The theme for Symposium this year was “Reformation: Transforming the World One Door at a Time,” and although the plenary session I attended focused on the Lutheran history of the Reformation, I would like to look at the Reformation from a more personal angle. Reformation from the non-Lutheran perspective can simply be defined as “the process of improving an existing form and making it right.”
Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, who spoke at the third plenary session, mentioned something that caught my attention: those who suffer the most from global warming are poor people, mostly people of color in different parts of the world, especially on the continents of Asia and Africa. Even in the United States, those who suffer the most from the aftermath of climate change, like hurricanes and storms, are the poor. This leads me to wonder how bad environmental racism is and how this has affected millions of innocent people and will continue to do so if something is not done immediately.
A session hosted by Dr. Dwight Peterson of the psychology department titled “Reformulating Race” focused on the process by which the human mind has shaped the concept of race and how this goes on to affect our actions, intentionally or not. In this talk, Peterson spoke about the cross-race effect, in which there is greater memory accuracy for same-race compared to other-race faces and this has been characterized by high false alarm rates. Personally, I think this is one of the situations in which the brain has been wired to interpret what it thinks rather than what it sees. This phenomenon has led to people giving false witness reports which have led to people getting into trouble and in extreme situations, have put the innocent on death row.
How do we overcome our personal biases? I know and understand that many of us try to be as neutral as possible in most situations, but what do we do with our brain that has been shaped to behave independently? Racism, whether environmental or personal, plays a huge role in the way things happen in our societies, be it in letting the poor minority groups suffer from the effects of Western developments or passing the wrong judgments based on preexisting stereotypes. We as humans have to do better in the way we view people who are obviously different from us. One step towards this is acknowledging the fact that we are all different. As Peterson stated during his session, “Unless you have some sort of vision impairment, don’t say you don’t see color, because we all see it.” Denial only creates more hypocrisy and makes the problem hard to identify.
Acknowledging differences is what makes the world the diverse place it is meant to be; that is how we all learn from our mistakes and also learn what to do or not to do. Accepting our differences will help us understand how to treat one another and it will also help us become more empathetic as human beings.
So next time, don’t say, “I don’t see color.” I know everyone with good vision sees color. Instead of denying that diversity exists, we should all accept the fact that we are all different, and maybe come together and work with our differences. Learn about other races, listen to their stories, have empathy for them and ask them what you can do to make life better, not just for them, but for yourself as well. Every race has a unique story and different struggle. Use your privilege to help, rather than claiming to not have any privilege and using this as an excuse for being oblivious to the struggles of others.
The human race is be a huge umbrella that houses humans of all races. We should aim at reforming the word “race” into something more beautiful and diverse, instead of seeing it as a sign of human division.