I’m Not Racist, but…
I have gone through 3 stages of racism:
Stage 1- “I’m not racist, but….”
My elementary school, middle school, high school and college were all overwhelmingly white.
Each school taught almost exclusively white history.
The churches my family attended were either completely white, or almost completely white.
When I went on mission trips, the families I “helped” were almost always African American.
None of this seemed weird.
I knew what “real racism” looked like.
I saw KKK rallies near my town courthouse in the 90’s. When I was in 2nd grade, KKK members threw rocks through the window of my friend’s house. I remember asking, “why would someone do that?” He looked at me and whispered, “because I’m Jewish”. I didn’t understand at all, but I nodded as if to say, “of course, yes”.
Those people were the real racists.
I certainly wasn’t like “those people”. I am a good person, I’m not a racist.
I used to say things like, “if people don’t want to go to jail, they shouldn’t break the law”.
I believed that minorities shouldn’t get special treatment because of the color of the skin. No one gave me any breaks, I worked for everything I had and demanded that others do the same.
Part 2- “Enlightenment” and Condescending Racism
Social media exposed me to new ideas.
They clashed with my white Christian upbringing and I got incredibly defensive. I doubled down on my belief that everyone had an equal shot at success and that I got things simply because I worked hard.
I started to read books instead of just social media updates. I wanted validation that racism wasn’t really a problem anymore and “some people” were overreacting.
With time, I got softer and actually listened.
I read a lot more and then started to get angry, really angry.
I was angry at those people in the past, those people in the south, those confederate flag welding, uneducated, neo nazi racists.
I started to feel smug, look how enlightened I am, a white person who really wants to understand racism.
I knew that I didn’t understand the problem, but I wanted to be part of the solution.
I wanted to listen and understand, because, I mean, I’m not a racist.
I wanted to be a person who took a different approach, a less in your face approach to the big issues.
I didn’t understand why some people felt the need to stand up and shout about race.
I said, “I mean, I get why that person is frustrated, I believe that they have experienced true racism, but I don’t think that shouting is the most effective way to communicate frustration. Why don’t they try to have a peaceful dialogue about the issues they are facing, that seems like it would work way better”.
I had no idea how condescending that was.
Part 3- I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m still part of the problem (and hopefully eventually the solution?)
Can someone really examine racism without reading Martin Luther King, Jr? I read this quote after Glennon Doyle Melton shared it on Instagram:
“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season…
Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
This quote killed me. It was one of those moments where I realized, oh my goodness I am part of the problem.
Here I was, patting myself on the back for saying “black lives matter” instead of “all lives matter”.
I understood that SOME people were racist. Those people over there, not me.
I thought, if only we could stop shouting at each other all the time.
If only we could stop ranting and raving and yelling.
Why can’t people just be kind?
Why do people need to be so “divisive”?
I’m sorry. I was wrong.
I was devoted to order instead of justice. I wanted to avoid tension and discomfort at all costs.
Now is the time to be divisive.
Now is the time to act, to speak, to shout.
I am clumsily stumbling about, and I know nothing of racism, except that it is real.
I am listening now.
I am trying to see now.
I am so sorry.