but I feel as though I've been taught to see people this way.
Absolutely. And there's no shame in that, especially if you recognize what the thought or feeling is and where it's coming from.
A few things come to mind... There's that beautiful scene in Bowling for Columbine (perhaps the best in the movie) where the cop in LA turns from the camera and starts suspiciously walking toward an African American family playing in their yard. And then there's the joking comment the recruiters make in F911 when a couple black kids cross the street. Suspicion is on everybody's mind when they see "black people." It's a trained thing. Somebody says "Germany," and what do you think? Hitler? Nazi? You see a black person, and what do you think? Crime? Violence? Poverty? Bling bling? It's social conditiong, and being suspicious of it, noticing it, and actively rejecting it is even harder to learn.
The worst part is that you start training yourself. A black person cuts you off. You look at him, and maybe unconsciously think oh, he's black
. When a white person cuts you off, do you think oh, he's white
? Of course not. We aren't trained to be suspicious of white people, of course, because white people are in power.
When I walk past an African American person, it's totally different from walking past a white person. I can't ignore the context. And I can't help having some anxiety (if it's some one I don't know), like "what if I do something racist?" Larry David has a brilliant insight into this, by the way.
One time I was driving in busy traffic and I took a left turn at an intersection... but I stopped kind of abruptly because there was some one in the crosswalk who wasn't immediately visible, an African American woman walking with two small children. I'm stopped in the middle of the intersection, and she finishes walking through the intersection very very slowly, glaring intensely into my eyes the whole time, absolutely sure she was the victim of racism. I completely froze and had no idea what to do. It was really an emotionally shocking experience.
But the best way to fight stereotypes is to actually know people. I've had several minority professors in college, people I genuinely admire. And that's really why it's so important to have minority teachers and authority figures... it shatters stereotypes and balances power.