Roots of Racism: a Quest to Discover “Why”


For better or worse, they define us as individuals. The very fact that we foster certain opinions while rejecting others is precisely what makes human cognition so complex. Every day, our subconscious personalities direct our actions in a way that projects our opinions and values -whether we are actively aware of this or not, rest assured it is occurring. If we care about a given topic, we focus on it. If we have a conviction regarding an issue, we pay attention to it. Its a very simple, common sense way to explain the experience we know as life.

Over the past several weeks, motivated by current events, I’ve reached out to a number of people I know to ask for explanations of their opinion in regards to the race issue that dominates our headlines today. Before I go on, I should say this upfront: I despise racism. I view it as a disgusting component of humanity which is entirely too prevalent during everyday human interaction. And to be clear, when I say “racism” in this post, I am referring exclusively to what african americans are experiencing today. This post has no intention of addressing anything other than the systemic oppression of black individuals.

That said, I’ve noticed there are many people out there that are fighting tooth and nail to try and end this type of bigotry. Its been fascinating to observe the effects of the various methods they use, as different forms of protest have obviously resulted in different reactions among the public.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if maybe we’re all doing it wrong. People are still arguing. They’re still fighting. It seems to me that the easiest way of solving a problem is to simply find out why it exists to begin with. Maybe we’ve vastly over-complicated what is actually a very basic, simple issue. The solution I keep coming back to, as I consider the infinite number of possible ways to combat racism, is the most basic one: ask people “why”.

After realizing the simplicity of the issue, I decided to try and do something about it. I thought that maybe, just maybe, if I could figure out WHY some people have racist views, I could then explain why their opinions are perhaps misguided. Through many conversations, I took the most direct approach possible. I explained this little quest of mine and asked people to open up and be honest with me without fear of judgment. Then, for those who displayed racist views, I simply asked them what caused them to think that way.

First off, as promised, I am obviously going to honor my word and not mention names or details of those I spoke with. While some might think that these people deserve to be put on blast, they were willing to work with me so I have to respect the agreement. I also want to be very careful about how I convey what I’ve learned (because the purpose of this is to inform, not to offend), so I’m going to use a consistent outline. The format I’m going to use is this: I will embolden and center the generalized responses I received. Under these points, I will elaborate on their points of view, explaining what they said to me. Then, below that, I’m going to write my response to their points. Because in many cases, I attempted to refute their reasoning with my own logic. Occasionally I was able to instill a change of heart, something that makes me feel that this exercise was worthwhile.

Before I go on, I have to admit that there were some people who were completely unwilling to budge. There were times when people couldn’t come up with a tangible response, yet still believed blacks are inferior. I’m filtering those responses out, as they represent nothing more than closed-minded bigotry. The responses I will list, on the other hand, are from people who have actually attempted to come up with a reason to justify their point of view.

If you find any of the following offensive, please know that I am genuinely trying to claw my way to the core of the problem so I can then formulate a response which combats this issue. I want racism to go away just as much as anyone, and this is a representation of my attempts to make progress. So all that said, here are the most thought-provoking points which I received to my question: why does race matter?


Rap culture and the “disrespectful way black men treat women.”

The individual who gave me this reason happened to be an aspiring musician herself, so I’m not surprised that music is the basis upon which she perceives black culture. Her argument was that its hard to ignore the fact that among all musical genres, the one which is universally associated with black people just so happens to consistently disrespect women while promoting drugs and bad behavior.

This was a response I was expecting coming into this. Incidentally, its also the only one that I had trouble refuting. The first half, at least. Personally, I myself am a fan of several rap artists (I particularly respect the intelligence and creativity that rap’s best lyricists show), but I can’t really argue that the objectification of women is not a good thing. And if we are all being honest with ourselves, we have to admit that yes, rap very frequently objectifies women. Fortunately I’ve seen many black people in society point out this self-induced problem, but this is something that I have to admit I found difficult to argue. I should also note that in my response to her I referenced the fact the rap is one of many genres that are rooted in the black community, such as blues, jazz, and the like (which she acknowledged) – but to her credit, this doesn’t necessarily change the fact that rap culture still presents a concern in today’s culture.

The Bell Curve

If you haven’t heard of this, Google it if you want context. There were several people who used the arguments outlined in this book to justify their prejudiced views. For those unfamiliar with it, The Bell Curve was a book published in the ’90s by a psychologist and political scientist which argued that human intelligence is substantially influenced by inherited factors, race being a particularly relevant one. The scientists conducted IQ tests among races, and their results indicated that blacks consistently scored lower than other races.

My response to this is pretty simple. The fact that blacks have been oppressed is precisely the reason that their test results were lower. Oppression disabled them from having access to the same quality of education and academic resources that the affluent get to enjoy, so obviously the results are going to be skewed. This renders the “Bell Curve” argument a moot one.

Lack of creativity

One person I spoke with cited this as a reason for viewing blacks as inferior. Their argument was that among all of society, the top positions are occupied by whites. He asked me why, if I were to look over the Fortune 500 list of CEOs, are there so few black people? Why don’t they create more, he asked me. He viewed this list as an absence of ingenuity.

My thoughts here lie along the lines of the self-fulfilling prophecy. The reason we don’t see black people start more businesses and whatnot is because that’s the status quo. Systemic racism truly is such a big issue that black people, in many cases, don’t have access to the same connections and opportunities that others have.


The last tangible viewpoint I was presented with was the question as to why Africa never industrialized, despite the abundance of natural resources.

This one, to me, is sort of over my head. I don’t know enough about anthropology to be able to understand what sparks industrialization. I can see where a person would be coming from, but I imagine there are plenty of reasons that it didn’t happen. After all, white people aren’t that far off from their own industrial revolution. Who’s to say Africa wouldn’t follow suit in another generation or two? I don’t think this is a fair argument.


If you gain one thing from reading this, I hope its an open mind. Please try to understand how frustrating it must be to constantly be told you are inferior. Really try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, for at least a moment.

And understand one other thing. Biologically, we are all one and the same. Skin color is merely a result of geographical location. Pretty simple stuff, actually. The more sun you got, the darker you became.

End of story.


3 thoughts on “Roots of Racism: a Quest to Discover “Why”

  1. Also, if I may: in regards to the Ben Carson point, I think his example might actually be a perfect illustration of the oppression I was referring to. Because you’re right, he did in fact battle extraordinarily hard to become who he is. But that’s just it: other races don’t experience such difficulty, and can enjoy much smoother paths to such levels of socioeconomic status.

    If our social structure was tipped more evenly, then Ben Carson would even be that special in the first place. His scenario would simply be…normal.

    I think the issue is more than just an institutional one. I think there’s a lingering, almost unspoken expectation in our society where people generally just don’t expect blacks to rise to such levels as Ben Carson. More than just blaming “the system”, we need to address this foundational perception if we are ever going to fully get past this.


  2. Hey Matt. I am not racist however did want to make a few points regarding some of your arguments. Take for instance education. Ben Carson the well known surgeon and one of the presidential candidates a few months ago was born very poor. His determination and constant reading/studying made him what he is today. I feel some families stay in a cycle of poverty generation to generation and some feel entitled to get everything and everything free while others have to work hard for the little they have. This is not to say I am talking only about African Americans this is people in general. I also would like to comment that I believe it depends on the area you live. In the major cities around me African Americans do have the opportunities to open small businesses. They are even given city contracts over any other miniorty groups. i don’t want to write a book but I could go on further Just wanted to add a few thoughts


    1. Well, Anonymous, I appreciate your feedback. Truly, I do. Ultimately I just want to understand people. There will always be things such as this going on. I guess that’s life. The way I see it is if I can understand as many perspectives as possible, I’ll be able to transcend any biases.

      Knowledge and understanding. That’s all I’m after.


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