I know some people will be tempted to say “stop talking about it” but that is the only cry of racists who want to continue to pick their neighbourhoods, schools, spouses based on race while also saying race doesn’t matter. The same people who justify racism with racist assumptions e.g. “Maybe black people would be more successful if they weren’t so lazy”.
There are a lot of facts, case studies and events out there to demonstrate that racism is still alive and well but denial is far more powerful. If you present any of the above people have an uncanny ability to rationalize or minimize events and rebrand the world as a post-racial utopia. People who speak out against racism are labelled with terms like “social justice warrior” (sjw), which becomes a brand that makes other people want to avoid you at all costs. Even people who may be somewhat enlightened don’t want to be called a sjw, or politically correct, or a feminazi.
As I continue writing my fourth book, I am starting to generate ideas for the sixth. It may not be a novel, it may just be a short story. Whatever it ends up being, it is my own utopian creation. I thought of a world where the technology exists to actually transplant your mind into someone else’s body. It wouldn’t be a physical process, where the brain is transplanted, it would be more of a transference of your personality and thoughts into someone else’s body. This technology is quite common in sci-fi but I don’t think it has ever been used to examine how people of different races can experience daily life differently. Or at the very least, I can’t recall any works that have focused on this aspect of the switch.
If people will ignore reports, journal articles, newspaper articles, books, documentaries etc., then maybe personal experience is the only thing they will understand. If this project were to have any success it would have to last for a long period of time, at least three months. People who are reluctant to accept that prejudice and systemic racism against minorities is still rampant, are often quick to bring up examples of prejudice or perceived prejudice they have experienced. I don’t want these people to experience some name calling or some ignorant comments, and think they get the full picture.
Just like books or articles, it can be easy to derail an author’s argument by resorting to non sequiturs, ad hominem or the ever popular straw man argument. For that reason, let’s make sure that there are no other excuses or reason for the different treatment. Let’s make sure that our new “black” subjects keep their faces clean shaven, their hair cut low and that they maintain a strict dress code when leaving their homes. Now, I realize this may not be fair. Afrocentric hairstyles such as braids should not be viewed as more threatening, but it is a sad fact that they are. Beards and casual clothing, when coupled with black skin, are also more unwelcome even in casual settings. Let’s not forget this great example of comedian Kamau Bell being told to leave a restaurant while he was speaking to his wife and her friends, who are all white. While Bell is speaking to his wife at an outside table of the restaurant an employee bangs on the window and mouths for him to leave. When confronted about this later she argues that she thought he was selling something, and that it wasn’t a “race thing”. Bell was with his wife and her friends just long enough to get introduced, before an employee is telling him to leave.
To be fair, the employee says a patron told her Bell was harassing customers, and that she was just responding to that. The question then, is why didn’t she at least step outside to see what was happening instead of knocking on a window and mouthing a command, which she says was “stop selling”. If the employee actually stepped outside and asked the group of women if Bell was bothering them, the situation would have been diffused quickly. Why was the employee so quick to tell Bell to leave? As expected, it doesn’t take long to find online discussion that defends the incident due to Bell’s clothing.
“Don’t forget that he was dressed quite poorly at the time too. Sweatpants, a well-worn hoodie, and a knit beanie.”
Ultimately, hairstyles and clothing present an easy target for derailing the observations about different treatment due to race.
Aside from the dress code and the strict rules concerning appearance, my experiment would also require a period of one week where the subjects remain home and where they are monitored (with their consent) to judge their behaviour. Why? To ensure the new “black” people getting sent out into the world are not acting like stereotypes. If someone feels the need to start talking or walking differently because their skin is different I wouldn’t want them to represent black people publicly. This one week probation period would also allow us to remove another aspect of possible derailment, stereotypical behaviour.
As a last condition, I would also want to ensure that the subjects are not informed of any of the different treatment they may receive. Otherwise the study could be accused of priming subjects to be more aware of or sensitive to certain words or actions. Of course, some subjects may have read about the alleged treatment they might get. Or they may have an exaggerated conception that they’ll be shot on sight by cops, and then interpret any better behaviour as proof that racism is dead. Either way, all realizations about different treatment must come purely from the subjects. If people truly believe race doesn’t matter and that no one (except the white ones) are judged for their skin colour, then their should be no hesitation to become a black person for three months.
I want the experiment to start with wealthy white people, who then become wealthy black people. They need to walk into an upscale store or building repeatedly, until they can no longer deny that they get more scrutiny because of their skin colour. They need to get pulled over more often by cops when driving their luxury car and realize that the random stops are not truly random. I want the rich white people to hang out with their rich white friends. I don’t want to warn them, but I want to see if they notice any different treatment.
When this test is done with the middle class they will have different experiences that are just as eye opening. They will apply for a job they are not qualified for, and then realize that affirmative action doesn’t get them a spot. Perhaps they can have men/women reject them sexually or romantically due to their skin colour. They can see someone cross the street when they approach or hold their purse tighter. Or a little more harmless, perhaps they can see the look of surprise they get when they say they like rock or metal (if they like those genres). People aren’t really shocked by white people liking rap music, but black people who like anything other than rap still get treated like unicorns in some circles. Of course this last example isn’t an example of harmful racism, but it is one that demonstrates how ignorance can still lead to minorities being treated differently. Even this simple fact is something that is often denied.
As I continued to flesh out the idea for my experiment, it sometimes struck me as being an extreme way to prove a point. However, when all other options are failing, what else can be done? If this is what needs to be done for a wake up call, then so be it.