Sorry to break it to you.
My view of race changed when I accepted that we are all racist. All of us. Even me.
It doesn’t mean that we all want to be, or that we all act upon racism, but it’s as embedded in us as it is in the country we live in. As built into our system as our school systems. Pulsing through our blood.
Does that make you uncomfortable? Defensive, even? If so, please just take one second to tuck in your pride and hear me out.
Suppressing your racism is what gets people killed. Working on it is what will help combat systemic murder.
There are different types of racists. The “bad” ones — those who hate, kill, assault, harass, etc. based on race. The “it’s only a joke” ones — those who make offhanded, offensive comments in the privacy of their own homes. Even “subtle” ones — those who don’t think there’s anything wrong, or don’t even notice, their racist actions. Clerks checking IDs of POC but not white women. The police officer who stopped my friend and asked him to drop his weapon when we were walking in a white neighborhood one summer night in Chicago… his “weapon” being an umbrella. The teacher who pegs POC students as the “bad ones” before even getting to know them.
Then there’s the rest of us. The ones who don’t want to be racist. Who see the word as some “otherness” we don’t want to associate with. I was a child raised in an incredibly diverse neighborhood, with a diverse group of friends and liberal parents who did everything in their power to keep me from viewing the world through race. I still surround myself with diverse friends, volunteered for campaigns of progressive candidates, fought for rights, studied political science — did everything in my power to shake the racism of America from me — but still, I am racist.
Our problem is that we see racist as this big, bad label that inherently makes us bad people. For some people, that’s absolutely true. But for well meaning people, racism just means that you assign characteristics or stereotypes to someone based on their race. Make assumptions on someone’s experience, family makeup, upbringing, favorite music, favorite food, hobby, etc. etc. etc. just because of their race. Doesn’t mean you have to act on them, or that they’re from a place of hatred, but they’re there. They have to be. Because everything our country surrounds us with promotes this idea.
“Good” racists are the ones who talk about how eloquently Obama speaks. It’s one thing to enjoy the text of a speech, it’s another to think it’s notable that an ivy league graduate who was elected president could speak well. “Good” racists constantly ask their POC friends what they think about an issue of race instead of doing the research themselves. “Good” racists always mention the race of the person in their story, like it’s some important fact. “Good” racists LOVE to tell you how many POC friends they have. “Good” racists can never stop proving how not racist they are.
And because we’re so concentrated on how not racist we are, we close ourselves off to being called out. From being challenged. From learning. From creating the space to allow our friends to tell us why what we said, though not intentional, was from a place of racism.
It’s not your fault. I know you mean well. But society has been built off of racism – it’s in our schools, media, neighborhoods, grocery stores. It’s impossible not to be impacted by it. And if you really hate the label, open yourself up to the admission that racism is in you, too. Disassociating yourself from the label closes you off to the growth admission will bring.
We are all works in progress. The first step to that work is admitting we’re flawed, too.