In the wake of the election, I’ve had some interesting conversations with people and have discovered something. Racism and ignorance are not as simple as many of us make them out to be. There are different levels of ignorance and to make them easier to understand, I’m going to compare them to endearing American animals we all know and love.
Level 1: The Donkey
These are people who are just straight racists. They’re donkeys because no matter what you tell them and no matter what evidence you show them that people of color are not all rapists or drug dealers, they’ll still hate them because they want to hate. They’re being willfully ignorant because it’s easier to be that way. It’s the person who gets told that an innocent black man was shot and killed by a police officer and responds with, “Well, he shouldn’t have been black.” There’s nothing you can do about that. The good news, though, is that for the most part, donkeys are rare. Unless you’re living smack in the middle of Birmingham, Alabama, a lot of the ignorance we meet on a day-to-day basis comes from the next two animals…
Level 2: The Elephant
The elephant is a wonderful animal. It’s said that it never forgets. But the thing about never forgetting is that you have to have information in your head before you can never forget it. Elephants are people who are ignorant because they just don’t have all the facts. It’s the person who knows only 2 Hispanic men who both happen to be gay and declares that all Hispanic men are gay. Or the person who says, “Didn’t slavery end with Abraham Lincoln?” And they just don’t know that the 13th amendment allows prisoners to be slaves and that 60% of Americans in prison are people of color.
Fortunately, this kind of ignorance can easily be cured by quick fact checks.
Level 3: The Eagle
This is the most subtle form of ignorance. The eagle lives in mountain ranges and flies at up to 10,000 feet in the air. Spending so much time that high up gives it a luxury that no land animals have. Eagle ignorance comes from living in a sheltered area and therefore having the luxury of not having to think about racism. Over time, this leads to giant blind spots that are completely innocent, but still just as problematic.
Eagles suffer from what the kids nowadays would call “First World problems”. There are some things that white Americans plain and simply don’t have to think about. But people of color are forced to think about some of those things every day. For example, what color hoody to wear at night or why the Seven-Eleven teller has been staring at you since the moment you walked in. It’s why some Christians can argue over 4-point Calvinism vs. 5-point Calvinism while other Christians are happy to just know that God is faithful. That being said, it’s easy to villainize a democrat who supports gay marriage, but wants equal rights for immigrants if you’ve never been an immigrant.
Fortunately, the eagle can learn to acknowledge its privileged position and have compassion on the animals beneath it. But at the end of the day, the eagle will never understand what life on the ground is like until it becomes a mouse and must now run from the eagle.
So the next time you have a conversation with a friend and someone says something ignorant, hopefully this will help you identify what species of ignorance you’ve encountered and you can feed it the appropriate level of grace that it needs.