(Pictured: Giovan M., Age 18, West Henrietta, NY)
When we uphold Frederick Douglass’s view that racism is a “moral disorder” instead of just an abstract phenomenon, it becomes easier for us to understand why current, good-intentioned measures to mitigate racial injustice are failing to create any meaningful change and what type of change we must enact to decimate this centuries-long outbreak.
If, as Frederick Douglas asserts, racism is a disease, we must be able to classify it: first, is it contagious? Based on the fact that racism continues to thrive today although racial prejudice began centuries ago, it must be contagious; otherwise, racial problems would’ve long been eradicated. Furthermore, it is a universal observation that parents are able to impart their ideologies, assumptions, and racism to their children, so if racism can pass from generation to generation, it must be contagious. After determining that this disease is contagious, the question then becomes how does it spread; is it analogous, to perhaps, bacterial or viral? Bacteria reproduce and survive by themselves whereas viruses must implant themselves into hosts, taking over and altering the host genome for their own benefit, and then reproducing themselves to control more cells. In The Color Line, Douglass asserts that racism acts by disfiguring perception “according to its own diseased imagination and distorts the features of the fancied original to support the portrait”. This distortion is similar to how a virus works; it corrupts a cell’s genome to mirror its own DNA. Furthermore, racism can not survive autonomously, it must have a host, thus disqualifying the prospect of being analogous to bacteria. Once we realize that racism is like a contagious, viral disease it becomes obvious why current measures to restore justice aren’t working. Police body cameras, ending chokeholds, and “slightly” defunding the police are all beneficial, but they’re merely “Band-Aid”fixes that don’t eradicate the source of the issue. All of these remedies are akin to mere antibacterials attempting to kill a virus; they sound advantageous, but they’re the wrong type of remedy. The problem is not just that police officers are inappropriately using their power, the problem is that there is an inequitable bias against people of color (POCs) deeply entrenched inside all of us. Yes, we are all infected and we need more than just good-intentioned antibacterials to ameliorate this pandemic.
We need antivirals: momentous remedies that will destroy the source of racial inequity. In particular, we need education. We all must become considerably more educated on the terrible plight of POCs and the systematic racism that still exists today. In schools, present-day institutional racism should be a unit in history class, with a research component so that students can interact with the data themselves and realize the current problems that exist in America. When entering a job, significant personal development on inherent bias and current institutional racism should be a mandatory part of employee training. Furthermore, national holidays and memorials should be created celebrating the meritorious accomplishments of POCs despite constant oppression and displacing those holidays and memorials which represent racism and injustice, among them Columbus Day and the numerous memorials honoring Confederate generals.
However, while static, data-oriented education is beneficial, non-POCs must also be educated dynamically, developing friendships with POCs so that they can understand their collective humanity. Senseless killings like that by police officers Derek Chauvin and Garret Rolfe delineate that numerous white people believe (albeit unconsciously) that the lives of POCs simply don’t matter as much as white lives. Only by an interaction between people of all walks of life will this assumption be destroyed. Affirmative action programs must be intensified so that all people can synergistically benefit from each other’s experiences and realize each other’s humanity. POCs must have POC-teachers, administrators, and police officers – finally, role models that look like them – to diminish their own bias against themselves. Yet, numerous more changes must be enacted so that non-POCs understand the current plight and inner humanity of diverse peoples.
Only through a combination of static and dynamic education will racism be destroyed. By serving as an “antiviral” to those already infected and a “vaccine” to those too young to be symptomatic, education will allow us to mitigate the current institutional racism and inherent bias which plagues our world. Unfortunately, like any other virus, racism is able to mutate: it first began in slavery, then transformed to segregation and the false “separate but equal” principle, and now institutional racism and inherent bias. As a virus, racism will necessarily continue to mutate but we must relentlessly educate ourselves. Only through a perpetual prescription of knowledge can we hope to eliminate racial injustice. Frederick Douglass eloquently began the conversation in the mid-19th century, now in the 21st century, it’s time for us to take up the torch and transform his brilliant words into purposeful action.