Putting on my flame-retardant vest and helmet before I launch this one. Are you a white American? Then you are racist.
You can stop your arguing right now because everything you are saying is wrong.
If you are a white American, you are a racist.
You may not realize you are a racist.
But you are a racist.
I’m a racist.
I actively work not to be racist, but I am.
As a white woman from a white middle-class family who grew up in a white neighborhood and attended a predominantly white school, I am racist.
But even if I had grown up surrounded by different races and ethnic groups, I would still be racist.
I am racist because I have white privilege.
My friend Danielle at Mamademics sends out an invoice every time she explains white privilege to a white person.
Good for her.
Because apparently, this is a concept that white people have a hard time grasping.
If you are white in America, you have privilege.
Yes, you do.
No. You do.
It doesn’t matter if you grew up dirt poor in Appalachia. If your parents were drunks, never fed or bathed you, and beat you, it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter if your teachers wrote you off in kindergarten and you always got in trouble at school.
It doesn’t matter if your house burned down, someone stole all your money, you are on food stamps and sleep on a park bench.
If you are white in America, you have privilege.
Because no matter what adversities you have had in your life when you are side-by-side with a person of color in the same circumstance, YOU will come out ahead.
You will get the job. You will get the apartment and extension on your rent. And you will get the extra can of formula from WIC.
And people won’t yell at you or shoot you when you are walking down the street.
That is white privilege.
When I Realized I Was Racist
I am a racist. But it took me a while to realize it.
I did not grow up in a bigoted family. I have never once heard my parents say a single thing derogative toward a person of color. Not even what many people would consider “little” things like a joke about a specific race or generalizations based on race.
When our schools were integrated, my Mom was one of the few that didn’t complain. While our town became the poster child for White Flight, she happily drove to the school in “that side of town” to volunteer.
In college, I majored in Sociology – the most liberal of the social sciences. I took a course on race and society. A white man taught it. But still. I considered myself a “woke” white woman.
I smile and treat people of color the same way I do white people.
Or at least I thought.
About 20-years-ago, my office was in the probation building for Travis County in Austin, Texas. The administrative offices were in the building, but so were the offices of several probation officers.
That meant that on any given day there would be people riding in the elevator who committed misdemeanor crimes and were sentenced to probation.
One day I got in the elevator, and it was just a large black man and me.
It made me uncomfortable, and I immediately put up my guard.
I knew he wasn’t a coworker, so most likely that meant he was a probationer.
Now, this elevator had a quirk where sometimes it wouldn’t stop on the main floor but would instead go straight down to the parking level.
This was one of those times.
So as the elevator skipped our floor, I nervously said to the man “Sometimes that happens, but it will go back up.”
He looked at me, and in the most effeminate voice I have ever heard said “I’m so glad you are with me. I would have been so scared.”
I immediately felt relief.
Yep. I’m a racist. There was nothing about that man that should have concerned me, but he did because he was big and black.
(I will save the discussion on what that also said about my prejudices regarding sexual orientation for another day.)
Why You Are a Racist
You are racist because you grew up in a country built on the idea that black people don’t have the same value as white people. Black people came to our country as slaves. And while we would like to think that slavery is part of America’s distant past, the racist folkways, and mores still linger.
Our reality and perceptions are so warped toward the privilege of white people that we don’t even realize our inherent racism until it slaps us in the face.
I was surprised once by my racism, and there is every reason to believe that I carry other racist thoughts.
I am racist.
What You Can do About Your Racism
As they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem
Realizing you are racist is the starting point for informing ourselves and striving to do better.
Learn and Become an Advocate
Make a point to learn about racism and teach your kids to become advocates.
But don’t expect a person of color to be your teacher or mentor.
It isn’t their job to teach you about your racism unless you are paying for that knowledge. Taking the Mamademics Raising an Advocate online course is a great way to learn more about racism.
Become an advocate by voicing your opinions and supporting politicians with equal rights agendas. Your money and your vote matter.
Speak up when someone tells a racist joke or says something racist.
Step in when you see a person of color being discriminated against in public.
Stick around if you witness a tense situation between a white person and a person of color. Be a witness if the matter escalates and the police intervene.
Be Mindful of Your Behavior
Realize that a person of color may perceive your actions and motives differently than you do.
Own up, apologize, and do better the next time if your unconscious racism hurts someone.
Use Your Privilege for Good
Use your privilege for good, but be conscious of your motives. It isn’t about you.
Be aware, ask what you can do, and then shut up and listen.
It is not your job to ride in on a white horse and save the day. Don’t use your privilege to patronize or co-opt a person of color.
Still not convinced you are racist?
Go read my post on how to identify racist people. And see if you recognize yourself in any of the signs.
Read all 50 pieces of advice I shared in honor of my 50th birthday.