© Kristen Becker.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
There is no easy way to say this. Before you read any further, I need you to sit down.
Here’s the thing. I’m really sorry I have to be the one to tell you this, but you’re probably a racist.
Wait! Don’t go anywhere. Just hear me out. Come on, I am a thirty-something white lady who lives in a beach town. There is nothing threatening about me (seriously, I even have a big maternal bosom to rest your head on if you get scared). Don’t be afraid of this discussion. Trust me, I used to be one of you. I didn’t know it at the time, because I was living in a perfect world of sarcasm and privilege. I find that these are my people’s (the whites) first line of defense in the race debate. To clarify, when I say these things, I don’t mean I wore a hood and burned crosses. I mean that at some teeny tiny level, the concept that people with dark skin (or just skin of any different hue) were different than I, was ingrained in my brain. I heard “N-word” jokes on the regular. But I was always taught that they were jokes. Jokes, people! I don’t remember any incidents where, in one-on-one contact with real human beings that looked different, that anyone taught me they were less than or less worthy of respect. I even had black friends, so how could I be a racist?!
I was born in Buffalo, NY and moved to Shreveport, LA when I was nine years old. This means I grew up in two completely different places. In Buffalo, nationalities are split into different neighborhoods. Seriously. Italians on the West side, Irish and Germans in South Buffalo, Polish and African on the East side. I said “African” as opposed to “African American” because I noticed I didn’t say “Italian American” or “Irish American.” Why don’t we say those things? I know there are some “Irish American” social clubs that gather and revel in the pride of their homeland. But the “American” part only gets tagged onto non-pasty white folks. Is this our culture’s way of saying “American” is implied as long as said person is clearly of a white, Protestant background? I would think that if we were in America, it would be a safe assumption to assume folks are American, but what do I know? If I had to guess it would be the same reason we assume all black people are “African American” and not maybe “Jamaican American” and that reason is ignorance.
The definition of ignorance:
1. lack of knowledge or information.
It is virtually impossible to have knowledge or information about people unlike yourself if you have no opportunities to interact with them. This is the quiet and racist truth about the “free” North. Yes, many folks in the North study Toni Morrison and Frederick Douglass. Never do these classes come with “supporting materials” that involve that student moving into another neighborhood where they themselves are a minority. Eventually, this student will graduate with honors and go on to teach “Southern Literature” (simply referred to as “literature” in the South) at the collegiate level, possibly. Yet how many of them will ever have spent time outside of their own people and race? Reading a book helps, but it isn’t the same.
Shortly after my move to the South, I was riding in a car and witnessed a Klan rally in a Rite-Aid parking lot. Like, hoods and everything. A rally. I am not talking a few veiled protest signs and some guys with shaved heads. I am talking about a full on KKK rally, In the middle of the day. As if the folks in town had the option of speedwalking through the mall on lunch break, or just spewing hate in a parking lot. Freedom of speech. America. The other thing I noticed about Louisiana was that there were black people, everywhere. No seriously, they were like 50% of the population. I was introduced to corn bread, collard greens and black eyed peas. Yes, I went to a private school and yes on average one out of every 75 students was a person of color, but African-American culture was everywhere. It wasn’t an anomaly. It was no longer a culture that was kept far away from me on the other side of town, distinctly marked by tracks labeled the “wrong side.” I cannot thank my family enough for this move, it taught me so much about the human race. It also helped cure my latent racism. Simple exposure to something different showed me there was nothing to be afraid of. You see, those “N-word” jokes I heard, weren’t heard in Louisiana at a Klan rally. They were heard in South Buffalo. After a black kid dared to ride his bike down the block. it was an N-word joke, told by a grown-ass man because a child was riding a bike. I was in Buffalo visiting from Louisiana and that was the moment I realized what a racist was, how weak it made this big man look, and that I never wanted to look that weak. You see, I was a kid, and here was a grown-up making fun of a kid. I had black friends and that asshole was picking on my friends. I could suddenly relate. I would grow up to learn that while a small number of southern whites were very racist and held rallies, most of the northern whites I knew were a teeny tiny bit racist. They might not burn crosses, but a kid on a bike was scary.
What is my point in all of this? How does this make you a racist? In all honesty, you are most likely a low-grade racist. Nothing to worry about, it is a real easy fix and likely something you can start to do in the privacy of your own home. Spend some time thinking about assumptions you might make about someone walking down the street. Start to pay attention to the gut reactions you have if you are thrust out of your comfort zone. Do you feel afraid? If your day-to-day interactions only include people like you, then it is safe to say that people unlike you make you uncomfortable. This doesn’t make you a bad person. That wasn’t so hard, was it? Now all you have to do is want to change, and be brave enough to step out of your comfort zone. Google an event that might have some people of color attending, and then attend it. This works both ways, BTW. If you are a person of color who doesn’t often associate with white folks, come on over! Seriously America, of all the problems we have in the world, this one is literally able to be fixed by our own actions. You can choose to be ignorant and afraid or informed and unafraid. The most rampant disease in our country right now can be cured if every one of us could consciously step out of our comfort zones. The first step is admitting you have a problem, the rest is easy.
Text prepared by:
- Bruce R. Magee
Becker, Kristen. “I Was a Racist and You Probably Are, Too.” Kristen Becker. 6 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Oct. 2015. <http:// kristen becker. com/ 2014/04/22/ accidental-activist/>. © Kristen Becker. Used by permission. All rights reserved.