It's hard not to wonder what makes bigoted people think the way they do. Did something happen? Was it all in the upbringing? And that begs an even more important question: what makes bigoted people change their minds?
Because there are always intolerant people in the world. And we're not just talking about anyone society or country: this is a universal thing. Different cultures, different groups of people, with harmful opinions about some other ethnic group. But if those troubled people are able to find a better way of thinking, then that makes all the difference.
So, what exactly does the trick? Well, this crowd from Reddit--all formerly prejudiced themselves--are sharing the different things that worked on them. Check out these incredible stories!
Knowledge is power.
I grew up in the deep South. I mean, twenty years of my life was spent on the same exact street that my family has lived in for over a hundred years. I went to public school; K-12. So I basically grew up with the same people around aside from the occasional new student who made the questionable decision to move there. When we all graduated, we all went to the same exact community college.-belleandherbeast
Here's an interesting thought: have you ever examined your own opinions?
I just got tired of it. I made the decision to move north to go to college. One of the first courses I took was a sociology class about our country's perspectives on different races.
It instantly opened my eyes to how racist I truly was. I had been raised in it, genuinely brainwashed into the ignorant thinking that rules racist attitudes. I had never even stopped to ask myself if I were a racist until that class. It was then that I came to the hard conclusion that I was racist, homophobic, and sexist (I'm female and I had some harsh attitudes toward how a female should behave/dress/etc.).-belleandherbeast
Change is a good thing.I'm ashamed of the things I used to think and the disdain I used to hold toward other people. But admitting to being wrong is the first step toward progression. I'm very glad that I took that class and that I realized my harmful behaviors. It's something I think back to constantly and consider it as a turning point in my life. -belleandherbeast
Go to college and make some new friends.
I went away to college.
I was a kid in a racist family. N-bombs were thrown around the dinner table regularly. I had really only met a few African Americans in my whole life. I was also the first in my family to go to college (other than my brother to seminary for the cult my family is in which I don't count).-Mondak
Think: would you say that in front of anybody, or just "some" people?
My friend Richard REDACTED was my first "black friend". I think he only liked me at first because he had a crush on my friend Amy and she would always be at my parties. But we ended up friends for 4 years. I'm naturally sort of empathetic and am good at putting myself in other's shoes. It just sort of dawned on me very early on that I wouldn't speak or act that way if he was around so I just decided I should never act that way. It took me a little while to forgive myself for being garbage, but I was a kid and literally didn't know any better. Oh yeah - and I fired my sh***y family.-Mondak
Good friends leave a lasting impression.
I haven't talked to Rich in over twenty years. I moved 3,000 miles away after college and as you might expect from his name - it is basically impossible to google him.
If you are out there Rich - thanks!-Mondak
It's never too late to change.
My grandma grew up in Virginia in the 1900s. Being racist is just the default setting. Nana loved her family more than anything, though. So at one point in the late 1980s, she met her first not-100%-white grandkid and discovered she still loved him.
She made astounding late life progress accepting that darker skin toned people were not only people, but also family, friends and welcome in her house.-IronOhki
It's hard to evolve despite your surroundings.
My whole family is quite racist. When I was little I was trying to wrap my head around the rules of the world, so I thought it was as simple as different teams. Blacks vs Whites was just like the Red Sox vs the Tigers. Then my grandmother starts going on about how horrible Polish people are and how I'm never to talk to them. So I'm psyched! Screw those Polish people, whatever color they are, we're mortal enemies. Then she points out our Polish neighbor to me. But... she's white.-GoliathPrime
Racist people will make up their own rules to accommodate being racist.
I point out to my grandmother that she's white so we're on the same team. My grandmother says no, that she's a mix-breed. I point out that my great granddad was a Shoshone Indian and that I'm a mix-breed. She says that doesn't count.
That's when I realized she was just making up the rules and I wasn't going to play games with someone who couldn't stick to the rules.-GoliathPrime
Sometimes it's not a choice: it's just your world.I never made the choice really to be racist, but I grew up in South Mississippi and my family wasn't overtly racist, but they were the kind to say racist things behind closed doors and didn't allow us to watch TV shows such as the Cosby Show or Fresh Prince and definitely no rap music in the house. -BGizzle7070
Sometimes you've just gotta coach yourself.I absolutely fell in love with a lot of black artists in the early '90s, I loved the hip hop scene at the time and holy s**t Fresh Prince was the best sitcom on television! I played football with 80% black guys and worked at Popeyes chicken with over half the staff being black. I guess you can say my own real-world exposure despite their attempt to shelter me changed me. I cringe at some of the vernacular I used in my early youth, as the N-word was the same as "black" in my house, I literally was not raised to know that was a bad word. I'm glad that from the age of maybe 12 on I learned to love all people on my own. -BGizzle7070
This is why the media is so powerful.I wasn't an actual racist per se but I definitely had a stereotypical idea of how a group of people is because of the action of the few or because what I have seen on the media. What made me change? Well, I saw a video of a writer named Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, she spoke about the dangers of the single story and that video changed my life and it opened my eyes. Check it out on youtube and write Chimamanda Ngozi: Dangers of a Single Story. -SubSahranCamelRider
Knowing for sure is still better than "kinda knew."College roommate was Muslim. Definitely was not a terrorist. Kinda already knew my paps was wrong about that but when you live with someone for an entire year it takes you from "kinda already knew" to "holy s**t that way of thinking is f***ed up". -MasterAC
This is an awesome story of growth.A guy I worked with said he was neo-nazi as a teenager, and ended up in prison somehow. He hated Jews for some reason, and black people. He was never clear on why, just that he had so much hatred in his heart, and that was his outlet. He was in prison for many years. I think he almost killed somebody by beating them up. -ahyeaman
Then, the "ah ha" moment:So, many years later and in prison, there was a mentor type staff there, and this one lady was so helpful to him, and she cared about him so much that it really started to get into his head the idea of being a positive person. Then, he learned that she was Jewish, and he said he couldn't believe she was so kind and caring despite the fact he was a claimed neo-nazi. From that day he swore to be a better person, he learned his lesson. He's a pretty great guy these days, doing his family thing and making sure his son grows up with lots of love and all that he didn't have. Really remarkable, great guy. -ahyeaman
Basically, exposure does wonders.
Not myself, but many former racist (or at least, now less racist) friends of mine were able to have their minds changed just by simple exposure, especially to non-whites that didn't "fit the stereotype". At first, it starts that they are just "one of the good ones". But after a while when they meet enough "good ones", they start to realize that the good outnumber the bad and their racial world view starts to crack.-DavidsWorkAccount
Ever heard of the man who got people to break away from the KKK?Absolutely. It's all about exposure. It's how Daryl Davis was able to get so many Klansman to leave the KKK. He just persistently involved himself in their lives. He wanted to learn about their beliefs and practices. He wasn't scared away. He found common ground, mainly through music and religion. And eventually, these people got to genuinely know a black man, and all the ridiculous beliefs and ideologies suddenly stopped making sense. -spankymuffin
Racism can take many forms---even internally, against oneself.
I'm Asian and I grew up kind of resenting my parents for being different than my classmates' parents and I hated that they didn't know how to speak English. I had to translate for them all the time, call phone companies, go to the DMV with them, translate documents, etc., and I grew resentful. So when I was in elementary school I told them that I wasn't Korean but that I'm a full-fledged American and I wasn't going to speak Korean anymore. I also hated interacting with other Asians that reminded me of my parents. AKA textbook internalized racism.-yapoabnw
But that hatred became self-acceptance.
It wasn't until middle school when I had a teacher that validated my culture and actively tried to communicate with my parents that I realized that bilingualism is an asset and something I should be proud of. Now I'm going into teaching and have done some translating work on the side. People say my Korean is super fluent for an American born Korean and I really have my parents to thank for that. Now I'm super regretful for hurting them like that.-yapoabnw
And the family has mended.
I have apologized to my parents about my actions and behavior in the past. The biggest way I was able to do so was by dedicating my college commencement speech to them. I’m extremely regretful and sorry for my actions and I still help them with translating and I’m happy to do so! I am incredibly proud of them and as an adult, I’m now aware of their sacrifices!-yapoabnw
So why does this harmful internalizing happen?Holy crap this blew up... thank u for the gold and silver! I can't reply to everything but I read it all! SO! to address a couple of things: a lot of people have asked: "why is it that a lot of Asians go through this a lot more than other minority groups?" My personal hypothesis behind this is that the "model minority" myth, that basically states that Asians are better than other minority groups, ostracizes Asians to be unlike their other minority peers. It creates othering and a "us vs them" mindset. -yapoabnw
But don't believe those cruel ideas!The "model minority" is a BS term coined by a white journalist to basically describe Asians that have successfully assimilated into American culture, unlike their other minority peers, as a way to create tension amongst minority communities. Asians, usually second gen, take this stereotype and see their parents as the failed model minority bc they were unable to assimilate into American culture, thus the internalized racism occurs. BUT THIS IS BS...the model minority idea is a MYTH. -yapoabnw
A private school can make for a strange environment.
I was in grade 10, a young, smart, athletic black kid attending a private school on a basketball scholarship. There were probably 5 black kids total in the high school with around 150-200 kids in total. Majority white, the rest Asian and Middle Eastern. Out of the 5 black kids in total, 3 of us were on the basketball team, the other 2 were females also on the female basketball team. Did we ever get bullied by our own classmates and teammates. And even the teachers seemed to give us a harder time.-nonsenseandsuch
And public school--typically a bit more diverse--can be totally different.
After attending for 2 years and leaving after my grade 11 year due to the stress, unfairness, and imbalance of diversity - I attended a public school my last year of high school where there were over 1,000 students of every race.
Having deep hate for others who didn't look like me after those 2 years, going to a public school where everyone just saw you as the person you are and not your outer shell, gave me some enlightenment that racism is taught...not born with it in your blood.-nonsenseandsuch
His outlook on the world totally changed.
My mother told me that I would see a huge change in culture (for the better) and that kids in public school come from different classes (low, middle and upper) and I've got to see white kids who were poorer than me, and white kids who were richer than me...as opposed to the private school where everyone's dad owned a Rolls Royce (not actually but you get what I mean).-nonsenseandsuch
When it comes to racism, that's caused by nurture--not nature.I grew a huge appreciation for every ethnicity and every culture and realized that it's how you're raised, and how you're brought up through your role models. People that hide behind the white picket fence are narrow-minded and I feel truly sorry for them. -nonsenseandsuch
In this case, outdated views accidentally skipped a generation.
When I was a kid, both of my parents were in grad school and extremely busy, so my paternal grandmother spent a lot of time taking care of me. Unbeknownst to my parents, she filled my head with racist stuff about how I shouldn't be friends with blacks or Latinos. Just stick to befriending the other Indian kids, though whites were acceptable too. One day, I said something about black people that caught my parents off guard (I don't remember what) but my parents asked me where I had learned that and I told them.-I_punch_kangaroos
Their parents nipped it in the bud, though!
They talked to her and she never really changed her ways. This ultimately led to my parents no longer letting my grandmother live with us or be around my siblings and me without their supervision because they couldn't allow such a negative influence helping to raise us.
My parents talked to me about why what my grandmother told me was wrong. It didn't take too much to get me back to being a normal, non-racist person because I genuinely liked many of the black and Latino kids in my class.-I_punch_kangaroos
Sometimes you just learn from your...uncle's mistakes.
TL;DR - Being forced to be racist by family stopped me from actually being racist. Also my mom.
I had a super racist grandpa and uncle. Both pieces of s**t supported by my grandma. I would frequently stay with them while both my parents worked on Saturdays. I would pretend around them when I was younger because I wanted them to like me. I don't remember this story but my mom will tell it so proudly if the subject of racism comes up (She was very different from her dad/brother).-grathungar
And this uncle sounds pretty horrible.
I was maybe 6 or 7 when one day I was crying when my mom picked me up and the whole way home I just sobbed like my heart was broken. I wouldn't tell her what was wrong but I cried quietly the whole way home and went right into my bed and laid down crying.
My dad and she came in and asked me what was wrong. I still didn't want to tell them and my dad got a little gruff with me "Boy you tell me what's wrong right now, if somebody hurt you or told you not to tell me..." and I guess I started crying loudly for the first time and blurted out "GRANDPA AND UNCLE CHUCK SAID I CAN'T BE FRIENDS WITH MALCOLM ANYMORE BECAUSE HE IS A DIRTY N****R." My uncle made me call him and say that to him.-grathungar
And this mom is awesome.
My mom immediately flew into a rage. She went down there and from what I'm told beat the living s**t out of her brother, told her dad that I would not be coming over anymore and that he was no longer invited to any family events.-grathungar
And Saturday dinner improved dramatically.She then drove to my friend's house with blood from my uncle's nose still on her shirt. Apologized profusely for what happened and told them the story and that I had been crying the whole time because my uncle made me do that. We had dinner the next day and instead of going to my grandpa's house on Saturdays I ended up going to my friend Malcolm's house. -grathungar
Here's a little "where are they now?"
Malcolm and I grew apart when my family moved away; we eventually moved back but his family had moved by then.
Later in life, I told my uncle who never changed that he's not my uncle anymore when he called my 2 yr old half Mexican niece a S**C. He now has a half-Mexican grandson but from what I hear he hasn't really changed.My grandfather actually did put in an attempt to try after that day. The relationship was eventually repaired before he died in 99. He actually married a former nun and she shaped him up before he died. Straight-up smacked his knuckles with a ruler once.
My mother says she'll adopt all of you, no smoking in the house and don't drink the last Mountain Dew.-grathungar
This uncle did much better.My uncle used to be the most racist person I knew and it drove me crazy, but he is an "old white man and set in my ways". That's what he would say when confronted. It all changed the day his great-granddaughter was born. -Love_YA_Lit
He went from racist to ally, and started changing other peoples' minds too!His granddaughter had married a black man and he was unaccepting until that baby was born. She had him wrapped around her pinky finger from her first breath. Since then there are several mixed children in the family. It's awesome to see the difference in his behavior. He genuinely loves them all and accepts the racially different spouses of his grandchildren and their children. If he hears anyone being racist he shuts it down. -Love_YA_Lit
Because Elmo's world is the best world...
Sesame Street. I'm not even joking.
Was raised in a slightly racist household in a pretty racist state.
Seeing kids of all colors playing together made me wonder why my mom wouldn't let me play with certain people.
It kind of snowballed from there.-Miss_Sweetie_Poo
And there are multiple people that credit Sesame Street with helping them this way!
I was a baby when Sesame Street premiered. We lived in a small rural town that was 97% white and recognized two religions: Catholic and Protestant. My favorite character was Gordon and my favorite activity was counting in Spanish. My conservative parents tried so hard, and they got a 7YO Jimmy Carter supporter who grew up to be a civil rights activist.
None of us made the connection until recently, but Sesame Street literally broke the cycle of generational racism in families like mine.-pizzawithartichokes
It's one thing to know that racism is wrong; it's another to recognize ALL the types of racism out there.
I grew up learning that Martin Luther King was a domestic terrorist and that there was a strict racial hierarchy with n*****'s being at the bottom. I knew in my heart it was wrong (even from a young age), but it also led to internalizing some ideas that were very wrong. I grew out of it at different points in my life.-EtherGorilla
Once again, exposure saves the day.
When I was in elementary school, I played basketball but I hated losing. One day after a game I was crying because I had lost and a young black boy named Joe came up to me and consoled me. We would soon become good friends and that destroyed any immediate fear I had of black people.
By the time I entered college I had many friends of different backgrounds, but I still internalized negative ideas that I didn't know were wrong. In my eyes, black history month or black lives matter was counterproductive and didn't make sense. It would take a college education and learning how black history was systematically overwritten and destroyed, and how our criminal justice system is truly unequal even to this day that I understood the importance.The problem nowadays is that people assume you have to be wearing a Klan robe and burning crosses on someone's lawn to be considered racist. -EtherGorilla