So here we are in 2007 and Jim Crow is gone. People of all colors ride the same buses, eat in the same restaurants and use the same public rest rooms. There are minority millionaires all over television and the media. When's the last time a person was hung for being different? Heck, how often are racial epithets used in the presence of those they are being directed against?
Minorities are much better represented in schools, the workplace and suburban neighborhoods once considered off limits. But, has the legislation of anti hate laws changed how people feel inside? Do we discuss amongst people of the same race, class, ethnic group, sex or sexual orientation the same things we would discuss when in mixed company? If so, do we use the same language. Are we still afraid of those people who are different from us?
Of course we're still human and can't help but feel prejudices those we acknowledge and those we don't. Many of us tolerate epithets and degrading forms of stereotyping being discussed when in the company of our own group. Perhaps we feel it would be breaking some bond or level of trust with our peers if we were to say something about it. Maybe we feel there's some level of intimacy involved that we won't be allowed to experience again if we're to say it offends us to hear that kind of talk. The truth is none of us can be perfect.
As humans we need to have closeness in our social groups. We need to learn about and develop bonds with others. We need to figure out group dynamic and where we fit in. We need to have trust in our relationships or those relationships are pointless. These things help feed our emotional needs and help us navigate our way through the myriad social links and opportunities we will find on our search to better ourselves and our stations in life.
So, how do we react when we come across these things in school or in the workplace? We need to be part of a team here and not rock the boat. We need to be associated with progress and with things running smoothly. Spending too much time on someone else's problem could lead to isolation and worse. We cannot be viewed as a threat or a "rat." It very well might be safer to our position in these situations to simply turn our heads and say nothing.
Now, let's take it a step further. How would we react if we saw someone being targeted because of a difference? By targeted I mean harassed, discriminated against or abused because they are of a minority group. No matter the law we still live in a world where for the most part we socialize with our own kind. We also tend to live in segregation. It is in the workplace and schools where we come together.
That's where most of todays acts of hate are carried out. Some of the most psychologically distressing and damaging experiences of harassment and discrimination happen among our coworkers and classmates. These experiences tend to follow the victims in various forms for years afterwards, yet justice is hard to come by. This is because of the forms the negative behavior takes in todays p.c. world.
For example the chances of say a non-black person approaching an African American at work and saying, "I think you're a nigger and because of that you can't work here" are slim. This is a direct racist insult and further it clearly states because of a person's color they are not wanted at work. These by themselves are illegal and together are a double whammy for any employer. This behavior could jeopardize the job status of the person who utters the words and could in fact open the entire company to lawsuits and negative publicity.
Todays bigot has to employ a bit of sophistication and cleverness to perpetuate hate without paying a price. In terms of language subtlety and abstraction are the words to remember. The idea is to refer to to a person as a redskin, spic, chink, kike, nigger, towel head, cunt, faggot or a dyke without ever using those or any other disparaging terms - at least not outright. This is all done in the form of references and abstract language. Leets and Giles (1997) defined these abstractions as, "utterances in which sentence meaning and the speaker meaning are not necessarily identical...[these acts] convey multiple speaker meanings, which lessen the speaker's accountability."
Typically the way to harass someone using this method is by doing it until it starts to get to the person. Once they have noticed the language is referring to them you drive the message home by doing it over and over until it wears them down psychologically. This way their concentration has been broken and your victim has been distracted. The more people involved in the harassment the more effective this behavior will be. This can lead to declining performance on the part of the victim due to distraction, stress and confusion all arising out of the emotional and psychological damage induced by the abuse. This way if the person complains and blames racism or prejudice of some sort it can be blamed on other factors such as a supervisor saying, "they seemed distracted lately and forgetful."
To create the full effect sabatauge of important documents and utensils can occur. Physical jostling, brushing against or bumping of an individual can be repetitively implemented to induce fear and paranoia among other distracting emotions. Rumors are often spread to embarrass and humiliate the subject. Sometimes assignments, tasks or projects are given to the individual which are set up to fail causing distress to the individual culminating in poor workplace reports and bad school grades.
Together or individually these act create a hostile environment inflicting psychological pain and even damage on the targeted individual not to mention loss of grades, employment, income and benefits. This happens every day across the country and very few of the cases are ever brought to justice. These cases can be brought to justice for those interested, but it can be difficult. Employers often are uncooperative for fear of adverse consequences arising out of doing so. Successful court cases are won by presenting evidence of a pattern of harassment as most individual occurrences are by design easy to dismiss by themselves.
What would you do if you saw this occurring? Would you turn a blind eye to it? Would you be bullied into participating? What would your inner voice tell you is right and would you have the strength to do something about it? As we face a new age of getting to know each other these issues will have to be faced and rooted out. It is part of the next set of hurdles we face in the course of living together peacefully. Being fearful of each other is a human emotion easily arising in even the best of us. Standing up to that fear is another thing entirely.
To read more about my experiences with harassment go to this web site.