A number of people I know (and love), as well as several folks who have commented either on my blog or my Facebook page, have recently said something to the effect of “You know I’m not racist, but…”
Let’s stop right there and think about this.
On the positive side, yes: I am certain all of these people view themselves as not racist, and try hard to not act toward people of color (or think of them) in ways that are racist or uncaring. This is a good thing. (And frankly, if they did otherwise, we wouldn’t be friends! ) But, as with all things, how we define our terms really matters. And so, are we all using the word “Racist” in the same way?
The answer is “No, we’re not.”
Now I could give you a long dissertation as to why I myself am not racist. I certainly have many reasons to consider myself better informed and sensitive to this issue than many of not most of those who share my skin color are.
Unfortunately, the reverse is true: all those years of experience and introspection have taught me that I truly am racist – and here’s why…
Just yesterday I was scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter feeds and the thought crossed my mind: “Enough already: I’m getting d*mn tired of these hundreds of “Black Lives Matter” (and such) posts. Can’t we talk about something else for a change?”
The reason I am racist is because I gave the luxury of making that choice. I can shut down my laptop and go off and watch some TV, or read a book, do the dishes, or go work in my garden, or chat with my wife. I don’t need to think about racism if I don’t want to. It is part of my life only when I want it to be. I can shut it out of my life, or my mind, at any time I choose. I can think and act as if racism doesn’t exist, because it doesn’t – for people like me.
So in my case, being racist (or not) is a choice. As long as you and I live in a society where some of us have that choice and others do not; then I, and those like me, are absolutely racist – and we have no hope of being otherwise.
No person I know who is a “Person of Color” has that choice. They have never had that choice, and probably never will. That their skin color is different than mine is a fact that is shoved in their face every minute of every day – and it can kill them. And even when they are in a place where they don’t have to think about it, they know deep down in the back of their mind that the present moment of apparent peace and safety can be upended in a flash just because of their skin color – as the death of Breonna Taylor proved.
So, when someone says to me “You know I’m not racist, but” – I agree they are not overtly racist. But, like me, they are inescapably racist in many other ways.
Ultimately, I receive such a statement from another as a sign that they want to be reassured that they are doing “right” when it comes to racism. It means they don’t want to be (nor perceived as) racist. It means that they are open to learning how to do better. It means that they can change. It means there is hope for all of us.
Make it so,
Copyright (c) 2020, Allen Vander Meulen III.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.