I am a white man.
I am racist.
But that’s kind of redundant.
It’s like saying, “I am a fish, and I am soaking wet.”
In some ways, I can’t help it. I don’t even notice it. I live my life immersed in a world of white privilege that most of the time I frankly can’t even see.
That doesn’t excuse me. It doesn’t mean I should just shrug and say, “What are you gonna’ do?”
But it does mean that the first step in removing that racism – in undoing the systematic subjugation of people of color – is recognizing my own culpability in that system.
It’s like being an alcoholic. The first step is admitting the truth.
I know I’ve pissed off a lot of people with what I’ve just written. This article isn’t about gaining new friends. But I’m sure I’ll have a lot of death threats to delete from the comments section tomorrow.
The initial reaction white people usually have to being called racist is – Who? Me? I can’t be racist! I have a black friend! I dated a black girl once! I listen to rap music!
Or a whole host of other excuses.
First of all, relax. I don’t know you. For all I know you’re that one white guy out there who has somehow escaped the pervasive societal attitudes that the rest of us unknowingly took in with our baby formula.
But chances are – yeah, you’re a racist, too.
Second of all, I’m not talking to people of color. None of you are racist. Congratulations!
You might be a hate-filled bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic, prejudiced asshole.
Again, I don’t know you. But racist? No. You can’t really be that.
Here’s why. Racism doesn’t mean hating someone because of their race. That’s a kind of prejudice. And anyone can be prejudiced.
Racism is hate plus power. If a black person says, “I hate white people,” he is prejudiced. However, there is no system that then backs up his hatred. The police don’t arrest white people more than black people for the same crimes. The judicial system doesn’t give harsher sentences to white people than it does black people for the same crimes. Public schools serving a majority of white students aren’t chronically underfunded. It isn’t harder to get a loan or a job if you have a white-sounding name. If it did, THAT would be racism!
So I’m sorry, white people. This means there is no such thing as reverse racism. Despite what you may see on Fox News, the only racists in America have white skin.
Don’t get me wrong. There are degrees of racism. If you have a Confederate flag prominently displayed in your home in front of your personally autographed picture with David Duke, well you’re probably a bit more racist than most Caucasians. But no matter what, if you’re white, you’ve probably benefited from white supremacy and are de facto racist.
Maybe your folks gave you a middle class upbringing in a quiet suburb. Maybe you went to a well-funded public school in a wealthy neighborhood. Maybe your dad was convicted of white collar crime and got little to no jail time. Heck! Maybe you just walked down the street once and the police didn’t follow you through a convenience store or reached for their guns.
If your upbringing was in any way favored due to wealth amassed over a few generations, you benefited from white privilege. If the judicial system let you or a loved one go with a lighter sentence, you benefited. If you were not harassed by law enforcement because of your complexion, you benefited. And when you benefit from a system, you’re part of it.
For every white person in America, it is almost certain that something like this happened to you at some point in your life. And you probably had no idea it was even occurring.
Good fortune becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People start to think they deserve it. And maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But people of color who don’t have such privileges certainly don’t deserve their inequitable treatment.
When we fail to acknowledge that white supremacy exists or that it benefits us, white folks, we’re just perpetuating that same system.
Some of you will say I’m putting too much emphasis on race. We’re all the same under the skin. We shouldn’t bring up the topic of racism. It just makes things worse.
Easy for you to say! You’re on top of the social food chain! If we don’t talk about the inherent inequalities entrenched in the system, nothing will change. Us, white folks, will continue to benefit, and black folks will continue to get the short end of the stick.
One of the biggest obstacles to solving racism is its invisibility – to white folks.
We’re shielded from it because its negative effects don’t reach us, and its positive effects to us are either shrugged off or we assume we deserve them.
Being racist rarely involves overt action anymore. It’s become covert, an entrenched sickness in all our social systems. And the only way to cure it is to make it visible – to recognize, isolate and destroy it.
I know. Some of you will say you had it tough, too. And you probably did. Few people live charmed lives. There are poor white folks. There are white people who are discriminated against because of their gender, nationality, sexual preference and/or religion. But this doesn’t mean you didn’t benefit. There is a crossroads of American prejudice and racism is only one of many intersecting avenues.
Maybe you were the victim sometimes, but you were probably the victor in others, and you never even saw it coming.
The point isn’t to say which malady is worse. They’re all bad and all deserving of a cure. But if you really don’t want to be a racist, you have to look it straight in the eye and call it by its rightful name.
You probably didn’t ask to be treated differently. Most of us just want fairness. But to be on that side we have to proclaim our allegiance. We have to take a stand.
Whenever you see injustice against people of color, you must call it out. You must make yourself a part of the solution and not the problem. You must be a voice demanding the citadel of white privilege be burned to the ground.
It’s not easy. You’ll be called all sorts of names: bleeding heart, libtard, self-hating white, maybe even cracka. Because even people of color may not understand what you’re trying to do. After so many years of racial oppression by people with melanin deficiency, they may not trust an open hand when they’ve been so used to expecting a fist.
But that’s okay. It’s understandable. The only thing to do is press on. Understanding will come – eventually.
Racism is a problem for black folks, but the solution is mostly in the hands of white people. We’re the ones doing – or allowing – racism. It’s our job to fix it.
And much of that work will not be in the public sphere. It will be in our own hearts.
Many of us have been socialized to be afraid of black folks. We get this from the news, movies, television, the internet, often even our own relatives and friends. We’re constantly told how dangerous black people are, how untrustworthy, how violent. But the facts don’t bare this out. Given the degree of aggression – both overt and covert – black people have endured from white people over time, they have been incredibly non-violent. It is us, white people, who have been violent and inhuman. That is the legacy we hide under our fear of dark skin. We’re really afraid that one day our black brothers and sisters will have had enough and give back to us all the accumulated hate of centuries.
So it is up to us to even the scales, to treat black folks fairly and equitably with a loving heart.
That is why I make this confession. That is why I write this article that will probably be roundly criticized or maybe just ignored.
That’s why I admit I’m a racist.
It’s the only way to stop being one.
NOTE: This article also was published on commondreams.org.