Tuesday, September 01, 2015

What Kind of Racist Are You?

I grew up in the Deep South.  When I was child, we had segregated schools, water fountains, bathrooms, you name it.  Then we became technically "integrated" and had to work a little harder to maintain segregation.  I remember that my family started going to a private swimming pool when the public pool was integrated so we wouldn't have to swim with black people.  The N-word was part of everyday vocabulary.  I absorbed racism from the culture even though nobody ever sat me down and gave me explicit instructions as to how to be a racist.

As I became a more sophisticated and educated person and encountered a wider society, I became less and less racist.  I decided at some point to try to be a better human being, to face reality, and to be less stupid.  It required a conscious effort, however, and many years after I had departed the South I would find some irrational racist idea popping into my head.  The biggest steps for me were (a) acknowledging that I had this indoctrination,  and (b) realizing that it was not enough just to claim to be "color blind".  Pretending that racism doesn't exist doesn't make it go away in yourself or in society at large.  I don't claim to be racism-free.  I think of myself as a recovering racist, and I know that I need to be self aware and on the look out for subconscious biases and irrational ideas.

I have identified several categories of American racists over the years.  The smallest category (thanks be to God) includes folks who are openly racist and proud of it.  These include subcategories of people who have animosity toward black people and regard them as evil and people who, while claiming to bear black people no ill will, regard them as inherently inferior on some dimension or another.  I include them in the same larger category because the impact on society is pretty much the same.  The patronizing variety is not always distinguishable from the hateful variety, and the former often enables the latter.

A larger category includes people who are racist but who are at least somewhat embarrassed about it.  In times like the present a lot of these folks jump into the first category if they perceive safety in numbers.  Some identifying characteristics of this category are incessant whining about political correctness and queasiness about the dating habits of the Kardashians.

The largest category is comprised of folks who are racist but don't seem to know it.  They tend to deny that racism is a problem and get really upset when people bring it up.  Identifying racism is worse than racism itself, and uppity black folks who complain about being discriminated against or having their relatives or neighbors murdered by police are said to be "fanning the flames" of nonexistent racism. As far as these folks are concerned, we have just the right amount and maybe too much racial justice.  The consequences of racism are, in their view, black folks' own fault.  They can be frequently heard to preface statements with "I'm not a racist but..."  They think that black people want them to feel guilty even though, as far as they are concerned, they never did anything wrong to a black person (how could they have what with having arranged their lives so as to have as little interaction with black people as possible?).  They are willfully clueless.  Black peoiple don't need their guilt; black people need them to open their eyes and acknowledge the truth.  This category is the most insidious and probably the most harmful.  These people stand in the way of solving the problem because they deny that it exists and that they themselves contribute to it.

Then there are folks like me who are in recovery.  Maybe we are helpful.  Maybe not.  At least I hope we do less harm.

There is also a theoretical category of persons whose hearts and minds are unsullied by the defect of racism.  My dream is to pass over into that state.

1 comment:

Rex said...

I like your honesty about racism--its possible that we all possess some racist feelings and attitudes. Does it do us any good to deny it? Once we admit it we can do something about it.