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The Ways I’m a Racist.

5 April 2016

I’ve been kicking this post around in my head for a long time now. When it comes to race and racism, I have a parade of credentials. I have black and Hispanic family members. In third grade I punched a kid out for calling my friend Jonathan “a nigger”. I agonize over that last sentence. Is it better to self-censor, or tell my history as it was? I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer. I don’t know if there is one. Certainly not one everyone can agree on.

I’ve worked hard in my life to recognize my privileges. At least, I have for the past ten years or so. And I work to recognize my own contributions to my success, and not diminish what I’ve done to strictly privilege. But there is no doubt, I am privileged in ways that few others are. And there is simply no way to untangle privilege from perspective. My privileges influence how I see myself and the world, and they have indelibly infected me with racism.

There are many ways I’m racist. I’m aware of it. I try to act against it. I try not to let my first impulse direct my behavior. But I don’t believe it’s possible to prevent it entirely. I simply have to remain both aware and vigilant. And then take deliberate steps to avoid behaviors which disadvantage others based on my own inexpungeable first reactions.

When I see advertisements with persons of color as the stars, I automatically assume that the products advertised are not being advertised to me. But I don’t make the corresponding assumption that when white people are in ads, that the products are aimed only at white people. White people seem to represent “everyone”, but others represent only their specific groups.

The thoughtful part of me knows that that’s not true. But that part takes time to engage. It takes deliberate effort. If I don’t make that effort, it doesn’t happen.

At work, despite knowing that we have many excellent physicians and surgeons who are persons of color, when I see a person of color in scrubs, my first reaction is not “doctor”. It may be “nurse”, frequently it’s “environmental”. When I saw an Asian man in scrubs who was on our environmental crew, it surprised me.

This is a situation that am closer to instinctively correcting. I treat everyone at work with the same respect whether they are environmental or a world-renowned surgeon, black, white, Hispanic, or Asian. And I diligently avoid making assumptions about people whose job titles I don’t know. I work at it, because it’s not appropriate to make assumptions about people based on race.

But I do. And I think we all do. It’s easy to say, “That’s not me, I don’t stereotype people.” But I do. I have to work to correct them. I wish I were better at it. I wish it were more natural. I wish it didn’t take effort. But it’s not an effort I’m ashamed to make or to talk about. If privileged people don’t make the effort, then we consolidate our privilege among ourselves. That’s unjust.

I’ve written a fair bit about sexism. Racism is more frightening for me. I’m more afraid of getting it wrong. I’m more disturbed by my inability to root it out entirely in myself. I wish I knew how to finish the job, but I don’t. Especially because one of the few ways I’m not privileged – my mental health – allows me at least some small notion of how it feels to be unfairly pigeonholed.

But it isn’t the same. And it doesn’t undo all of the small ways that racism infiltrates my perspectives. It’s too easy to say, “Society is racist, but I’m not.” Society is made of all of us. And most of us – of all races – carry stereotypes about the others. The stereotypes I carry contribute to injustice in society.

We are all racists. But our racism does not contribute equally to the injustice around us. People like me, highly privileged and economically mobile, disproportionately enforce racial disparities simply by failing to work against the implicit and unacknowledged explicit biases we carry. We need to acknowledge them aloud so that we can work more effectively against them.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. 6 April 2016 03:04

    Terrific post. I would love to say honestly that I’m not judgemental or that I harbour stereotypes in my thinking. However that is simply not so – and I don’t believe anyone else is any better than me. We are racist, sexist and judgemental because of society and how we’ve been raised and what we’ve been exposed to in media and society that we unconsciously take on these things and we perpetuate them in little unknowing ways all too often. So as you say society is these things and I’m part of society therefore I am these things too.

    Lately I’ve realised the best thing I can do is accept that it happens, try to raise it in my conciousness so that when it happens I analyse what it is, possibly why it is and what can I do about it?

    However the next moment… I’ll have a judgemental thought! I try to be accepting and embracing of it and work in my nature to handle it better and not beat myself up and work with it… continually.

  2. 11 April 2016 06:49

    Sorry to circumvent your no comments on the last post. I just want to say that I will miss you. I am always interested in what you are doing. I became attached to you when you were in early sobriety, and it is such a joy to me to see how you have absolutely blossomed in sobriety. But I totally understand the moving on from blogging.

    I do hope you someday make it out to Colorado for a race, and please please look me up when you do. I would love to meet you and your gf.

  3. Syd permalink
    17 April 2016 10:33

    Sorry to hear that you are leaving, but I understand. I may move on too. I have toyed with the idea of FB, but not sure that is what I want to do.

    Great post about racism. I get it and have worked in my own way over the last year for racial justice in the wake of the Emanuel 9 massacre. There is still a lot of prejudice and outright racism in this state. But, luckily, there is a lot of activism for social, economic and judicial justice. One foot in front of the other.

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