I am embarrassed when I look a back - regretful. The diversity fostered in my life has been minimal. Childhood through college: I never worried about this. I had friends with different skin colors or of different ethnicity, but I did not seek them out. I didn’t think I had to.
In college, my community was less diverse than high school - college diversity meant people from other towns. I didn’t feel compelled to think or talk about diversity outside the classroom, let alone reach out for it. I was ‘colorblind,’ just as I had been taught. At best I thought diverse relationships would happen more “organically,” - now I find that idea absurd.
A QUICK ASIDE:
My life was not devoid of diversity, but I did not appreciate those individuals’ situations. I believe I treated everyone as equals, but failed to recognize any difference in their human experience.
- Much of this was due to my privilege.
- A privilege which tolerates and propagates ignorance.
- An ignorance that originated in a lack of exposure to diversity - perpetuated by political and media propaganda.
- A lack of exposure made acceptable by an era of colorblindness.
- The paralyzing understanding that I have never been colorblind and the feeling that I could not admit it.
But let me be clear - I am not the victim here.
A SMALL SOAPBOX:
I am not saying I am not to blame: in the words of Sufjan Stevens, “Should have known better.” I will say that these societal norms in combination with my myriad personality flaws (add youthful narcissism & tiny world view to start) contributed to an arduous path to recognizing a need for intense education. Bill Maher recently went off on liberals for being what he considers self-hating, but what I consider apologetic. A writer and podcaster I respect greatly, Dave Zirin, recently claimed what I consider an over-simplified dichotomy of either racist or not. Maybe it is just a dichotomy, and for now I just need to believe in a spectrum. I am still learning.
Either way, I don’t hate myself. I am disappointed with my past self, but I am moving on. I am sensitive to my privilege and also do not agree with the idea that promoting racial justice and human rights is in conflict with my own self-interest. Whether it be reparations, equal pay, or systemic overhauls of the tenets our society has been built on. Progress and my self-interests are not mutually exclusive, even if there are significant costs to myself and society.
AND NOW BACK TO JOHN'S HISTORY:
As I entered the working world and post-secondary education; there was much more diversity in my life. Our conversations even entered areas where we discussed diversity and race, but still I did not think about it very much. Still, I did not have to. We were friends talking about things that mattered to us, and I saw them as equals if not betters. To a vast extent, I still did not concern myself with greater society. My more diverse group of contacts were educated, employed, had families - just like me. They never prodded those blindingly white recesses of my brain that had been unwittingly and unintentionally prejudiced.
Just like if you ask any person, I would say, “I’m not a racist.”
- It turns out I was part of a company that has been alleged to have been preying upon minority students.
- It turns out if I chose a 'better’ candidate than the person who checked ‘the box,’ I was perpetuating systemic racism.
- It turns out that by not seeking out diversity in my life I was allowing myself and others to deny the existence of a problem.
- It turns out that those times I did not have the courage to voice dissent or stop a conversation saturated in harmful stereotypes and bigotry, I was legitimizing opinions of those people.
- It turns out that, at the very least, I have passively endorsed racism for much of my life. Am I racist?
ABSOLUTELY NOT! - i think.
Greater command of English enables more specific and precise communication. We can more accurately say exactly what we mean. When is the last time you looked at these words? For me, they are used a lot, but the nuances between them were surprising.
Stereotype - noun - Sociology. a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group: The cowboy and Indian are American stereotypes.
Prejudice - noun - an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason 3. unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.
Bias - noun - 1. a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned: illegal bias against older job applicants; the magazine’s bias toward art rather than photography; our strong bias in favor of the idea. - 2. unreasonably hostile feelings or opinions about a social group;prejudice: accusations of racial bias.
Bigot - noun - 1. a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.
(All Definitions retrieved at www.dictionary.com)
Counter intuitively, I believe (myself included) many Americans, politicians, and media commonly use these words as euphemisms for racism. We blur the lines and muddy the waters. We use back channel meanings. We confuse reality instead of clarifying and specifying.
Racism - noun - 1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others. 2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination. 3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races. (www.dictionary.com)
If the nuance to these words remains clear as mud, check out this clip I heard on BestoftheLeft that does a phenomenal job of breaking them down.
Despite a desire for more clarity, clearly going around calling others racists will not be helpful. Hopefully revisiting these definitions will at least help me decode what is actually being said or when I need to probe further. And honestly, this list of words is now a study guide because the subtle differences are sometimes hard to understand. I think the definitions will also help me categorize and understand my sentiments.
Am I racist? I honestly do not know. I know that in my history I am capable of racist acts. I know that I have said hurtful and harmful things, and held unchallenged beliefs to the same effect. I have also been embedded in many systems rife with racism, and probably still am. Whether willfully or not I am learning racism can be inaction.
Am I racist? The truth is that decision is not for me to make, and if someone hurt or harmed by me calls me one then it would be hard to dispute.
In the meantime
I am trying to surround myself with a diverse community that loves me enough to:
tell me when my thoughts or statements are wrong,
help me to improve my understanding and appreciation for diverse experiences,
and show me compassion, while telling me when my words or actions don’t align with ending racism.