I am racist.
All my life, as far back as I can remember, I was raised to not be a racist. And I am not a racist, but I am racist. I am racist because I was born a white man in America in 1964. I am racist because I am not dead, even though I spent a good deal of time in my youth – and today – poking at power, checking cops, being loud and visible. “Here I am, come challenge me.” But I am a white man and I have presumed that I have the privilege to question authority.
I was targeted, in the days my truck was covered in Grateful Dead, political, justice and peace stickers – or scrounging around with my posse after some shows – move along, move along, no you can’t come in here. And I have recently been targeted by a billionaire fracker who didn’t care for my snarky social media post (and activism). But I selected those roles. Because I was born a white man, and I have the privilege of choosing that.
“You clean up nice,” the grandmother said, after I had made quite the opposite impression the night before at the rehearsal dinner. Shaved, hair combed back, suited up I can pass as “respectable.” You see, I am a white man and the color of my skin is probably not the first impression I make. To many white folks such is often not the case with people of color, that often color is in fact the first thing we see.
Of course, I can’t speak for all people born white, or even very many. But I can speak to my own whiteness, and what I suspect and 55 years of living has confirmed, that most of us know about ourselves, as white folk, if we take a few minutes to look inside. What we have heard, what we have “learned,” what programming follows us around despite our stated, and best, intentions.
So I am not a racist, but I am racist. I carry this inside of me as part of White America. I had a cop pull his gun on me once, and it was startling. But I never feared he would shoot me dead. I just got back in my car and made sure my hands were on the wheel. Then I sat there and no one smashed my windows or tased me for it.
Now I sit here. And I want to have this talk. I want White America to look inside itself and be honest about what it finds. Like most dysfunction, our racist programming thrives when ignored or denied. But once we begin to watch for it and see it, to talk about it, to watch it bubble up, to see our privilege, to stop that tape in our head and play a different one, then we can begin to create a space to heal.
I think this is how we can not be a racist: by starting to see how we are racist.