All I Really Need To Know (About Racism) I Learned in Kindergarten

A friend suggested this well-known poster as a writing topic:


Conveniently, this was already going to be the subject of tonight’s post.

Recently I moved to Georgia.  Like I brought up the other day, the civil rights movement really wasn’t that long ago, and the south will be dealing with this legacy for a while.  So I was only mildly surprised when I had my first awkward quasi-racist experience a bit ago.  That story will be for another day.  First, I need to write a different one.

A common trope in our culture is that urban=metropolitan-multicultural and rural=backward-bigoted.  The reasoning breaks down as such:

  1. Rural areas tend to have fewer demographics represented, and minorities are too small to form viable, visible communities. For example, if ten-in-a-million people in NYC are Sikhs, there will a community of 80 Sikhs in the 300 square miles of New York City.  If ten-in-a-million people in Wyoming are Sikhs, there will be 5 of them spread across 98,000 square miles.
  2. Lack of interaction and exposure to different people, which are features of rural areas, lead to lack of opportunities to dispel prejudices.
  3. With a lack of opportunities to learn that other people are “just like us,” stereotypes and discrimination flourish.

As I have mentioned before, I am from Wyoming, that quirky western state with about .2% of the USA’s population and a capital city of about 60,000, making it far more rural than any southern state.  In my elementary school, there were about 40 kids per grade, split into 2 classes per grade.  Out of that 40, there was one black girl.  There were three boys who were Hispanic, which I didn’t even know was a “race” as a kid.  The only significant and noticeable “minority” group were the Mormon kids who would go to church a few mornings a week as part of religious education.  They weren’t really that different either though; most were self-proclaimed “Jack” Mormons who did things they weren’t supposed to, like drink caffeine and other minor transgressions.  The “Molly” Mormons hung out with the regular kids too for lack of other options.  The bottom line here is that I grew up in one of the least metropolitan-multicultural environments in America.

So what happened to me with this dangerous lack of opportunities to learn that people of other races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, sexual orientations, etc, weren’t really so different after all?  What did I learn growing up in an essentially all-white community?

I grew up noticing that all the smart kids in my class were white.  So were the dumb ones.  The well behaved kids in my class were white.  So were the bad ones.  The athletes were white.  The nerds were white.  My friends were white.  So were my bullies.  I never made judgments based on race, because making judgments based on race wasn’t possible in the first place.  As a result, I learned to see the world in terms of smart people and dumb people, athletic people and unathletic people, and nice people and mean people, instead of in terms of black, white, Asian, Hispanic, etc.

Ultimately, unlike #3 in the reasoning chain above, my pretty racially homogeneous hometown did not deprive me of a chance to dispel racial stereotypes through experience.  Rather, it taught me that race wasn’t a useful way of determining much of anything about a person.*  And so it is that I don’t believe discrimination necessarily arises from a lack of interaction with people who are of a different race, ethnicity, religion, etc, and therefore is not a problem destined to be endemic to rural areas by virtue of their ruralness.

Enjoy this related Ralphie May clip about Rusty the Retard which furthers the point.

*Technically my experience taught me the contrapositive of this: the only useful ways I had of making decisions about people had nothing to do with race.  Logically if a statement is true then its contrapositive is also true, and in this instance my point was better made by using the contrapositive of the more straightforward statement.


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