Throughout the last year, I have taken a few classes about social justice in education. These classes often talk about racial barriers, sexism, heternormativity, and other ways that people can be oppressed and marginalized. As an educator, I am aware of these issues and have been for years. I have often left these classes wondering, why are we wasting so much time on this basic knowledge? I get it, everyone gets it. I have gotten it for a long time, and I want to move on to things that I don’t get. Education is about learning, and I felt that I was not learning what I needed to in these classes.
I recently had a conversation, however, that changed my entire thinking. I have an acquaintance who I have not known a terribly long time, but occasionally have conversations with. This was our conversation as best as I can remember it.
Friend: Another day, another dollar.
Me: You only make a dollar every day?
Friend: Well the rest goes to the Indians.
Me: I have a hard time believing you are sending your cheques overseas
Friend: No, just to our native savages
Me: Oh just how you casually degraded an entire population of human beings
Friend: Just the ones too lazy to get jobs.
The conversation continued briefly until he decided to stop responding to my questions. I was trying to get him to realize his error without directly pointing it out, but sometimes subtlety is not my strength. I was completely floored that someone would actually think this way. I pointed out that, as a student, I have chosen not to work and I receive student loans, which come from taxpayers. I pointed out how interesting it was that all of the recent generations of his family are fully German, and how easily it could be argued that Germans have been the most savage people in recent history, and how funny it was for someone of that descent to call a marginalized and oppressed people savage. He had no answers for me. He had formed a completely racist opinion based on perceived evidence with no further exploration.
And I was terrified.
This man is under the age of thirty, there is no excuse of ‘oh he just grew up in a different time’ (which is still no excuse….). This is one person who will be on this planet for at least another half-century. And if there is one person here who is like that, it can only be assumed there are many others. It has never even crossed my mind that people who live in my city would hold these attitudes.
So, now that I know this. What do I do about it?