic, rather than individuals. We cannot always tell someone’s religion, but there is another category that is easier to see. And if we cannot see it, we make it a point to find out. That category is race.
America’s relationship with race is a strange one, and the race relations within our country are a testament to that. Somehow the nation is simultaneously obsessed with and ignorant of race. People are quick to ask “what [race] are you?” but they never seem to follow up with “how does that affect your life?”. Even though race is an integral part of our daily existence, some refuse to acknowledge its influence.
“Stop playing the race card,” they say – as if it was something every person of color kept hidden up their sleeve, waiting for an opportune moment to win their hand at a game of blackjack.
“Why do you have to bring race into it?” As if race was not an integral part of our existence, our culture, a way for people to categorize us and make sense of “the other.” As if our society was not built upon generations and generations of generalizations based on race.
“I just don’t see color.” As if this country was ever capable of being blind to color. As if there weren’t seats reserved in the front for whites, as if colored people were not banned from restaurants, schools, and swimming pools. As if after decades of de jure segregation, we did not hastily transition into de facto segregation. As if the marginalization and gentrification of people of color, especially black people, wasn’t the result of systematic and institutionalized racism. As if the phrase “black lives matter” was not immediately shot down with a vicious “all lives matter.” As if black victims weren’t written off as thugs and white criminals weren’t described as troubled, effectively absolving them of any real guilt. As if a man with a turban and a beard flying into LAX from Iran isn’t labeled a terrorist, while a clean-shaven white man who commits a mass shooting is not.
For the majority (and the minorities) of us, race plays a hand in our day-to-day thinking more than religion does. It’s more than a box we check on our paperwork, it’s how we see the world. Not completely, of course, but it’s important to notice our judgments of people are partly a product of what we believe to be their race. It’s a crutch we fall back on before we get to fully know a person. Now more than every, we have to be aware of our internalized prejucide – whether it be towards a particular race or religion. It’s time we, as Americans, turn away from “the wall” and take a long look in the mirror. It’s time that we ask ourselves – “Seriously?”
P.S. I highly recommend watching the music video for “Seriously”. Performed by Leslie Odom Jr. for This American Life. Written by Sara Bareilles.