Learning about Racism – Learned

To understand the fundamental difference between “taught” and “learned” is critical to this debate. To be taught requires the active involvement of a teacher, while learning can be both active and passive. One can learn by being taught AND one can learn by teaching themself. With respect to this debate, to say that racism is taught would not be wrong per se but it is only partially correct.

If attention is focussed on the learner, it would be useful to question why it is possible for people who have had similar upbringings to reflect totally different views concerning the issue of racism. Even siblings with seemingly identical learning environments, will often develop with totally diverse racial outlooks.

It is encumbent upon all of us to show respect to all fellow human beings, to acknowledge them as we pass them by and to afford them all due civil courtesies. What is identified as racism appears, in many cases, to be learnt behaviour. When events occur early in life, mental processes begin to shape our thinking, it is a natural process. Put your hand into a flame, experience the heat, get burned, recognise that all fires are hot and all are dangerous. When was the last time you placed your hand into hot coals to see if they still have the same qualities?

If some one does us wrong when we are small, our mental processing, in its developing form, allows us to categorize. If uncle Bill has bad breath and he has a beard, a child might readily associate bad breath with beards. If a person with darker skin is seen hitting someone, then by the same process, people with dark skin might be seen as violent. Remember, it doesn’t require anyone else’s input! These are simple, natural, mental processes experienced by all of us.

Perhaps a more useful debate might involve discussion about whether there is some point during early learning that would lend itself to early intervention so that these “accidental” racial building blocks can be re-programmed. So the notion of teaching racism might take on a whole new meaning. It might be possible for teachers and parents to find pro-active means by which race issues are integrated into early problem solving exercises so that children are made aware of thought processes leading to racist views?

Another issue entirely, is what to do about the active teaching of racism. It is difficult to know where to begin but it would be much more difficult to teach racism if children had experienced some early learning that included means by which not to naturally become a racist.