Not Your Grandma’s Racism

D.R. McElroy

What a white person is learning about casual bigotry. · 4 min read

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“Casual bigotry” is a state of mind wherein a person or group of people hold ideas that are so ingrained that they have become normalized and even subconscious. The entrenched, pervasive nature of these ideas means that they are rarely examined for accuracy.

It should go without saying that race relations in this country are screwed up. And yet, it must be constantly reiterated. I consider myself an open-minded person interested in social justice, harmony, and equality for all regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or even size.

But, I got into a discussion a few days ago with two Black women who are fellow writers; I'll call them Alecia and Sarah. I quickly realized that I had no idea what I was doing when it comes to sensitivity or supporting diversity in our society. These two women were kind and generous enough to correct me.

The discussion began when I questioned Alecia on her use of “Black” with a capital ‘B’ while she also used “white” uncapitalized. Since it’s impossible to convey tone of voice properly in written communication, I succeeded in offending her with my question, which hadn’t been my intention at all.

I should have just apologized. Instead, I launched a defense that included pretty much telling her that it was her duty to educate me on proper etiquette if she expected me to understand and support her point of view.

I was wrong. It is to Alecia’s credit that she avoided blasting me, though I was aware of her anger. Sarah kindly answered my question regarding the convention of capitalizing “Black”, though she hadn’t been tagged in the conversation.

Meanwhile, Alecia explained my error in *assuming* that she had a responsibility to enlighten me. I never considered how exhausting it must be to have to keep repeating the same things over and over to the same group of people — people like me who think they’re “woke” when they really don’t even know what that word means.

I never considered the time it takes to craft such responses, to couch them in language that the target audience understands and won’t be offended by. I didn’t think about how demoralizing it must be, and how humiliating, to have other people think of you as some sort of “exotic species” instead of just as people.

The insidiousness of casual bigotry.

In my eagerness to “relate”, I overlooked how my own views of Black people and people of color separate them from me; how I think that I require certain “insider knowledge” and techniques to be able to communicate with someone whose only real difference from me is the color of their skin.

This is what it means to be a racist. Though I am certainly no white supremacist, nor am I one to sling racial slurs or be actively hateful towards any group, it’s this casual bigotry — this presumption of separation — that keeps race relations in the poor state that they are in the US.

In her excellent article “5 Phrases Your Black Friend Wishes You Would Stop Using”, Ajah Hales points out a few of the presumptions certain “progressive white people” carry and how those presumptions are projected onto our Black friends.

Though she doesn’t use the term “casual bigotry”, its meaning is clearly defined in her article.

I am not the person to carry the fight for social justice. I am largely unaware of my own prejudices and am woefully out of step with conventions of etiquette and sensitivity in cultural communication. I could blame it on the era I was raised in, the region of the country where I grew up, or my own parents’ views. Did each of those affect me? Sure. Are they responsible for my beliefs? Nope. As a grown-ass adult, I need to take responsibility for my own beliefs and presumptions, examine their validity, and then work to change them.

And I do try. I’ve taken a course entitled “Deep Dive into Description: Writing the Other” by Nisi Shawl. I speak out against racism when I see it, and I seek connections with women of color on every platform where I have a presence. I am proud to call a number of Black women and women of color my friends.

But I can do better. I want to do better. Alecia offered me some resources towards this, and I am studying them. I’m also going to take a course that she offers. Because it’s not up to her to educate me or others like me for free. It’s up to me to take those steps myself — starting with admitting that I am wrong. And to say that I’m sorry.

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D.R. McElroy is a published author, writer, and copy editor with 15 years professional experience. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and a Masters in Environmental Resources. A conservationist, naturalist, and environmental advocate, she spends her time writing nonfiction articles on a variety of topics, as well as writing books on contract for publishers. D.R. wants to build a community of people who love nature and wildlife as much as she does, and who want to help protect our resources for public use.

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