I once thought that racism was dead.
I grew up in a Christian home and we were taught that all men and women were created in God's image regardless of their race. We were taught to love and respect people who were not like us.
I attended a great school that reinforced these values and in my world as a young person I could not imagine that racism was still an issue in the world.
And then I went to college...
Looking back, I stepped onto my college campus a bit naive about how the world worked.
I know that I am not alone. Most young people who go to college are exposed to people, world-views, and attitudes that they have never been exposed to before.
Suddenly, I was confronted with issues that I had never thought of before and opinions that were polar opposite of my own. Everything that I had been taught and believed seemed to be challenged at every step.
Racism was one of these issues.
I enrolled in a class called "Race and Ethnicity in the U.S." It looked like an interesting class and it was required for my political science degree so I signed up.
Little did I know that this class would challenge my world view in a significant way.
I walked into class and from the first day I knew that this class was going to challenge me.
The teacher was a tall, slender man who was very passionate about the subject and declared early on - "Racism is alive and well in the United States."
This shocked me.
I thought that racism went away after the Civil Right Movement. I thought that we all loved each other. I thought that racist attitudes were a thing of the past.
It seems as though I had thought wrong.
I spent the entire semester in class with a melting pot of races and ethnicities. I sat alongside African-American, Middle Eastern, White, and Hispanic students.
I learned about some of their personal experiences with racial issues and I realized that maybe some of my pre-conceived notions about the issue of race needed to be re-visited.
I walked out of the class that year with a wider perspective, and I was grateful for it.
It is probably the most beneficial class I ever took in college.
I am now 32 years old and I took that class when I was 19. It has been a few years and I have had time to process.
In my processing I have come to a few conclusions.
First, I cannot go back and change race issues from the past. Unfortunately, the negative experiences and treatment that people have experienced are real and I cannot make it disappear - although I would love to.
Second, I am responsible for my attitude and sentiment towards people of other races. I am responsible to make sure that my heart and attitude are Christ-like. I am responsible to guard against prejudice in my own mind.
Third, I cannot change anyone's attitude or heart on the issue of racism, but I can model a better way and a different attitude. My actions can speak volumes more than my words can.
My final conclusion is the most important to me:
I believe that defeating racism starts in the home.
It ultimately does not fall to a school, or culture, or the news to instill values. These entities can re-inforce values (or erode them), but the values of dignity, love, and honor for all races and ethnicities should begin in the home!
I was talking with a friend recently and I told her that I think the best way to defeat racism in America at a grassroots level is for parents to instill from a young age the truth that all people are made in the image of God. Parents should speak honestly to their kids about racial issues. They should never tolerate racist jokes or slurs or anything that would come close to it.
Defeating something big typically starts by consistently doing things that are small.
Small conversations and promotion of values in the home can over time defeat the big issue of racism.
In the end, I cannot change the past issues of racism, but I can take responsibility for ensuring that these are not carried on through my kids.
I am taking responsibility for my boys.
As for me and my house - we will love, respect, and honor all races.
I think that this is ultimately the best defense against racism.
Will you do the same?