I am a racist.
It is gut-wrenching to write those words. They are staring back at me, breaking and re-breaking my heart.
In the midst of recent events, a great many of my beloved friends, and family – my people – have added their voices to the discourse. And frankly, I am shocked. I am shocked by my own naiveté regarding the degree of racism and unexamined privilege that exists in my community.
I want to eliminate racism. Racism is disgusting, and ugly; it is degrading to both those who perpetrate it and suffer from it; it is ubiquitous and sometimes invisible. I refuse to tolerate it; I refuse to tolerate it in myself, in my community, or in my country. I am making the choice to take an active stand against racism, wherever I encounter and recognize it.
I am not interested in excuses. I am not interested in justification. It seems to me that a significant contribution to the rationalization of racism that I am hearing is a misunderstanding of what racism actually is, coupled with a paralyzing fear of being labeled racist. It is true that overt prejudice against individuals is harmful, and wrong. But what we need to understand and address – the real, rotten, core of the problem – is the systemic and institutionalized racism in our country.
In order to understand what this means, we have to go back to the very beginnings of our country, and follow the short history. When European colonists came to this land and allegally claimed it as their own, they planted the seeds of what will become racism today. There you had a conflict: two groups of people, with vastly different cultures, and belief systems, and value systems, and ways of being are facing each other, and both want to occupy the same space. There are many ways the conflict could have panned out – but here is what did happen:
An unspoken, and sometimes spoken, value was put into place, from the very founding of this country and culture – and that value is this: the white way is the better way. This value has been incorporated as a foundational component of ALL subsequent systems and institutions in the United States. Thus, we live in houses now, rather than teepees, because the white way is the better way. Thus, we have a democratic republic, because the white way is the better way. Thus, we idolize individualism, because the white way is the better way. Thus, we speak a certain way; and dress a certain way; and the standard of beauty in our culture is tall, and thin, and blonde, with European features and white skin, because….
The question then becomes: why is the white way the better way? Is there anything that makes it inherently better? Do we have anything to show for this system that we created? It simply comes down to the fact that those who had more power – or were willing to kill and lie and cheat to get power – got to choose what would be the standard as “the best.” This is called the race contract. It is the collective forcing of the belief that the white way is the better way.
This is where racism comes in. Now, just because you are white, you get to say: this is better. WE are better…and I know that because it is white. Do you see how this is turned around on itself? People were forced to accept the white way as better, and then it is proven to be better because it is white! This is circular reasoning. Here is a simplified example: a few of us believe that tall people are better than short people. So we make a rule that says: tall people are better than short people. Since tall people are now ruled as better than short people we make another rule that says: since tall people are better than short people, short people have to give all their money to tall people. Then someone asks, “Wait, what is it about tall people that makes them better?” And the answer is: because they have all the money. But we gave them the money on the assumption that they were better…do you see how you can’t escape that circle? The people with power create systems that maintain their power, based on nothing other than the fact that they want power.
Now we come to the real kicker of racism. After we are all forced into the contract to say the white way is the better way – if you are not white, you do not get to opt out of the contract. You do not get to say, “Actually, I don’t want to enter into the agreement that I am worse, that I am wrong.”
When you are white – and especially a white male – you are told throughout your entire life, both explicitly and implicitly: you are worthy, you work hard, you are valuable; you have support, you have options, you have the possibility of wealth; all options are open to you. When you are a person of color, you are told: you are worthless, you have no options, you are alone; you are poor, you are not valuable; you are dishonest, you are unreliable, you are dangerous. We can hold on to the American ideal that every person has the ability to succeed, and perhaps this is true. We all start out in a different place – some of us are poor, some are rich; some have a lot of family support, some do it all on their own. This is the struggle of life. But this is not what makes African American babies two and a half times as likely to die as white babies; it is not what makes Native American young people one and a half times as likely to commit suicide; it is not what results in the disproportionate black crime rate – which, and I cannot say this clearly enough, is not an excuse for racism but rather a tragically glaring example of the effects of racism!
The root of these problems is this: the collective forcing of a people to accept the conclusion, I am wrong.
This is racism.
And I refuse to tolerate it. Ineffectual Facebook arguments and platitudes of anti-racist support are not sufficient. With all of the courage in my being, I will step up. I will take the step that I am asking all of my white brothers and sisters to do as well: acknowledge the problem of racism. Acknowledge that as a participant in American culture, I am a racist. And then change it. Because I believe that this is the first step in destroying racism; and I know that the most important, and profound, and effective change is the one that I make within myself.
Be brave. Never stop fighting for love.