R118: Racist

Today I am blogwhoring. Well, maybe it is more polite to say I have a guest blogger or a cross-posting. Rana of Frogs and Ravens is a blogger I read and enjoyed at Shakesville. I recently read the following and wished I could have written it myself. So I asked Rana if I could share her writing with you here. She agreed.

This post was inspired by The Angry Black Woman's call for a Carnival of Allies.

A Note to My White Readers

Guess what? You, like me, are racist.

Before you get angry at me, stop for a minute. I'll explain what I mean.

First, a quick primer on what racism is, and what it is not.

It is not simply prejudice.

It is not simply prejudice based on stereotypes.

It is not simply prejudice based on stereotypes about people based on the color of their skin, the shape of their features, the curl of their hair, and so on.

It is prejudice based on racial stereotypes that manifests in a society with a long and brutal history of oppressing the people to whom those stereotypes were - and still are - applied.

A black individual in this country can be prejudiced against white people, but that is not racism. If that individual's prejudices are aired publicly, they are met with public condemnation. In some parts of the the country, and in its past, expressing that prejudice can result in violence, civil disenfranchisement, and even death.

The most that we, as white people, can expect, is the disapproval of our more enlightened peers and the complaints of people whom we have the power to ignore without penalty.

We will not be shot for being racists.

We will not be denied the vote for being racists.

We will not have to live our lives surrounded by the objects of our prejudice, if we do not choose to do so.

And this is even more the case if our racism is quiet, and subconscious, and doesn't even appear to be racism at all.

I am not a racist - I do not define myself by my prejudice. But I - like you - am racist, purely by dint of being a person of a privileged race in a society that allocates privileges according to race.

I am not proud of my racism - I work hard to reduce its presence in my life and in my mind.

But it is there.

It is there when I catch myself feeling more intimidated by a large black man than a large white man.

It is there when I find myself smiling an extra-wide smile at a black child as a way of compensating for the glares I assume that child must receive from other people who look like me.

It is there when I struggle to describe a colleague not as "black" - but rather as "that smart woman who likes to wear purple."

It is there when I see television coverage of something like the Jena 6 and turn away, bored already by an issue that doesn't seem to have anything to do with me.

It is there when I realize, abruptly, that all of my friends are white - and it is there when this bothers me.

It is there when I simply assume that the way I see the world is common sense, and that the views of people of color who challenge my understanding of racism and its workings are not simply different, but wrong, or stupid, or nonsensical. It is there when I can shrug and walk away from such conversations, knowing that whatever was said, I, because of my race, am free to ignore it.

We live in a society steeped in race, and race prejudice - and yet, because we are white, we can believe that we've moved "beyond race" and that anyone who "plays the race card" is a rabble-rouser (dare I say, even, that they are seen as "uppity"?).

We are racist. We are white people living in a society that rewards us while punishing others, for no better reason than how we and they look.

But we can become aware of those unearned rewards.

We can become aware of the ways in which we contribute to that unhealthy and unfair dynamic.

We can own our racism - own it with the goal of reducing it and reducing its effects on others.

We can be honest with ourselves, and take up the burden of living with the knowledge that yes - we are racist.

We are racist - and it is our responsibility to challenge that, in ourselves and in our society.

Screaming "am not!" from a defensive crouch does not make the problem go away.

All it does is shift the burden onto those who are the targets of racism - and that - that is one of the most glaring instances of racial privilege I can think of.

Say it with me.

I am racist.

And I will own that.

And I will do better. I will bear my own burden of racism so that its targets do not have to. I will listen, and learn, and develop the strength needed to fight racism and my own role in its perpetuation.

Say it with me.


Also Thanks to Natasha Mayers for "Don't Want to See"

Natasha was the artist in residence at Common Dreams for a year. She is now no longer there. Please join me in telling Common Dreams they are wrong to not keep Ms. Mayers' art front page.

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