In “Leave Your Name at the Border” by Manuel Munoz and “Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders His Power to Alter Public Space” by Brent Staples, there were quite a few common themes of racism being perpetuated, whether consciously and intentionally or not. The biggest shared point that stood out was the fact that minorities are forced to change their behavior or culture in order to fit in to a white society, whether it’s to get a job, to be accepted, or even to be looked at as a human being rather than a possible monster waiting to rob you in the dark of the night. Both essays touched upon this point in very different ways that you commonly see in society nowadays, where it’s easy to dismiss the idea of a racist culture because people have moved past the days of hating minorities and having that be an acceptable viewpoint, but we haven’t moved past the deeply engrained subconscious opinions of people from a different race than our own as a society.
One thing I noticed was that these essays were from the point of views of minorities describing how they were forced to change their behaviors or accept their assimilation into a white society. While I think this is common, I feel like these essays emphasize their minority status versus a white society too much. In reality, no matter what race you are, you’ll find the same problem when confronted with a different race, the main reason why it seems otherwise is that these essays are written in the setting of a white majority society. There is quite a large movement when it comes to racial issues and acceptance in this country, and rightly so, however it seems that people have the wrong idea of modern racism. Racism isn’t only an active hatred where people are easily defined by their hateful thoughts like many seem to believe, but rather racism has branched off into the form of subconscious thought developed from the stories one might hear about people from different races than their own, or through individual encounters that their mind files away even if their thoughts don’t actively reflect it.
That said, it’s proven next to impossible to dispel the subconscious opinions in people’s minds about other races. Whether it’s people who refuse to learn the correct pronunciation of Spanish names as a minor example, or whether it’s someone late at night who fearfully runs the opposite direction of a black man who is simply walking down the street, these things typically aren’t the cause of conscious thoughts or feelings, they’re deep down biases and fears based on what we hear and see in society, where claims of racism only serve to perpetuate more racism as people fight the wrong type of battle for acceptance.
The only real way for many people to gain acceptance in this current type of society is to actively try to blend into it, assimilating yourself and/or your culture into it. Instead of the majority people of the society doing anything to accept you, you instead are forced to change your behavior or key parts of yourself. This is shown through the acceptance many Hispanic people have towards letting their names be pronounced wrong, or “Americanized”, as well as through Brent Staples describing how he tries to appear non-threatening so that people won’t get the wrong impression of him due to his race, whistling light tunes of classical music because it makes him seem less threatening to like the same sort of refined music that people in this society do.
The major issue with this forced assimilation is that there’s no real way to fix the fact that it happens. Civil rights can’t sign into law or petition for people’s innermost thoughts to stop being racist in any way, and cultural changes can’t be forced upon society to make it more accepting of minorities. The only way this issue will change is a gradual shift in opinion, as well as educating people that there is an issue in the first place and getting them to accept that racism isn’t just something that uneducated bigots feel, it’s deeply rooted into humans and society all around us, whether people are good, bad, nice, cruel, or otherwise. For the foreseeable future, while it’s a shame that it’s true, many people will have to continue shifting their behavior to fit into society, or they risk being a victim of stereotyping, of fear, and of judgment just as the authors of these essays were