You're Probably a Racist

Yup. You. Me. We white people are racists. It's probably not something you're actively aware of because hey, you have black friends and you don't think black people are all criminals. 

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. 


Ah, youth...

The night was cool and could feel the warmth of the giant Cadillac's headlights on  my legs as it gained on us.  I turned left quickly and headed across the field towards the swing sets.  I knew the car couldn't get through the playground and on the other side was the ravine.  The car stayed with Lee, and while I was afraid of what might happen, she was an actual runner.  She was tall and ran on the cross country team.  By the time I turned to find her again, she was gone.  I couldn't see her and the car was turning back around.  Meredith was ahead of me and we ran down into the ravine. 

The gully ran around the top edge of the field and behind the playground and then emptied into a drainage  ditch that ran under the street.  I followed Meredith up towards the top of the field. 

"Where's Lee?" I asked. 

"She went down on the other side." 

In a couple of minutes she was in front of us.  We all crouched with our backs to the muddy walls of the wash and listened.  I couldn't hear anything but my own ragged breath.  Lee shimmied up to the top of the drop-off and looked around.

"I don' t see him," she said after she slid back to the bottom. 

"What should we do?" Meredith asked.

We were still rattled and I was buzzing with adrenaline.

"I don't want to go back across the field," Lee said.

"But our stuff is still on the roof," Meredith reminded her. 

"Lets walk back around the other way and go up behind the building."

We walked back the way Meredith and I had come and climbed up behind the school.  We stopped at the top and looked around before crossing the grass to the low roof and climbed back up to where we had been.  We left the wine coolers but took the candles and our bags. 

I was the first back on the ground and I peeked around the corner of the building to take a look.  By the time Meredith and Lee came down, I had walked to the other end of the building to look across the parking lot.  I wasn't sure if there was a car parked in the back in a deep shadow, but it seemed smarter to go back down the ravine and walk all the way around through the drainage pipe, under the road that ran next to the school and come up behind the houses across the street.  It would mean climbing some fences to get home, but it would mean we wouldn't be easily seen.

We were muddy and wet and I was starting to feel exhausted from the post-adrenaline crash.  By the time we came up the wash on the other side of the street, it felt like we had been up for days and we had miles to go before we were actually home.  The first fence was hard, and we decided to go through the gate and walk through the front yards to the end of the block away from the main street.  At the end of the block, we crossed the street and went through a couple more yards before landing in Meredith's block and slogging across the lawns to her driveway. 

By the time we peeled our dirty clothes off and got to sleep, it was almost 4.  My mother was coming to pick me up at 8:30, so I 'accidentally' left my dirty clothes at Meredith's.  Meredith said she would sneak them into the wash when her mom went to church. 

On Monday, before school, Lee and Meredith and I walked away from the larger group of our friends and talked about the incident in whispers.  What do you think he wanted?  I can't believe that happened.  That was so scary.  We can't tell anyone.  We told everyone.  And then never gave a second thought to it and went back to drinking wine coolers on the roof of the elementary school the very next weekend. 


Take Aways

I've been thinking a lot about what I'm taking away from my second marriage.  I'm not a person who believes everything happens for a reason, but I do think that you can learn from every experience. What I've learned from this experience is pretty valuable. Not all of it, some of it is fairly trivial, but I have a couple of good big pieces of information. 

- I could be more sensitive to the emotional needs of others.  Just because I think it's ridiculous that you got your feelings hurt by an offhanded remark by a coworker who, most likely, didn't mean it the way you think she did, doesn't mean that you're feelings are less hurt. Or that you don't need me to express sympathy. My emotional responses are not your emotional responses. I get it now. 

- I'm not willing to share every part of myself with anyone and I should be clear about that. If that's a deal-breaker for them, then that's the way it is. 

- Disparate life experiences are difficult to overcome. 

- Home ownership kind of sucks.  It's time-consuming and boring and confining. 

- There is such a thing as too much wine. Good guideline:  if you have more bottles of wine than days in the year, stop buying wine for a while. 

- The first time you can't think of a single gift to give your significant other for a birthday is when it's time to reevaluate the relationship. This seems trivial, but when you can't think of a single thing, be it a line of poetry or a donation to a cause they hold dear, something is wrong. It's an indicator that you're not invested.

I think these are pretty good things to have learned. Of course, it would have been nice to learn them under different circumstances, but fuck it. I learned.