I wish a robot would get elected president. That way, when he came to town, we could all take a shot at him and not feel too bad. –Jack Handey
Question #15913 posted on 06/21/2005 3:01 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

How does one know if he/she has experienced racism? As a minority at BYU, I feel there are several situation where I feel left out.

I am wondering if I am just mad at the people in general or if there is a genuine case of racism. There are not many people I can turn to about this, as most of the people I know at BYU are white and they just think I am making a big deal out of nothing. They just don't beleive me and think I am just out there to find a reason to bring out the subject of racism. They think I am looking for an excuse. I am basically trying to come to terms with it and wanting to know if I can somehow make myself not think about it all the time.

- the other non-white guy on campus

A: Dear the other,

Racism is a hard to experience, particularly at a university that strives to promote Christian ideals.

Whether you are experiencing racism or not is hard to determine. Are you being excluded on the basis of your race alone or socioeconomic background (which often become conflated)? Are there people who make comments or whose actions lead you to believe that they believe that you are inferior due to your race? Do people make assumptions about you based solely on race?

If you are experiencing discomfort at school and your peers think you are making a big deal out of nothing, are you telling them about specific experiences and how they make you feel? They may be incosiderate, but that does not necessarily make them racist. There is a difference, but sometimes they are related.

BYU is not exactly diverse, but there are a number of students from different backgrounds who might be able to realte to the specific experiences you are dealing with. I attended a college where I was not in the racial majority but I personally stayed away from cultural groups until I had created an identity for myself as something other than a girl of a certain cultural background. When I was able to identify myself as person, I found comfort in attending cultural events with people who had grown up in similar circumstances and who had similar tales of growing up to tell. Reach out to your peers if you feel that a sense of community is what is making your experiences more marked.

Just remember that college is a time when everyone, to some degree or another, feels disconnected from who they thought they were. We're all looking for a place to call our own and BYU might be an opportunity for you to share your experiences with people who have never had multicultural friends. You could be a valuable friend for someone who will take a job in Detroit or Baltimore or Hawaii who might benefit from your unique worldview.

It must be frustrating to feel antogonized but remember that people's actions and words are not always considerate for reasons that extend beyond racism.

-la bamba
A: Dear other black (?) guy,

This is a really tough issue, and the short answer is that you can never really be sure, unless someone comes straight out and says "Just so you know, I'm treating you differently because you aren't white, like me." Which doesn't happen so often.

You start out being sure that things won't happen to you, that we live in a different age and that you're in a different group of people and then things just . . . start to happen and the first few times you shrug it off, but then you start to wonder, and worry. And then the next time something happens, you're even more suspicious. It's pretty easy to get into a state where you percieve every unfair event that the universe hands you as a personal put-down, and people will start to tell you that you're paranoid, but the truth is that you just don't know.

If you're white, you don't automatically think "racist" when a cop pulls you over for apparently no reason. If you're black or hispanic, you probably do. Truth is, sometimes cops just pull people over for no apparent reason. Or maybe your tail light was out. But the truth also is, that if you're black or hispanic, you probably get pulled over for "no reason" a lot more that whites do. So a little suspicion is justified.

I don't pretend for a second that I, a product of three kinds of Scandinavian ancestors, have ever been the victim of racism. I don't pretend to "know what you're going through." On the other hand, I most certainly have been the victim of sexism, having spent several semesters as a student and TA in a department which is at least 80% male. And I learned, slowly, that there are some guys who just don't really listen to girls or take their opinions seriously. Most of the time it was subtle enough that I wondered if I was imagining it, but a couple of instances were so blatant that I couldn't pretend it was anything else.

As far as your friends go, I think that most white people don't want to hear that they may be racist or that anyone may be racist. We like to think that as long as we're "nice" then everything will be OK. And if we're going to exclude someone, at least we were "nice" about it, right?

To be honest, I think that it takes a very smart, very wise person not to be racist or discriminatory. It takes a lot of work and thought to realize that you might be able to get along with someone different from you, and to figure out how to relate to them. (I think my heart is in the right place, but I can be very shy and I'm terrified of accidentally offending my non-white acquaintances.)

Please don't chalk up racist behavior to malice; it's probably just stupidity. Please don't think that you're just imagining things; people who tell you that are stupid, too. Please try not to jump to conclusions all the time--not because you're necessarily wrong, but because it's unhealthy to be paranoid.

You have been called to be Different, and I don't envy you that for a moment. You are Different in race from your churchmembers at BYU and you are Different in religion from your brothers of color. God can see that you are no different on the inside, but it will take very wise people to do the same. Try to find wise friends, try to educate your stupid friends and try to live as best you can in a difficult environment.

Ça ira,

- Katya