You’re a Minority Somewhere Travel
I can still remember vividly the first time my brother, who had by that point spent more than a year in Zambia with the U.S. Peace Corps as a health volunteer, firmly corrected my use of ‘reverse racism’ in conversations. I don’t recall the specifics, but it had something to do with some of the challenges that arose from being a minority. “Reverse racism,” he asked, “what’s that?” As I started to clarify and elaborate a bit, surprised by his confusion, he cut me off.
“Racism is racism”
Ultimately, we’re all members of complex social and racial groups. Racism isn’t a white vs. black or black vs. Hispanic or Asian vs. white dynamic. Racism is simple in its flexibility and that, as much as anything, is also something that is essential to remember.
My goal in sharing these musings and observations with you is to help encourage you to be honest with yourself, to be honest about your motivations, about your preconceptions and what they mean for you as you go to organize and plan a potential trip. Keep in mind that while these experiences and realizations reflect my personal insights as I explored Zambia, you may find similar ones as you venture into different cultural regions. It is also worth noting that in many ways the essence of these same realizations may hold true for Zambians making their first trip to the United States or Europe.
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The final key consideration tied to race and related issues, which I hope you’ll consider, is the emerging concept of self-licensing/moral-licensing. Earlier in this chapter I mentioned the age-old defense often used to justify bad behavior where one references their black, or gay, or female or jewish or friend as evidence that they’re not actually racist /sexist/bigoted. Self-licensing highlights the behavior that we’re all guilty of to some degree or another. It highlights situations where we take one basic and limited action, then use that action as currency in the bank to justify and license future behaviors that are contradictory.
In this way the bigot can point to President Obama’s ascention to the presidency and use that as license to justify and rebuke any racially descriminatory or limiting behavior moving forward. In Malcom Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History’s “The Lady Vanishes,” he introduces the concept of moral/ self-licensing from the perspective of women’s rights. His examples include The Roll Call by Elizabeth Thompson, a powerful and ground breaking painting by a woman as well as the election of Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Both vividly highlight just how damaging moral licensing can be.
It’s effectively the ethical equivelent of taking a tiny flight of stairs instead of the escalator in the metro on your way home from the metro. Actually, scratch that. Not even a flight of stairs. More like walking the two steps to bypass the ramp to the elevator. Then using that as justification that you’ve been healthy, worked out and earned the right to eat an entire tub of ice cream In terms of racial bias, simply having that one black friend does not suddenly give you license to abandon your self work on breaking down racial barriers and bias or mean that you’re free of them
Regardless of where you are in the journey, I hope you’ll embrace the challenge, welcome it, and push yourself to connect with people. To reach out to them. To understand them To learn from them and eventually to allow whatever deeply buried prejudice, bigotry, or well-intentioned ignorance you may harbor to be burned away by the experience. My time in Africa not only offered rich experiences and improved my internal person, but it left me prepared to be a better brother to my fellow human beings.