I am racist, and so are you: Recognizing and addressing racism in yourself

Guest post by Rachel Shadoan

This post is aimed at white folk, because our position of privilege allows us to benefit from, rather than be oppressed by, institutional racism.

Team Racists T-shirt from Zazzle.
Team Racists T-shirt from Zazzle.

Here’s the deal. Racism isn’t just guys in white robes and Paula Deen shouting racial slurs. Racism is subtle, racism is insidious, and American culture is so deeply steeped in it that it’s impossible to grow up in the US and not be racist.

It’s a kind of brainwashing: a set of default configuration files that come with the culture. It’s a filter, built up from birth, that alters our perception of the world. (Literally — racial bias makes people see weapons that aren’t there.) Racism isn’t just conscious actions; it’s judgements that happen so fast that we may not even be aware of them. Even people who are horrified by the idea of racism see through this lens, have this default programming. Even you. Even me.

Especially me.

How do I know that I’m racist?

Once, while living alone, I heard a noise that I took to be someone attempting to break in to my house. Instead of transforming into the valkyrie I’d always imagined I’d be in such a situation, I proceeded to have the kind of reaction I usually reserve for brown recluse spiders. Which is to say, I hid and called my boyfriend to come rescue me. When he arrived, finding the only other occupant of my house to be my wildly overactive imagination, he asked me, “What were you so afraid of?”

Unbidden, the image of a tall, young black man popped into my head. I don’t remember what I told him, but I doubt it was “young black men”.

Several years later, I’m walking home from the train. A black man I pass tries to get my attention, and I ignore him, as is my policy when approached by male strangers. He tries to get my attention again. Heart pounding, I turn to acknowledge him. He asks me for directions to the library, which I of course give him. I walk home with adrenaline surging through my veins and shame churning in my stomach.

Several years later, I’m walking across the street. It’s the middle of sunny afternoon at a busy intersection near my apartment. Three tall, broad, black men in baggy tees and baseball caps, walk past me in the opposite direction. They don’t look at me, approach me, or interact with me in any way. And yet, I realized suddenly, I felt a flush of fear as they passed.

I don’t know what it was about this third interaction that made me recognize my racism for what it was. Perhaps it was because I’d been reading a lot of feminist writings about race and racism. Perhaps the third time was simply the charm. Perhaps it was how utterly and completely inculpable those three guys were in my rush of fear. They hadn’t even acknowledged my existence, and here I was, pulse spiking because I’d fucking walked past them.

“Hang on, though, Rachel.” I can hear you now…

“Just because you’re afraid of black male strangers doesn’t mean you’re racist. Have you considered that your fear of black men is justified?”

Why yes, I have considered that. It would be awfully convenient, after all. But according to the Criminal Victimization Tables released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics [pdf], white people, who comprise 72% of the population of the US, commit 69% of the violent crime against white people, whereas black people, who comprise 13% of the population, commit 13% of the violent crime against white people. Not only does this mean that I am much more likely to be victimized by a white person than a black person, it also suggests that violent offenders who victimize white people are uniformly distributed across races. So, given this knowledge, why am I not more afraid of white men? Why is it that my brain conjures images of black men to embody my fears?

Upon recognizing my fear for what it was — racism — all I could think was, “Oh my god, Rachel, how fucking cliche is that? You’re the lily white blonde girl, afraid of black men. What, were you born on the set of King Kong?”

No, I was born in America. American media and mythos have been peddling the idea of violent and aggressive black people since the beginning of their enslavement at our hands hundreds of years ago; the fear we feel is a tool that has been leveraged to oppress, profit from, and destroy black bodies. The fear persists. Duncan (1976, PDF here) found that when performing the exact same action, black men are perceived as more violent than white men. Sagar and Schofield (1980, Google cache of PDF here) found that both white and black sixth graders rate actions as more mean and threatening when the person taking the action is black. Madriz (1997, PDF here) found that women of a variety of socio-economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds had similar perceptions of criminals — they feared victimization by black and latino men. The research goes on and on — Americans are afraid of black people, especially black men. [Ed. note: these tweets on the topic of White Fear are well worth reading.] This fear, the legacy of hundreds of years of subjugation and racism, is part of our cultural heritage just like hot dogs and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

However, unlike Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, this fear kills people.

Mike Brown. Renisha McBride. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. These are only a handful of the hundreds of people killed each year because of white people’s fear. Because of fear like mine. Because of racism like mine.

The media will tell you that those people asked for it. They weren’t properly respectful. They were thugs or drunks or in some way unacceptable (as though that gives us license to murder them?!). We must recognize that as bullshit. They’re soothing, irrelevant, lies that we white people tell ourselves to avoid naming our fears for what they are — racism. We would rather slander the dead than admit to ourselves that our irrational fears are rooted deeply in this country’s history of enslaving, oppressing, and murdering black people. It is easier to cling to any justification of our fear, even the flimsiest, most transparent justifications, than it is to probe how our own fears contributed to their murder.

We cannot continue to take the easy way out. This cannot be allowed to continue. People are dying, because white people have not stepped up to the plate and addressed the racism that has wormed its tendrils through our souls.

It is our turn at bat.

“I dunno, Rach. Maybe you’re racist, but I’m certainly not.”

“I’m not afraid of black men, for instance.”

Maybe you aren’t afraid of black men, but that example is only the most relevant and easily described way in which I have found my racism to manifest. There are a myriad of other areas in which our racism colors our perception, all requiring hard thinking and serious mindfulness to identify. Mine was so subtle it took years to even notice it.

So are you really sure you harbor no racism? How much time have you spent thinking about and examining your possible biases? How much do you listen to and learn about the experiences of black people from black people themselves? How often do you read about racism and structural inequality? Just how sure are you that you have somehow, miraculously, been able to avoid soaking up the racism that American culture is swimming in?

Look, I’m not here to condemn you. Condemning you, after all, would condemn me as well. I’m here to tell you that it’s not us against the racists. We’re not fighting a battle with the Paula Deens of the world. If only it were that simple, that cut and dried. The battle is instead us against racism, and that racism resides in each of us. This war begins within.

On the bright side, that means we have the home court advantage. How do we get started, though?

First, we read. Hundreds of people, brighter and more well-studied than I am, have been writing about these things for years. For longer than I’ve been alive. I’ll put a bunch of links at the bottom of this post to give you a good place to start.

Second, we must interrogate our discomfort. Reading will be hard. You will learn things you do not want to know. You will read things that make you want to lash out in your own defense, to shout, “Not all white people! Certainly not me!” Don’t shout that. Especially don’t shout that at a black person who is telling you about their lived experiences. If you absolutely cannot restrain yourself, and you must proclaim your innocence to someone, you can send me an email. I will say comforting and soothing things about how this is a necessary step on your journey to getting a passing grade in Decent Human Being, and how I expect you to suck it the hell up because as I said earlier PEOPLE ARE DYING and that’s more important than either your feelings or mine. This is going to be uncomfortable. It will make you feel sick to your stomach. It will make your heart ache. It will make your scalp tingle and your blood pound in your ears and you will want so desperately to stop and go back to the time when you existed, oblivious, in a blissful bubble of white privilege and YOU MUST KEEP GOING ANYWAY. Your temporary discomfort is a small price when weighed against the lives of millions of people. Sit with your discomfort. Befriend your discomfort. Let your discomfort guide you — where there is discomfort, there is likely unexamined bias. When you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself why. “Why does that make me uncomfortable? What is it about that that makes me feel this way? What are the beliefs that I hold that are conflicting with what I am reading?” You will survive your discomfort — black children do not survive being gunned down by cops.

Third, we must cultivate a perspective of belief. As I said, racism is a filter through which we view everything, whether we want to or not. It’s like being born wearing tinted glasses — certain colors are filtered out of our perception. The filter our racism creates makes it very difficult to see the racism at first. We must be trained to see it by the people who experience it more directly. So as you’re reading, and making friends with your discomfort, remember: if someone tells you that some event is because of racism, believe them. It may be a long time before you’re able to see racism with clarity. Until that point, it is an entirely reasonable default position to believe the people who have been observing it longer. You are not objective in this regard; you must proactively correct for your own cognitive bias.

Fourth, we must be gentle with ourselves. We accomplish nothing by doing more violence to our pysches than our system has already done. You and I are not bad people because our position of privilege allows us to benefit from, rather than be oppressed by, institutional racism. We are just people, products of a racist culture that we didn’t choose but got stuck with anyway. It is, however, our responsibility, our ethical obligation, to address our own racism. We cannot change a racist system — a system that oppresses and brutalizes black people and other people of color — without first changing ourselves.

Finally, we must realize that the battle with our racism will never be over. You don’t just wake up one morning and say, “I guess I’m done being racist!” Over time, we’ll improve, of course. We’ll succeed in building new mental pathways that overwrite parts of our racist programming. But we will struggle. We will grapple with pernicious racist beliefs so ingrained that our minds have carved canyons down those planes of thought. It will frustrate us, how quickly our brains find the racist answer, like marbles rolling to a low spot in the floor. And when we succeed in levelling that floor, we’ll find new pockets of racism that we didn’t even know existed. We will never win — but we must press on in the struggle.

I know you can do this.

I know we can do this.

I know we can do this, because we must do this.

Articles to Read:

Publications to Read:

Books to Read:

Scholarly Research:

Comments on I am racist, and so are you: Recognizing and addressing racism in yourself

  1. Adding my voice to the chorus of others saying thank you for this post. It’s SO easy to get defensive, but it is important when that happens to be reminded to stop talking for a moment and LISTEN- to ourselves, yes, but first, foremost and especially to those in minorities.

    It’s got nothing to do with “white guilt” and everything to do with recognizing that we have an implicit, instant swell in our social status over people of other races. No one’s asking that we go around apologizing for it every step of the way, but we have to recognize when that comfortable cushion of ours is hurting others instead of sticking our fingers in our ears and pretending that it doesn’t exist. Thanks for the thoughtful article and the myriad helpful links, and I’m so glad that Offbeat is playing host to such an important discussion.

  2. Sorry guys, starting a new thread because I can’t reply to you all individually because yay time zones!)

    Okay so, let’s get in here. Like I’ve said, I completely acknowledge white privilege exists – my parents (and their generation) benefited from apartheid by getting jobs easier with minimal qualifications etc etc etc. So yes, I would say that many white people in South Africa currently have fancy houses and cars and nice things because apartheid made it easier for them to acquire. In my opinion, this is and always was bullshit – just like the entire concept of apartheid. Rowany, that is also essentially what you saw when you visited South Africa; apartheid’s “old money”, if you will. But let me be honest, a LOT has changed and for people my age it’s an entirely different ball game.

    A few years ago, our government implemented a system called BEE (Black Economic Empowerment), which had the noble intention of trying to help black people to get better jobs and to get on their feet after apartheid. The intentions of this idea was good and we all thought that it was very big of the ANC government to try and give a group of previously disadvantaged people a head start. However, where it started as a way to equalise opportunity – in other words, help a talented, smart and hardworking black person into a university or school or job where he or she otherwise would never have gotten into due to the ridiculousness of apartheid, it’s turned into putting absolutely incompetent and unqualified people in high positions (even going so far as to laying off a white person that actually earned the job through merit) merely based on NOTHING other than his or her skin colour.
    When I started applying for jobs myself I started realising how hard it is to get anywhere because in our job market you don’t stand a chance as a white person. Granted, some employers are well and truly only interested in how well you can do your job – I had a few amazing black employers whom I got along with extremely well and whom I’ve learned a lot from. To be honest, not even the most vehemently racist members of my family care whether or not the person in a job is black or white or whatever, if said person can do the job correctly and competently then go for it. Sadly, in South Africa that is not always the case and that is why our economy is going down the toilet.
    And trust me, many of the black people aren’t happy with that arrangement either. I’ve heard time and again that they wish that they would get a job because they are skilled and talented and the best person for the job based on merit and not solely and purely because of their skin colour. I mean, I know that that would be one of the many things of apartheid that would’ve pissed me off to NO end.

    South Africa is rife with crime because there is so much poverty and unfortunately most of that poverty is under the black communities and yes, it sucks balls and we are genuinely trying to help. However, since Nelson Mandela left office we have been left with a government that is effectively running the country into the ground – our infrastructure is falling apart, people are hungry and angry and poor, the police/military/fire brigade/hospitals/schools are understaffed, the standard of education is laughable and everywhere, the white people of this country have to go around apologising for apartheid while black people (civilians AND government officials) get away with vicious hate speech and racial slurs that incite violence and crime towards us. Have any of you had someone say “Kill the Boer!” to your face? Have any of you been called a “pink pig” and threatened with a machete? I don’t think so.

    Seriously, asking me how many black people I’ve asked about what their life is like is pointless. Many of them DO NOT WANT to work, they expect the tax payers to keep them alive. I have shared work environments, university, school, hospital, etc with many black people who are hardworking and willing to rise above their circumstances. In fact, just to put it into perspective – I do not come from a rich family. It wasn’t like the apartheid government looked at my parents and went “HERE, white brother and sister – have bountiful land and money and cars and nice things because you are white and white is right!”, my parents only had a head start with getting a job. They had to WORK to own and earn everything they have and I have had to do the same. Many of my black and coloured friends are in the same position – they own nice things and have better lives than I do and than many of their friends have because they WORKED for it and I will never, EVER deny them any of that. If you ask any (well, maybe not ANY…) white South African of today’s post-apartheid generation you will realise that most of us are perfectly happy sharing life and a country with black and coloured and Indian and Asian and any other race without an issue whatsoever. After 20 years, we’re all supposed to have equal opportunity, but we don’t – from both sides and that is what angers me to no end.

    The point of all this is that these type of articles make want to shut down the internet because yes, racism is bullshit. It’s a difficult topic and it’s bullshit. But the American point of view is so often seen as the “generally accepted” point of view of the rest of the world and that’s what grates my face the most. White people are NOT the majority everywhere and they are not over-privileged in every part of the world either, just because that’s what happens in your country. And having a South African grandmother or family member doesn’t exactly help to support any argument if you do not actually LIVE here and struggle with these things every single day.

    I apologise for all my rage about this topic – I haven’t been sleeping well because of the escalation of violent crimes in our town/city and I’m just overall a very angry person. Thank you, Offbeathome for a sane corner of the internet to have a debate 🙂 xxx

  3. Quit inheriting the sins of your father.
    Institutional racism is the real problem, the personal is not all that political in this case. Americans tend to get along across racial lines in this day & age, it’s the overriding power structure that ruins it all. I’m not going to label myself an automatic racist because of shit I personally had/have nothing to do with. (Yes, I understand & recognize my white male privilege, that alone doesn’t implicate me)

  4. I come from this as a White (cis) man.

    I think the points you make about racism are entirely appropriate and cogent, especially considering the explosions of racial tension which have been gripping us here in the states on, what seems like, a quarterly basis (think it through: voter fraud/suppression legislation, Trayvon, now LAPD and Ferguson). When focusing specifically on African-Americans, the bias shown to them is immense, but it’s just as immense against Latinos (lazy, illegal, should learn English), Asians (super smart, math nerd, Tiger Moms), Native Americans (the Washington Redskins [sidenote, hate that word so much) or any other non-White foreigner, with the exception of Canadians (nice, meek, push over).

    I, as a single person, cannot affect the immense change to overhaul our entire sociocultural system. I can, however, as as a single person, question what details I put into stories and why they’re important, seek to understand the experiences of being a Person of Color here, and question others as to why certain things are “ok” for one group but isn’t for another, even if that bias is entirely subconscious.

    I do this for myself, and I strive to do it for others.

    None of us is perfect and none of us have mastered race or intercultural relations, but if we all keep working, we become a much more just place for everyone who’s come here, or who is from here — ancestrally or otherwise.

  5. I live in Maine, which is one of the whitest states in the country (I think we keep alternating with Vermont for whitest). Outside of the biggest city (Portland) or the city with a large influx of Somali refugees (Lewiston) there are incredibly few people of color. So much so that when you see a non-white person, you sit up and notice. For me, an interaction with a person of color has always been so rare that I am hyper aware of how I’m acting, desperate to not be racist by treating this person any differently…..which is, itself, probably a form of racism, being that aware of yourself just because of the other person’s skin color.

    But…it happens. Like I said, we’re a very white state. My sister has a daycare in an even more remote part of the state, and she told me that one day one of her pre-schoolers came up to her, wide eyed, and whispered, “Guess what I saw on TV last night. There were BROWN PEOPLE on it!”

    We sell our chickens eggs on the side of the road, just a few dozen every week. Last Saturday, I glanced out the window to see someone opening up the cooler to get eggs out and leave cash behind….I called excitedly to my husband, “Hey! There’s a black man buying our eggs!” I was completely astonished, and then strangely excited, like I should go down and offer this guy some of our excess summer squash as well….And I don’t know why. I don’t know why I felt like I needed to be super welcoming and warm to this stranger buying our eggs just because he was black. It was a very strange feeling.

    • I’ve been that black person approached by the super-excited white person (weekend trip to a small town that was so homogenous we actually kept our bags packed and in the car because we weren’t sure if it was safe to stay) and can I just say? One of the most genuinely wonderful conversations I’ve had, and it made us feel safe enough to stay in the town. Granted, there were some false starts (“Do you like Stevie Wonder?? I LOVE him!” I could almost hear her brain sorting through ‘what should I talk about that we can connect to??’) but I appreciated the sincere effort to try to make us feel at ease and the effort put into the interaction. We ended up with multiple interactions like that during the weekend, and were frankly tickled by the efforts to connect (like having the restuarant switch from heavy metal to Motown music after we came in, followed by reassuring smiles by waiters and the owner….they all seemed to be trying SO hard to be welcoming, and some even bluntly but nicely said they weren’t use to seeing black people). I can only speak for me and I have NO idea how that would’ve played out for you if you had engaged with the man, but I would think it would awesome if you’re ever put into a situation again (but maybe just “Hi, are you new to the area because I haven’t seen you around” vs “hey I like -insert something you associate with black people here-“). You might be pleasantly surprised (and end up with another loyal customer).

  6. Best offbeat home post of all time. Thank you Rachel and thank you offbeat editors.

  7. I think this article brings up so many important points for people to try to understand. I was raised in a family that actively fights against racism and racial prejudice, yet I can still see symptoms of racism in my own life. I don’t have any implicit biases against black people according to that Harvard test (in fact, I tend to be slightly biased toward blacks—probably not the normal outcome for a middle-aged white woman). But I do have the luxury of not dealing with issues of race if I don’t want to, and frankly, sometimes I do that. That’s white privilege. It’s not guilt—I don’t feel guilty for being white—it’s just reality. When I came to a place where I realized that racism belongs to all of us, that it’s a legacy that will take more than a couple of generations to weed out of our society, that I am afflicted with the disease simply by being immersed in this particular society at this particular point in history, I found it very freeing. Owning it means I can do something about it. I wrote about all of this a while back and came to very similar conclusions as this author: http://www.motherhoodandmore.com/2014/01/my-racist-manifesto.html.

  8. I appreciated this article. It’s an incredibly difficult topic to discuss. Nobody wants to admit that they have biases against others, but we do, we do. It might not be race-based. But it’s there.
    For example, I started a new job in May, and I’ve noticed how often the intelligent, kind, educated people I work with make insensitive comments about people who don’t act/look/talk/live like them. For example, they joke about the homeless man who sometimes sits outside our building. I don’t participate — one of my very good friends was homeless for a time — but I can’t get too high and mighty, either, because I have participated (often thoughtlessly) in generalizing about huge groups of people. Every person has different biases, and it takes some thinking to examine what they are and why we have them.

    Anyway — I think the next step to acknowledging one’s racism is developing *solutions.* I’d be curious in seeing a follow-up article (maybe crowd-sourced?) with some ideas. For example: what are some things that a socially timid introvert can say to people who make insensitive comments (without making myself a complete outcast)? Or: listening is the first step to conversations about race, but then what can culturally-privileged people do next? Or: as a poet, how can I write about race without white-splaining?

    Again, thanks for this article. This conversation must be had. (And if some of you don’t believe that racism is still a problem in the US of A, read the comments on ANY news article about Mike Brown or the protesters in Ferguson. There is a lot of serious, blinding hate out there.)

  9. “I’m not prejudiced, I hate every body equally. ”

    No but in all seriousness, thank you for the thought provoking post. I may not agree with portions but that is the point of freedom of speech and (in my opinion) the internet. The more boundaries we push within our society and our selves the closer we all get to enlightenment.

  10. I’m really glad that we are at least having a conversation about this. Last night while watching the news and crying, I turned to my husband and said “People are racist. People are RACIST. Can you believe that?” It is dumbfounding to me. Of course I was only thinking about the blatant racism — the idea that people consciously have that one race is better or different or worse than another race. I wasn’t thinking about the ways in which I might also be racist. I guess the word only conjures up thoughts of conscious, acted-on racism.

    My fears have always manifested in what someone might call a “skinhead” or a “juggalo”. The person I picture when I hear an odd noise late at night is a white man, bald, heavily tattooed, and mentally disturbed. I’m too self-conscious to cross the street when I see guys like this out and about, but I am afraid. Black men, in my mind, are gentle and kind. I see roving groups of black male teens in my neighborhood and automatically get defensive of anyone who might look out their window and see a “gang”. These feelings might stem from growing up in a almost entirely white neighborhood. The black men on TV were so nice, like Lavar Burton. But there were scary white guys around. My specific brand of prejudice makes it easy for me to say I’m not racist. But clearly I do still have prejudice. I just happen to have it against people who are like me, I guess? I have tattoos and mental illness. But does fear need a face? Is it possible to not have one?

    I also have a lot of thoughts that might be defined as “nice racism”, like “Mexican women love babies” and “black women are outspoken and powerful”. I guess sometimes I’m confused about whether these thoughts are wrong. It’s generalizing, and I don’t like generalizations, but without them I guess I’m not sure how to feel about people? Can we really strip away everything and just see the person? Is it possible and desirable?

    • Yeah, that “nice racism” thing is so interesting! My cousin’s child is being babysat by an older Mexican woman, and my mother made some comment about how nice it was for the baby to taken care of by someone who comes from “such a happy culture.” Uh…what? It was such a weird comment, and while it wasn’t exactly insulting (and certainly wasn’t meant to be), it was definitely tinged with uncomfortable generalizations.

    • Oh, “nice racism.” It’s more annoying to hear in real life, because it’s always “But that’s a compliment!”
      Yeah it’s still racist because it’s a generalization. And, specifically with the Mexican nanny bit, it’s a problem because it negates other options. (This is personal for me, with a mom who’s Hispanic and a nanny.) It negates characteristics that are also positive, but not part of the stereotype. Like being ambitious and child free and logical. And young kids of color have a harder time being geeky, because they’re expected not to be. “That black boy wants to read sci-fi? Unheard of. Let’s make him join the basketball team”
      It’s still bad. It’s pressure to fit into the accepted roles of your race.

  11. You’ll have to forgive me if this has already been stated- I’ve learned that bad things can take place in comment sections, and as a result, I skim until it just makes me sad.

    Thanks to Rachel for posting this. Yes, I believe there are people who have the privilege of ignoring this issue when needed. As a “poc” (person of color) I don’t. From this perspective, I also believe No, racism is not restricted to whites. I recently came across Avenue Q’s “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” via YouTube, and I remember thinking that it was one of the most profound things I have ever heard (never seen the musical- this wisdom from puppets? seriously?)

    Next question…what do you do with it?

    • I was wondering how long it would take before someone posted this clip! I also haven’t seen the full show, but I love the songs I have seen!

  12. You’ll have to forgive me if this has already been stated- I’ve learned that bad things can take place in comment sections, and as a result, I just skim until it makes me sad…

    Thanks to Rachel for posting this. Yes, I believe there are people who have the privilege of ignoring race when they feel like it. As a “poc” (person of color) I don’t have that privilege. From this perspective, I also believe No, racism is not restricted to whites. I recently came across Avenue Q’s “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” via YouTube, and I remember thinking it was one of the most profound things I’d ever heard (never seen the musical- this wisdom from puppets? seriously?)

    Next question…what do you do with it? I recently had a conversation with a co-worker, during which he admitted he had (albeit briefly) used me as a “representative of my race”, and I admitted I had dismissed his race, because he didn’t fit my generalized mold of what a _____ man would be. It was awkward and uncomfortable for both us- and it’s been a huge source of encouragement to me in light of recent events. We owned up to our ignorant actions/mindsets. We promised to hold each other accountable. We both tried our best to foster a safe space for the conversation.

    Now all we have to do is rinse and repeat…continuously…and include the other 7.3 billion people on the planet…

  13. This was a very good read. I wanted to bring up an interesting point. well…I think its interesting anyways.

    a few months ago we had a #yesallwomen campaign following what I can only term a #notallmen shitstorm on the internet. (sorry. can i say shitstorm? I’m sure I can.)

    this reeks heavily of #notallwhitepeople and that’s pretty uncool. the entire point was to stop and listen to people who aren’t you about things that aren’t happening to you. yes its happening. yes its still happening. today. right now. maybe not to you. maybe not BY you. but it isn’t ABOUT you. yes I’m sure non white people are racist to white people (prejudice, unfair, bigotted, use your word of preference here) but you know the amazing thing is there are literally BILLIONS of WRONGS happening in the world TO PEOPLE BY PEOPLE.many of them not committed by you personally. all simultaneously. it doesn’t mean we can’t hear someone out about their experience.

    • I agree. I think it’s especially hypocritical for white women who occasionally want to tell men “These are things that happen to me, and I’m not blaming you, but I want you to be aware” and then completely balk at the same conversation targeted to white people.
      Not all white people experience privilege in the same way, but privilege still exists in one way or another. And I get really suspicious of people who’s first reaction is “But not me!” okay, maybe that’s true, but the defensiveness makes me suspicious. If they’re so quick to get defensive, it makes me wonder if they actually listen to others (women of color, especially) when they have tough conversations.

  14. HELL YES. Thank you for this. Thank you for being willing to tell it like it is even if it makes people uncomfortable and angry.

  15. I got a neutral response on the implicit association test – apparently I still hung on to that from being a kid. YAY. I was homeschooled and in a girl scout troup with mixed ethnicities, and years later as a teen I realized that I had black friends and that was supposed to mean something. Our cultural climate robs us of the innocence of reaching to a new person and saying Hi, How are You? and letting them show us who they are. Making an active effort to be neutral and friendly takes so much more effort as an adult once we’re taught about OTHERs.

    As for prejudice, I’m afraid I’ve always been more of a classhole. 😛

  16. A Facebook friend posted this with one word: Interesting. Well, I’m going to say quite a bit more about it than that, starting with BUNK! I do not and will not own the idea that I am racist based on someone else’s experience, and I reject the idea that it is impossible to grow up in this country without being racist. I have never experienced the visceral reactions this author has had based solely on the color of someone else’s skin. I try to be aware of my surroundings and to trust my instincts regarding the people that I encounter, based on their demeanor and actions. This was true of myself even long before I had any police training. I try to be friendly to everyone I encounter, but if anything I may be guilty of being extra friendly to minorities, for in my community they truly are a minority. I want EVERYONE to know that I am a friendly person, and to hopefully be a good representative of Pocatello. If THAT makes me racist, then you can blame articles such as these for making me think that I somehow have to prove the opposite of what they say. If you relate to the feelings this author has experienced, then check yourself, but don’t put your BS on me! That is all.

  17. I recommend reading anything by TA-NEHISI COATES. He writes articles for The Atlantic and is exceptionally eloquent and patient in explaining the institutionalized racism in the U.S.

  18. There have been plenty of comments about the actual subject matter – I just wanted to add one small thing. I think it’s super awesome that not only the author linked to so many great articles and studies, but also that the COMMENTERS often linked to studies or articles too. And there were a lot of great comments where obviously great lengths were taken to be respectful and helpful.

    Also, one more shout out for the moderators and their great work and OBH who knew running this would definitely mean extra work.

  19. Generally speaking, in my experience, most people to a certain extent have some kind of “ism” because we are not made of rainbows and sunshine – we are imperfect humans. So you deal with it internally the best you can – as a young, white woman in a mostly black neighborhood in Atlanta, that’s what I do. I acknowledge that I have tinges of -isms and try to work on it to the best of my ability to get closer to having sunshine and rainbow guts. But at the end of the day, I realize that I mainly just hate people for being assholes (drive in Atlanta and try not to hate everybody) and go home and cuddle with my dogs. Dogs are the best people.

    • Yes! I loved your comment:

      “I acknowledge that I have tinges of -isms and try to work on it to the best of my ability to get closer to having sunshine and rainbow guts.”

      I feel the same way. As a white cis-woman recently transplanted to Oakland, I feel like years of small-minded influences are being unearthed and reexamined. I take it day by day, try to treat everybody with the same openness and respect that I would show to my family, and hope that someday I too will have sunshine and rainbow guts.

  20. Just wanted to add, like a lot of people have already, that I love the Offbeat Empire and how many thoughtful, intelligent, respectful people join in the debate. It is the only comments section on the internet I am yet to find that doesn’t make me so very sad or rage-filled by comment 3 or 4! Long may it continue. – And thanks to the OP for being brave enough to post this.

  21. I just want to chime in with the THANKS chorus, and add my general experience.

    I’m mixed race, and sometimes/usually white passing. When I’m alone, people will usually read me as white. I know because in places like school or a new jobs, they’ll be surprised when I say something revealing it. Also, in stores or restaurants, if I’m in an area with a mostly white population, Hispanic servers and cashiers will speak English until I start Spanish. However, when I’m in a neighborhood with a large Hispanic population, they’ll speak Spanish to me first. (It also depends on how I’m dressed, and how “ethnic” my hair is looking.) It really varies, a lot.

    There have been times when I’m out with my family (people of color), and have felt targeted by grouped racism. The waitress who’s inexplicably rude only to our table, the clothes store owner who won’t offer help, the traffic stop that was more thorough than anything I’ve ever seen.

    It’s interesting, straddling the line. I get to see my white privilege evaporate every once on a while. It’s heartbreaking to know that the people I love the most face these hurdles

  22. Thank you for this wonderfully thought out piece, and being willing to admit it. As someone that watched a white women hurriedly cross the street in our preppy, mostly white neighborhood on a sunny Saturday afternoon last week because my husband was walking on the same side the sidewalk (I was catching up to him, so I got to watch the whole thing and managed to quell my urge to trip her) this really resonated with me and made me feel slightly less hopeless. At least there are people thinking about it.
    I would also recommend, for people that might have a hard time separating the effects of white privilege from classism or other issues: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…9255.html.

  23. I had stopped reading OBH&L after the blog post about loving plastic bags (and even now my rage is still with me), but I heard about this post through way of the Internet and am thrilled to see such a thoughtful discussion on racism and privilege. Thank you, Rachel. I’ll go through your resources and those of the commentators.

  24. A great topic but one that was titled very badly. If you want an intelligent and calm discussion then you can’t start it with an inflammatory, accusational title. Being called racist is an insult, a better option would have been a title that asks people to consider themselves and the fact they might be guilty of falling for (or being a part of for want of a better description) institutionalised racism. I am rather dissapointed in OBH because of the title placed on this article. It sounds more like something some of our crap Australian newspapers would print with the sole purpose of creating controversy.

    This link leads to an advertisement made by The Australian group Beyond Blue, it has addressed the topic beautifully http://youtu.be/MvTyI41PvTk

  25. Racist. The most incorrectly used word on the planet. In order for the word to be taken serious, you would seriously need to hate a whole race of people purely because of their race. Genetically, there is really only one race. The Human race. Dislike isn’t full on hate. You’d be a strange person to hate for the sake of it, but then again some people hate themselves. Does that make them racist too. Religion isn’t race. It is usually some sort of belief in some sort of imaginary friend. Crazy crap. Nationally isn’t race either. It means you were born in a place thats all. The way race is usually defined is reasonably incorrect, but the tendency always was, White Black and Yellow. DNA surveys will find all humans are 99.9pc the same. Being different is fine. No one is perfect though, never has been never will be. There is absolutely nothing wrong being around people who make you feel comfortable and wide berthing people who don’t. Word are words and only that. Race is purely subjective, as to repeat, scientifically we are all the same, and Nationality is created by Government boarders. Culture is developed, and this along with religion causes most disharmony, but in my humble opinion, religion is the worlds worst enemy, and yet, I HATE IT, because I can 🙂

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