Jewish World Review Sept. 29, 2004 / 14 Tishrei, 5765

Issac J. Bailey

Issac J. Bailey
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Conditioning doesn't equal racism | She wasn't supposed to be black.

My mind had convinced me of that long before the job candidate walked through the door - though my mind didn't bother telling me until I saw her. I think it disappointed me, at least for a few seconds, because she wasn't what I was expecting.

I can't tell you why my expectations were what they were. But I can tell you they emanated from the same place that makes me see a white man when I close my eyes and think ``doctor,'' or a black man when I think ``professional basketball player'' or a white woman when I think ``teacher.'' They come from the same place that made me want to deny that I enjoy the music of Avril Lavigne.

I can tell you they come from the same place that once made me stare intently at a magazine cover because the little baby model had dark skin, not the fair skin I was used to seeing in such settings.

I can tell you it comes from that superficial place present in us all that is built upon experience and repetition - some call it conditioning - but too often gets called racism and deemed sinister.

For a long time, I felt guilty about such thoughts and have come across plenty of others who write me anonymously or tell me discreetly they have done the same.

Like my friend who was surprised to be taken aback to see another friend involved in an interracial relationship, or another friend who has spent her life fighting bigotry but was awash in immediate disappointment when her black daughter brought home a white boyfriend.

But those thoughts aren't problems.

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They are natural, as natural as unwittingly walking past your car after work because for the first time in a month you parked in aisle two rather than 10. Your mind had been trained to expect aisle 10 and led you accordingly.

The problems arise when we allow those initial thoughts to guide us to exclude others from our personal lives or job opportunities because we don't feel comfortable and have convinced ourselves that the power to resist superficial judgment is beyond our capabilities.

And the problems arise when we beat ourselves into such a corner that we can't discuss those thoughts freely and honestly without fear of being labeled repugnant racists.

The problems arise when we forget that we all are only humans, all affected by our environment whether we admit it or not.

Issac J. Bailey is a columnist for the Myrtle Beach, S.C., Sun News. Comment by clicking here.


09/22/04: My brother belonged in jail
09/15/04: Tiny miracles remind us of life's choices
05/04/04: What about the rights of dads-to-be?

© The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, S.C.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.