Day 87: When is ignorance no longer forgivable?

** photo credit Jordan Frazier @jordansok

“There’s no such thing as white privilege.”

“Why are people of color complaining? Maybe they brought these problems on themselves.”

“Slavery ended a long time ago. Why haven’t people gotten over it?”

There was a time, sadly not long ago, when I would’ve said statements like the ones above. It wasn’t that I was hateful or intentionally racist, I was just profoundly ignorant. I spent the first 25 years of my life in a homogenous community with no real exposure to diversity or different viewpoints. Going to college and eventually leaving my hometown opened my eyes to a world outside of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant land. And while I’m working hard to stayed educated, empathetic, and challenge my preconceived ideas, I find I’m still profoundly ignorant of the struggles people of color continue to go through in this country.

Roughly 10 years ago when I was far more conservative and insulated from the outside world, I encountered people who challenged my ideas. And not just ideas about racial issues in this country, but also other progressive ideas like feminism, gay rights, universal healthcare, abortion rights, and other human rights issues, all of which I opposed at the time. The people who challenged my ideas were patient. They never called me racist. They never insulted or undermined me or my passion for religion. They simply asked questions. And many of them would be pleased to know that asking those questions sowed seeds that would help me become the person I am today, someone who believes very strongly in human rights, equality, and empathy. However, this is no excuse for my ignorance.

At the time I shut my mind to any idea that conflicted with my preconceived worldview. At the time I didn’t consider that people struggled with issues that I was incapable of understanding. At the time I believed that if a person was suffering, well, they must have brought it on themselves. I don’t excuse my ignorance, but I am certainly grateful for the people that patiently encouraged me to consider a new perspective. Are we too quick to crucify ignorance? Or is there no excuse for it nowadays?

I know people personally who are truly racist. They scoff at the Black Lives Matter movement. There’s not a shred of empathy in them. And they’re unapologetic for it. I’ve cut most of these people out of my life. However, I also know people who live in tiny, insulated communities with little access to diversity and virtually no interaction with anyone outside of their all white church community. And while many of them are empathetic by nature, they’ve never interacted with people of color, the LGBTQ community, or women who have had to get an abortion. When asked about these issues, they make incredibly ignorant statements and demonstrate their lack of knowledge of other people’s problems. I truly believe that if they just had more interaction outside of their bubble, they would have a new perspective, but maybe I’m too optimistic. Is their ignorance forgivable? Can they be reached?

When is ignorance no longer forgivable? Ignorance is not innocent in of itself as it exacerbates the problems in this country. At a certain point, a person chooses to remain ignorant. It seems those who are willing to question their point of view and consider opening their mind are far more likely to address their lack of knowledge. But how many people are willing to do that? How many people would rather stubbornly cross their arms, pout, and say “that’s not my problem!” At what point do we give up on a person and say “clearly you’ve chosen to be a part of the problem instead of progressing and being a part of the solution.”

And on the flipside, are we not patient enough with the uneducated in this country? Are we too quick to call someone a racist for, say, being upset about looting? Or being defensive of good police officers? (which do exist). Are we alienating people who would be a part of the movement had they not immediately been crucified by the left accusing them of racism when in fact they just weren’t aware of a situation or didn’t know what they were saying was insensitive? I’m an optimistic person to a fault. I truly believe the average person is good and wants good things for this country. I believe some people who may be incredibly ignorant today, might change their minds and join the cause tomorrow, but only if they’re patiently encouraged to do so, and not if they’re immediately attacked and shut down by the left.

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