I started this blog post a couple of weeks ago to discuss the (then) recently surfaced videos of the SAE fraternity singing a racist chant – a chant that they claim to have been taught. In Part I, I explored indoctrination and the things that we will do or say to fit into our Fraternity of choice.
I want to broaden that conversation a bit to show how indoctrination is related to race. When I used the term “indoctrination”, I am defining it as initiating into or ingraining a certain worldview or perspective onto someone else without presenting some alternative side. You are presenting this particular way of being and/or thinking as reality. Think of your indoctrination as a set of rules– maybe even shortcuts — that you apply that allow for success in your particular environment: this is how we do business here; this is how we operate.
Sure, cults indoctrinate people, but so does your church. And your job. I would even posit that family is our first indoctrination experience. In fact, in almost every facet of life, we are indoctrinated into some system – whether consciously (willingly even) or unconsciously. We even participate in indoctrinating others.
For the most part your indoctrination runs like an operating system. It’s in the background helping you navigate everything from your family’s annual Christmas dinner to early Monday morning meetings with your boss (don’t talk to him until he has his coffee!). You don’t always give much thought to why you are folding your t-shirts that way, or ordering your closet in that manner, or always cook your Thanksgiving turkey just so (hey, your Grandma taught you), or saying that same prayer before you eat, because it’s a thing that “we” do and you are part of the we. It’s very Matrix-like, isn’t it?
But, at some point, a conflict arises. Maybe your indoctrination from one worldview (say your family) doesn’t jibe with something you learned from the Naval Academy. Your indoctrination breaks through to the surface and you become conscious of it (if only for a minute). Wait, why am I cursing at Jane Fonda again? I’m not supposed to say curse words and I’m definitely not supposed to call other women b**ches. My mom would kill me… or Why am I singing this racist chant that I learned again? Being a racist is not something that I want to be. If I can follow the Matrix analogy, it’s like Neo seeing the white rabbit on the girl’s shoulder- something is making you question your current beliefs about the world and if you continue to follow that question (the white rabbit), it might lead you outside of the Matrix.
That discontinuity between what we are told/taught (whether consciously or unconsciously) and the brief blip of a question that shows up on our radar is unnerving. What if the world really isn’t what we think it is? What if America really isn’t fair? What does that say about me? What does that say about my beliefs? Does that mean I can no longer be part of the “we?” Instead of following that white rabbit we stay within the safe confines of our indoctrination. Because the Matrix is pretty comfortable compared to the gray, dismal world that people who don’t believe in the Matrix end up in. (Did it even have a name? Oh yeah, the real world)
What I am trying to get at here is that we are constantly being indoctrinated in America to think a certain way about certain things. In this case, I am talking about racism (but I could just as easily talk about meritocracy, capitalism, or any other mainstream narrative). Literally, every conversation that I have about race and racism follows the same pattern. I can follow the arc of the argument that someone will make as soon as he opens his mouth because I’ve already been read into this script. Most Americans, in fact, are reciting from the exact same indoctrination script: it’s not about race. This is America; everyone has equal opportunity, slavery was forever ago – just get over it already. Everything is not about race! You’re the one talking about racism, so that makes you racist. Black people are racist too!, but what about black on black crime?
We all say aloud that there is no difference between us because of the color of our skin, but we also understand (though we may not admit it), that all skin is not equal. We are born into a system of (unstated) racial hierarchy. There is skin that we associate with beauty and intelligence and skin that we associate with poverty and crime. When men tell me that they don’t date black women (they date all other skinned women though) because they don’t “personally” find black women attractive, I laugh. No, it’s not your preference, dude — it’s your indoctrination. It’s a matter of conditioning.
Racism isn’t innate; it’s taught (this is also part of the racism conversation script). But the question is: how is it being taught? Did your Kindergarten teacher sit you down and tell you about the racial hierarchy that exists? Or your parents? No one, in fact, is standing at a chalkboard telling you that “white people are prettier, or smarter or better.” But you are being told in 1 million other ways. The lack of diversity in film and the lack of leading women of color in romantic comedies tells us what skin has value and what skin is beautiful. Magazine covers, fashion week, books, representation in every facet of life — it’s all a part of the indoctrination process.
And that is the insidious thing about indoctrination. It’s hard to spot because it is “normal”. It is ubiquitous. This is how we operate here. This is just what America is like. This is just how Hollywood makes money. It’s not a big deal. But, isn’t it?
Maybe that seems like I’m reaching a bit, but replace racism with body image. Aren’t we conditioned – indoctrinated even—into thinking that one body type is more attractive than another? What bodies are presented in the Annual Victoria Secret Lingerie Show each year? Or on all of the life-sized billboards in Times Square? Can you say thigh gap?
Do we not constantly give outcry at the lack of “real body images” and the heavy use of photoshop in print ads? Do we not decry the “unrealistic body expectations for women” and the skinny models of fashion week? Don’t we cheer whenever Dove presents their “real body image” campaign?
Why would the conditioning process for racism be any different?
I started the original post to discuss the racist chant sung by the SAE fraternity. I wasn’t surprised by it just like I am not particularly surprised by unarmed black people getting gunned down, or Paula Deen’s racist wedding fantasies. Saddened, yes. Surprised – not so much. Why? Because we were all born into — indoctrinated — into this system.
We (yes, me too) have been indoctrinated since birth (in so many stated and unstated ways) into the belief that one set of skin is better than the other. And if that is what you have been taught since you were a child and hence what you believe, then when it comes down to it you will act in accordance with your programming.
Women who are constantly bombarded with unrealistic body images develop eating disorders , low self-esteem, and other body image issues. What do Americans who are constantly bombarded with only one standard for beauty, intelligence, and goodness develop? I’ll leave you to answer that for yourself.
In many ways, you truly are a product of your
Though brainwashing is a synonym for “indoctrinating”, I don’t think that indoctrination makes robots out of people as much as it creates paper doll cutouts – status quo maintainers. People who will adhere and uphold whatever that society values without questioning it.
Which leads me to the next post in this series where I want to discuss the differences between education and indoctrination and how to resist your training. Stay tuned…