I’m white. My family is white. A lot of my friends are white. A lot of my parents’ friends are white. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time jumping and singing along to “Mr. Brightside” at parties, and I’ve sat through a lot of very infuriating, racially charged conversations.
One thing I’ve noticed, from all these years of being white and being around other white people, is this: white people are against nothing more than being thought of as racist. They’re more averse to being called a racist than they are to racism itself, it seems.
Whenever I gently (or, if I’m being honest, at times, not so gently) try to question the dubious behaviour of friends and family members, it’s almost always met with an indignant response: “I’m not a racist!.”
This response is usually followed up by something that’s meant to somehow prove just how not-racist they are: “I have lots of Māori friends!”, “My girlfriend is Asian!”, and my new personal favourite, “I can’t be a racist, I employ loads of non-white people.” (Just a PSA for those who still don’t get it: those things have nothing to do with whether you are racist or have said/done something racist. Racism presents itself in a multitude of ways in a multitude of people - it isn’t as simple as whether you are nice to people of different ethnicities or not).
Not only is the “I’m not a racist!” attitude downright wrong and honestly quite embarrassing, it’s also harmful. It negates any need for conversation and shows no willingness for learning or growth. So many people have simply decided that they are not racists, and that’s enough for them. It doesn’t matter how many racist thoughts they have, how many times they mock an Indian accent or purposely bungle Māori pronunciations, how many times they perform micro or macroaggressions that could make others feel uncomfortable or unsafe, what makes these people racist or not racist is, it seems, none of these things. All that matters is that they’ve decided that they’re not.
I get that people are scared of the word. No semi-decent person wants to think of themselves as racist, let alone for others to think of them that way. We want to see ourselves as good people. We don’t want to be aligned in any way with the racists we’ve seen in history books and movies - Nazis, the KKK, slave owners, et al.
It’s all very understandable to want to distance yourself from those images and ideologies. But in their attempts to do that, it comes across as though many people are more worried about being labeled a racist than they are about racism itself. They can laugh at derogatory jokes, they can use slurs, they can appropriate other cultures, they can sit there and let it slide while other people say racist things, they can say things they would never say to their non-white friends’ faces - but they’re not racist!
Personally, I think the first step towards growth and understanding is just accepting that you are a racist. If you’re white, racism is something you were born into.
Even if you had the most loving, accepting parents in the world who never spoke a bad word about other ethnicities and had friends from different backgrounds, you were born racist. Because we were born into a system that privileges us and disadvantages others in every possible way, and most of us are never even able to see that.
We were born racist, because we were born into a culture that represents people who look like us as multifaceted and complex – representations of heroes, villains, astronauts, princesses, doctors, superheroes. Almost all of them look like us. And while people of colour and other underrepresented groups saw that representation and internalised it in painful and debilitating ways, we saw it too, and we internalised it too. We internalised the stereotypes about every other race, and it takes a lot of awareness to try to deprogramme that.
We were born racist, because we were born as the cultural “default.” In terms of policy, language, culture, institutions - basically every facet of the Western world - we were born with the upper hand.
It’s okay to accept that racism is something that you were born into, and that it’s something that you might spend your entire life trying to unlearn. It’s okay to accept that something you’ve said, done or thought is racist. It’s okay to admit that you’re not perfect, and you have room to learn and grow.
I think the first step towards becoming someone who isn’t racist, might be to accept that you are, at least a little bit, racist.Support Villainesse