The truth of the matter is that, if you are a white person, you may not consciously have racist beliefs, but it's there. The first time I realized I was a racist was when I was in college. I went to a small liberal arts college. I thought I was enlightened. I read books by black authors and had black friends and recognized that racism existed. But I never wanted to admit that I had that in me.
The thing is, if you're white, it's built in. You have benefitted from being white in some capacity or other and by virtue of that benefit have absorbed something racist. And in spite of the fact that you may acknowledge that racism exists, until you admit that you ARE a racist, the problem will never go away.
What happened to me in college is that I went to the doctor and the woman who walked into the room was black. Now, I didn't have a problem with it, but I was surprised. And then I was surprised that I was surprised. And then I thought about what that meant. And this is where racism is its most insidious. It isn't always blatant hate or prejudice. It's a set of expectations that we have - for example, that a doctor will be white.
It seems innocuous on first inspection, but having an expectation that a doctor will be white is the assumption that they won't be black. Why would I assume that? Because I had racist expectations.
You can spout statistics at me about the number of white doctors vs the number of black doctors, but what those statistics will show, if you get to the bottom of them, is, probably, that black people have had fewer opportunities to become doctors. This is true for a host of reasons, but all of which hinge on racism.
If a kid is a product of an educational system that has no expectations for his or her educational success, the probability of success is limited. If a kid is black in a school full of white teachers who, on any level, don't believe in that kid's abilities, how can they succeed? If a white guidance counselor guides their black students towards less prestigious colleges, what does that say to those students?
This is also just one of the reasons why, statistically, there are fewer black doctors. Our expectations are telling and detrimental.
I know that most of us don't want to be racists. But until we admit that we are, all, racists - that by the sheer depth of racism that we have lived with and been beneficiaries of we are part of the problem - this doesn't stop.
You may not want to say it out loud at first, so fine, take a long look inward. Reflect on your whole life. Because there will be something. A time you felt uncomfortable or out of your element in a non-white neighborhood or crossed the street because a black man was walking towards you. Or maybe because you were surprised that a black person was your doctor. It's there. Own it. Be aware of it. And then do better. Become aware of your expectations and reactions. Examine why you clutched your purse tighter when a black kid sat next to you on the bus. Think about who you give the benefit of the doubt and why. Consider who you label 'troublemaker'.
If you do all of that and come up with nothing, I have to say, you're not being honest with yourself. Be honest with yourself. And then admit it. Talk about it with your white friends. It's important for us to recognize it in ourselves, and to talk about how it isn't just cross-burning or even profiling, but also about sets of expectations and beliefs that perpetuate inequality and oppression.
You won't convince everyone, in fact, you may not convince anyone else of this, but you are, at least, one and that's a beginning.