Dear White People,
We are all racists. I am a racist. You’re a racist. We’re all racists. I’m here to hand out Racist Badges like Oprah hands out cars.
By this point, I am sure some of you are vehemently shaking your heads and denying my statement, and some of you are probably so offended just by the title that you have bowed out of this blog. You’re thinking. “I’m not a racist. I have a black friend.” “I can’t be racist. I live in a very diverse neighborhood.” “I don’t see color. I treat everyone the same.”
But as a wife and mom to people of color, I am imploring that you keep reading.
The reason why so many of us don’t think we are racist is because we have such a narrow definition of the term “racism” and “racist.” We have skewed it over the years to fit into our lives and alleviate us of any guilt. We, white people, don’t like to feel guilty. Tiki torch toting, Confederate flag-waving, N-word slinging White Supremacists are the racists. Not us. We can be absolved of our racism because people like that exist, and we openly disavow them.
However, racism isn’t a one-stop shop. It’s a continuum, and we are all on the train. Some of us haven’t left the station yet, some of us are leisurely getting off and back on at each stop, and some of us are ready to finally arrive at the destination. Many people on the train are kind-hearted and well-intentioned good people who have a one-way ticket to heaven. Yet, they are still riding the train, and frankly I don’t think any of us will ever get off in this lifetime.
I am married to a black man, and we have a son who, in the eyes of society, will be deemed a person of color. I am a racist, though. I would like to think I am a bit more “woke,” but I am constantly learning like the rest of us. There have been times I have had to swallow my pride. For example, I once wrote a teasing piece on how my husband and I met which ended up having a lot of racial undertones that my husband was quick to point out. I immediately became defensive and pouted, “It was a joke. You know I didn’t mean it.” I became the victim and totally took race out of it. I have since grown from that incident.
That’s why racism has hung on for so long, because we immediately shut down any topic of race. Comparing bad neighborhoods and good neighborhoods is all about crime and safety. Good schools and bad schools are about test scores. We shut it down and immediately become offended when someone tries to tell us otherwise. We even do that classic White Person Whisper-Mouthing Thing when we have to describe or point out someone’s skin color who isn’t white. We simply do not talk about it openly or think about it on a daily basis and that, White People, is racism.
I recently read “White Fragility,” and the author challenges white people to think about their own lives. How many of us have lifelong friends of color? Teachers or bosses of color? How many of us actively seek out situations in which we put ourselves among people of color or expose ourselves to art, literature, music, and movies created and written by people of color? Have we ever questioned the demographics of our workplaces, schools, or neighbors? Why are they made up the way they are? Have we ever had conversations with our children and family about what it means to be white? Have we looked up the statistics on what the most powerful people in our country look like (the richest, the government, movie directors, owners of sports teams) to know that the white man is not under attack? Have we ever challenged our churches on why prominent religious figures are depicted as white when they so clearly weren’t? Have we ever dove deep into why we are ignorant and claim we don’t know any better when it comes to racism? Why we don’t ever talk or learn about that? Why we don’t research racism on our own? Why we aren’t required to learn about it in school and at work?
I do not wish to be presumptuous and answer for you, but we must think about these things to confront our own racism. We must never stop learning about racism.
I hesitated to even write this piece. I imagined a deluge of negative feedback from white people who took umbrage to my comments, pointing out that I don’t personally know them and how dare I suggest they are racist, and the mere mention that my husband is black makes me an elitist on this matter. On the other hand, I imagined people of color largely criticizing my perspective and perhaps suggesting my tone was too flippant and I let white people off too easily or that I wrote on racism with too much levity and not with the heaviness and complexity it deserves.
But then I imagined not writing it and contributing to the silence that largely encompasses racism. The silence that excuses white people’s behavior because they are good people and don’t have bad intentions. The silence that allows white people to get off with no repercussions because no one wants to make them feel uncomfortable. The silence that brushes racism under the rug because we are afraid of what they might say back.
Therefore, I am writing this to combat the silence and to accept the criticism it may receive. I am writing this for my son and my husband. To learn from what people will say. Not with defense, guilt, resentment, and anger but with an open mind, an open heart, and a willingness to change no matter how hard it might be and how often I have to endure it.
Imagine if, we white people, all did that.
My name is Lauren, and I was born in New Jersey, grew up in West Virginia, went to college in Pennsylvania, and now live and work in North Carolina. I’m a high school teacher of the deaf and hard-of-hearing by day, a cross country coach by the afternoon, and a writer by night. I love my faith, running, watching baseball, chocolate, scrapbooking, pretending I would actually do well on the Amazing Race, re-watching The Office, listening to Bobby Bones, inspiring young minds, and as of recently moming it! Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LaurenBarrettWrites/ Twitter: @WritesBarrett Instagram: @laurenbarrettwrites Website: laurenbarrettwrites.weebly.com