Do You Think You're Racist?

Joscelyn Kate

I bet you think you’re not racist. I used to think I wasn’t but now I see it.

Just because I don’t say mean things, act inappropriately, or consciously admit to myself that I think differently of other races doesn’t mean I'm clear of the racism fog. I’m not.

I've changed the channel when the next show coming up had an all-Black cast. I honestly do not know why. Despite rave reviews, I haven't watched movies like The Color Purple or Twelve Years a Slave…because they made me uncomfortable.

I'm discovering things about myself, admitting there may be racism there helps me find it. The more I want to understand and help a community clearly suffering in pain and anger — in rage and tragedy — the more I'm discovering about what I’ve done, either consciously or subconsciously, to extend white privilege or continue racism.

I am at fault for the position they are in, and if you’re white, so are you.

A New Default

This is my new default position. It's been helpful in identifying, acknowledging, and processing my feelings and actions/aggressions or micro-actions/aggressions so I can actually make mindful progress: Assume I'm being racist first.

Here’s how that looks: If I change a movie, in a genre I normally watch (Hallmark for example), and it has an all-Black cast, assume it’s because of their race, I didn't see people who looked like me so I looked away. I need to just watch the movie. Maybe it will be moving, or funny, or enlightening. Maybe it will suck. But before I turn it off, I assume I'm doing so because I'm being too conscious of race.

Staring that idea in the face helps me try to prove it wrong. I don't want to deny it, I want to prove it wrong.

Why You Don’t Know You’re Racist

If you're white, when you were growing up, your parents or grandparents may have told you not to date a Black person.

They weren’t mean to Black people in front of you and they didn’t openly talk about disliking Black people, but you knew how they’d feel if you brought a Black person home as your date.

And they’re family, so you never thought they were racist.

When you’re trying to get that parking spot at the grocery store and a car pulls in before you and you think “jerk,” and then you get a closer look at them, and think “oh they’re Black.” You may not “intend” to be racist at that moment. You’re not calling them derogatory names, but something about that condescension helps ease your defeat.

You are finding comfort in privilege, even when you don’t know it.

When you see a successful, well-dressed, Black person, driving a nice car and think “hey, they’re doing pretty nice for themselves.” You’re doing two things here—subconsciously alleviating your guilt; telling yourself “black people aren’t so bad off” and acting as though it’s surprising or notable for Black people to be successful or wealthy.

When you think of Black men, you don’t think of suits. When you think of white men, you do. Why?

You tell your Black friends, who grew up in the same neighborhood as you, and went to the same schools as you, and played on the same sports teams, that they’re practically “white.” At that moment, Black isn’t enough, white is an acknowledged, elevated, or “protected” status. You believe it’s a compliment for someone to be a part of your race.

When you call into your mortgage or utility company and wonder if the person you’re speaking with is Black because of their name or the sound of their voice. It really doesn’t matter if they’re Black, why are you thinking about it? Do you even know?

When you picture Black teenage boys, you think of street corners and baggy pants. When you picture white teenage boys, you think of football practice and locker rooms.

(And maybe, here, you want to cite statistics about how Black teenage boys are “more likely” to get into gangs… with statistics, you’re not being racist, you’re using “facts.” You aren't stopping to ask why statistics are skewed in such a way that there is a group of people being specifically disadvantaged.)

You see an interracial couple and wonder about the dynamics of their relationship. Something you don’t typically do with other couples. Even if the dynamics are obvious and spilling out in front of you.

You may have an older family member or work mentor who makes racially-charged comments, that you know are wrong, but you excuse them, or ignore them, because “that’s just how they are…they’re old…that’s the ‘time’ they’re from…they’re not gonna change…they don’t mean anything...”

As a white person, we’ve all said or thought that line at one point in our lives. If you deny it, you’re lying. You’re convinced black people are “fine” so maybe you believe this one unfiltered family member doesn’t need to be addressed or confronted. Racism, to you, is anger, name-calling, aggression, condescension, overt acts. It’s clear-actions that are identifiable and addressable. It’s people with confederate flags, shaved heads, and pick-up trucks.

Racism, to you, is never any of the things you do, like assuming a Black man is unmarried or that he’s an estranged father.

Or that a Black woman doesn’t mind having her hair touched or talked about.

Or thinking being kind to Black children makes you “extra nice.”

Or thinking your white-smile, when you walk by a Black person, isn’t a white smile.

Those things aren’t racist, to you, because they’re not “aggressive.” (Even though they are, they're micro-aggressions.)

Racism, to you, is aggressive, blatant, easily identified… and can simply be side-stepped or corrected. You don’t know you’re racist because you’re not being honest with yourself about what racism is, in all it’s forms, from all angles.

Maybe you’re not being honest with yourself because you don’t know, but ignorance is not an excuse. Get to know. Search, discover, learn. Be intentional. Don’t let knowledge just happen to you, seek it out.

You don’t know you’re racist because racism has changed. It’s constantly evolving. White supremacy actively works to keep racism alive so the ways it shows itself are varied, and we have to be vigilant.

When you look at a man like George Floyd, if you don’t see a father, a friend, a listening ear, or a bear hug— You’re. Being. Racist. It is your fault—it is the conditioning that you have not admitted or attempted to correct—that happy thoughts of this man aren’t the first thing flowing to the front of your mind.

And it is your fault that you’re wondering about his past, or how he got that $20 bill, or what his behavior was toward the murderous-cops who killed him in the streets.

Don’t believe, for one second, that what you think and what you see when you look at someone else is passive or that it just happens to you. Don’t stand around believing it’s not your responsibility to acknowledge that the thoughts that come first are wrought with blame and not empathy.

It is your responsibility.

You and I have been conditioned, by others and ourselves, to identify with white people, and to not identify with Black people, because they’re “different.”

Not bad, just “different.” That’s new-age racism.

It is your responsibility to actively try and identify with all people.

It is your personal responsibility to facilitate equality within your own mind.

It is your responsibility to manage your thoughts.

You don’t know you’re racist because you’re too busy convincing yourself, and others, that you’re not.

I know it’s uncomfortable and scary but growth always is, we still need to go through it.

White people are not exempt from growth and change. We are not perfect. We are not done evolving.

We need to do better. Admit that and then commit to it.

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Lover of lattes, champagne, avocados, sleep, and my perfect family. The epitome of a liberal millennial snowflake.

Boston, MA

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