Confession: I legit don’t get it when white people say they’re not racist.
I’m white. I’m racist.
Oh, I’m trying to be anti-racist, as in ACTIVELY WORKING AGAINST RACISM.
And also, I’m racist in that I’m participating in an ongoing way in upholding structures that discriminate against people of color.
I mean, if racism is the systemic oppression of a minority by the group with power, and if I benefit from that system in terms of wealth, access, and safety, and if I continue to use those benefits with alacrity, am I not more than simply privileged? Am I not engaging with the system? Am I not passively prospering due to it? And if I am — if I fight some things that are racist but not everything that is racist — can I claim to be not racist?
No? I can’t behave in ways that uphold racism and be not-a-racist?
Then I’m racist.
Like, I’d really love for there to be another option here, but I’m afraid there isn’t one. I just feel like if I’m going to do an actual, fearless, honest inventory of myself — my thoughts, my actions, my benefits — then I can’t be afraid to look at the truth that I, too, am racist.
Now, listen, Diary. I don’t like this about myself. I’m not saying this like, meh, whatever, this is just the truth. I’m not saying this in a way that’s blasé. I’m saying this like I NEED TO SIT UP AND PAY ATTENTION AND CHANGE. I’m saying this because it’s ugly. It’s something I’m working to correct. But it’s also an insidious and entrenched part of American culture — particularly the white, suburban culture in which I was (mostly) raised — so to assume any white person has purged it entirely just seems to me to be… naive? Ignorant? Blind? I’m gonna go with D: all of the above.
If we’re going to really reckon with the current state of affairs — which is, to be accurate, also the historical state of affairs, rampant and rife with injustice — don’t we need to take hard looks at ourselves like this?
Don’t we need to confess things like this?
Don’t we need to admit who we are, right now, as raw materials, so we can build something better?
I have racist thoughts, Diary. In my mind, I often default first to assuming the person in authority (aka, the police officer) was right and the person being pulled over/arrested/charged/harmed must have done something wrong. Even though I know better. Even though I’ve learned otherwise. Even though I can consciously correct myself when I do it, this is still my default. My go-to. My initial assumption. That which is most deeply embedded within. And that’s racist. When “innocent until proven guilty” is applied first or foremost or only to the authority figure and not to the person of color being prosecuted — particularly in a country with massive racial disparities in criminal justice — that’s racist. It just… is.
And I act in racist ways, too, Diary. I hang out in places frequented by white people. The restaurants I choose. The stores. The areas of Portland I visit. Where I spend my money. Oh, I do it subconsciously, sure, but an actual assessment of where I go and the places I consider “safe” have low populations of people of color. And that’s racist. Embedded racism I need to confront. Actions I need to change. Starting with frequenting more businesses run by people of color.
I’ve whitewashed my own history. I use the number of years I lived in countries without majority white populations as evidence that I’m not racist while conveniently leaving out the fact that the mission field was one of the most racist experiences of my life, spent predominantly in international schools in secluded, gated compounds. Do you know how many friends I have who are native to the countries I lived, Diary? One. That’s how many. After years living in Indonesia and the Philippines, I have an enormous number of ex-pat friends from New Zealand, England, Scotland, Australia, and other Western countries. And I have one Filipina friend. Whose dad was a white ex-pat missionary. From living overseas, I learned exclusion and separation. That’s racist.
I’ve used my own children in my mind as proof I’m not racist. I don’t know if I’ve ever said it out loud — I hope not — but I’ve definitely thought it. “I can’t be racist! I have children who are Asian and Latin.” I even believed that. As though adoring my children with abandon — as though being willing to die for them — is an inoculation against racism. POOF! NO MORE RACISM FOR ME! Pfffttt. Ugh. PLEASE feel free to roll your eyes with me, Diary — or barf. Barfing is probably more appropriate. Because loving one or two or twelve people of color does NOT make someone not-a-racist. And, in fact, using people I love as tokens to prove something about me is probably extra racist. I am DELIGHTFUL in SO MANY WAYS.
I could go on. I could write myriad more examples. But my point is this.
I’m white. I’m racist. I’m trying to be anti-racist, but I HAVE A LOT OF INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL WORK STILL TO DO to achieve not-a-racist status. So, you know, pardon me if I don’t believe all the white people out there claiming they’re not racist. Every time I see that, I just translate it in my head, “Oh, you’re racist. You just don’t know it yet.”
Image Credit: Chris Slupski via Unsplash