I Am A Racist

This is the hardest truth I have ever had to come to grips with, and one that I don’t think many who know me would come to expect. It is something about myself that I would never acknowledge, not in public, and not in private.

I do so only now because I was challenged, and upon inner reflection, was found wanting.

Let’s not be hasty. I don’t have any white sheet ensembles, and I don’t burn crosses. I only had my head shaved once upon entering boot camp, and I don’t even have the bitchin’ tattoo of a scorpion and a snake I always wanted, let alone swastikas. I refuse to fly the confederate flag, and cringe whenever people use racial slurs.

But the problem is, that doesn’t make me not a racist. It just means I’m not overtly racist.

While I’ve never admitted it to myself, I think on some level I’ve always known. I know my own personal failings, and I bottle them up and refuse to address them. Outwardly, I flaunt my multi-cultural credentials everywhere I go, and am particularly damning whenever I see another white person even inching towards that line of racial insensitivity.

It is because I cross that line, too. I cross it, but because of my background I rationalize with myself that I can’t possibly be racist. I tense up whenever I see a black man that’s not dressed white enough when I’m walking down the street, and for crying out loud, yes I’ve had a black man come up to me and I immediately started reaching in my pocket for change when all the guy wanted was directions.

I mean, these are things that flash in my mind before I can stuff them back down, and pretend that they never happened. It’s the dirty thought that comes to mind whenever I am stuck in line behind an immigrant who can barely speak English, the way I automatically focus on the superficial, the clothes, the music, and leap to generalizations.

And every time I stuff it down, and hate myself afterwards.

I hate myself because I know it’s wrong. I know it’s baseless. And given my background, I feel even more wrong because I should know better, I should be this ultimately enlightened individual.

When I speak on my background, I speak of my family. I speak of my black stepmother, and my black stepbrothers and stepsisters whom I have grown up with and love as though they were blood. I speak of my youngest brother from that marriage, half black and half white, whom I barely know as I moved across the country around the time he was born.

I speak of my Hawaiian and Japanese grandmother whose own cultural diversity has influenced my life in a way I still can’t fully comprehend, and my Latino cousin who stood as one of my best men at my wedding to my Chinese wife.

I have this beautifully rich and textured ethnic background, and I expect of myself to live the truly colorblind life, to not have the same dark thoughts about those who don’t look like me. But that’s not the case.

I do see color. I do see the shape of someone’s eyes, or hear the inflections of their speech and I sometimes think these ugly thoughts and the hate that I feel towards myself is eviscerating, like acid being poured on my ego.

So I think I make the problem worse because I take this introverted anger and I use it to attack what I have called the “I’m not a racist, but…” racists. I use it to berate and belittle every white person who looks around first and leans in and whispers some mildly racist assertion, like, because of the color of my skin, I’m in on the slightly racist club or something.

And it does make the problem worse because these people, they don’t have the background I do, they don’t know, they don’t understand the way I should, but instead of trying to help them understand, instead of using the gift that my life and my family provides as a tool for healing and understanding, I use it to bludgeon them over the head, to make them feel inferior, to label them a racist because, ultimately, as long as I’m better than them, there is some sort of solace for my own failings.

It’s the all too familiar dynamic of the poor, red neck, white guy who trashes on the black man because he may be at the bottom of the hill amongst his own, but at least there’s someone he’s better than. It’s that very same mentality.

I only now make this confession because, truly, I was touched yesterday by Barack Obama’s speech. His words struck me as truer than any words any politician has ever spoken regarding racism, and I realize that that speech was only intended to be the beginning of the discussion.

And believe me, I so desperately want that discussion to continue. Because in the end, while black people go to their corner with their animosity against white people, and white people go to their corner with their animosity against black people (to use Obama’s metaphor from yesterday), the corner I go to is lonely, and ugly. It is a corner where I identify with no one, where my misplaced feelings to those who don’t look like me are inappropriately directed towards those who are. And I want out.

But to get anywhere with this, we need actual honesty. We need to open ourselves up to each other, and be honest not just with what we see in everyone else, but with our own feelings and opinions. For me, that honesty requires stepping down off of the high horse that I have ridden for so long and recognizing that I am as flawed as the next person.

My opinions and my feelings are not the same. Until the day I die I will count bigotry among the greatest evil to inflict man. That is my opinion, that we truly are equal in the eyes of whatever creator you pray to, and we need to find a way to act as a civilization to embody that. My feelings, however, inform me that I too carry this same affliction, no matter how great or small the dose.

So this is me. This is where I am. To some degree, I am a racist, and I won’t pretend otherwise anymore. What’s next? Is this like alcoholism, another demon of the human soul I unfortunately know too much about? Are we all doomed to be racists until the day we die, the best we could ever hope is to not fall off the wagon?

What is the next step? I honestly want to know because there is nothing truer than my desire to actually live that colorblind life that I always pretended to be a part of.

14 Responses to “I Am A Racist”

  1. NBG says:

    Uhg. What you want is someone to hold your hand and pat your head. I find you disgusting. You are a self-hating white asshole. I don’t feel sorry for you at all. I ran out of pity and I ran out of bullshit.

  2. Er, no. Was kinda hoping to start a discussion. Can’t say I didn’t see this coming, but I really wasn’t looking for pity.

  3. DM Metzger says:

    Kyle, my friend, it’s a part of our human nature to be cautious and distrustful of those “different than ourselves”.

    The fact that you work to overcome your instinctive aversion to other races, cultures, and appearances is precisely what makes you not a racist. You take stock in a person’s ethnicity as part of your first assessment… so what? It’s a basic part of the evolved human psychology to differentiate between kin and “the other”.

    When you meet someone of another race do you act on your primary assessment, do you refuse to behave in anything but a bigoted manner? I doubt it, especially give the self-loathing over these feelings you exhibit in this very post. The very fact that you admit that you don’t live in a color-blind haze is precisely what sets you apart from a racist. You may not see the distinction, as surely NBG doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

  4. (quick note, D, was wondering, you can put your url in your name, you know, maybe get a quick plug)

    Anyway, you know, and this is the kind of discussion I want to have because, no, I don’t act on these impulses, but they exist, and they may surface themselves in ways I don’t recognize. In interesting conversation I was having with Matt a while back kind of illuminated me to this with sexism.

    I guess, you get the point is that this thing is not something that any of us can really be above. So, I mean, I kinda consider myself a racist not because of what I do, but because the thoughts are still there. And damn it I want to reply to this more, but I’ve got too many distractions going on right now.

  5. Dynamic says:

    It is ever easier to fight racism in others than in ourselves. This is part of what makes it so difficult to wipe out.

    It would be too much for me to claim to have overcome racism. Habits formed early (I joined the ranks of the National Alliance neo-nazi group by the time I was 12 years old) do not disappear. But I do believe I have managed to draw the distinction between race, culture, and action that helps me identify racist thought and let go of it.

    Sure, I tense up when a group of kids dressed like rap stars walks behind me – but this is a style of dress that is promulgated by people of all races who embrace and glorify killing, raping and stealing, actions I stand firmly opposed to. Is this racism? I don’t think so. You choose your clothes and your friends, and race has nothing to do with it unless you let it. Don’t conflate culture with race. We are a multicultural society, but what we are striving for is a society with a unique tapestry of cultures that makes up one human familial culture – a metacultural society, if you will. Not a melting pot, but a 7 course meal with every seasoning you could ask for.

    It is instinct to judge quickly and intemperately – the human animal survived by making quick judgements about his environment. That is slowly changing and we are evolving away from that, but until that time, we remain subject to our instincts – to a certain degree. But mankinds greatest triumphs have ever been his triumphs of reason over instinct. Every time you excercise your neo-cortex to overcome your instinctive prejudice, you are doing the hard thing and fighting racism in yourself – and you are winning.

    And finally, to address NBG – it is not self-hate or self-loathing to seek self-improvement. It is the powerfully human drive to imrove oneself and one’s environment – and to do that must come the recognition that the self and the environment needs improvement. Self-haters seek pity; what Kyle is doing is seeking solutions.

  6. Thanks Dynamic for dropping some comments and knowledge. Wow, didn’t know about the National Alliance. If it’s not too much to ask, I would like to hear more on that.

    I…

    This is why I said what I did. I think we all have these feelings, but we refuse to admit them, and in the end what happens is because of that, because I’m afraid to sit next to my black friend and say, “You know what, I think some of the most retarded shit sometimes around black people, and I’m just really sorry man. It’s a dick move and I don’t act on it, but I wouldn’t feel like an honest dude without letting you know that that I don’t agree with it, but I can’t stop myself.” Or something like that.

    We don’t do that, we take these feelings that we know are wrong, that society tells us are wrong, that are in fact wrong, but instead of dealing with them like adults and coping and learning to move on, we go in the totally wrong direction. And that’s humans, we were given feelings and emotions, and we really got no clue on how to cope with them.

    I got a story about a friend. You could tell by his thick accent that he was from the South, and we’re not talking about the New South, oh no. Old South Gool Ol’ Boy, all the way. As it turns out, he was from Georgia.

    Decent enough guy, hard worker, did anything you asked without question. And one day, while we were at sea, we were talking about whatever it is you talk about underway, and it comes out that he used to be a member of the KKK.

    Part of me was shocked because, well, I never met a card-carrying member before, or at least if I had, I didn’t know. Actually, I think all of me was shocked because we had a racially diverse division at the time and he got along with everybody.

    Well, as it turns out, he was born into the KKK. Apparently, you don’t get a choice if your parents were both members. He’s since left (he didn’t mention if his parents were still members or not) and he was talking about how unlike his parents, black people didn’t bother him. He liked black people, was friends with black people, and worked with black people.

    But there was a line. He had said that if he had a daughter and she ever came home with a black man, he was grabbing his gun.

    I’m still not sure where I stand on this story but in the end I think it does speak to a more societal shift, and the slow progress that is coming. We are informed by our primal senses and our environment and the people around us. And so you know, I think we all have graduations of these kinds of feelings at different levels and I think it is important that we recognize it, and open up on it, and recognize that perhaps there is no solid line of who’s a racist and who isn’t, but instead, okay, there’s a line of behavior that shouldn’t be crossed.

    And I think it’s important to realize that people have different cultural experiences and for my friend who said that if his daughter comes home with a black man, he’s getting a gun, we have to put that in a sort of context in which we realize that, believe it or not, this is actual progress.

  7. DrGail says:

    Kyle, thanks for your courage in expressing what many (most?) of us feel about ourselves. That Obama’s speech spurred you to do so is a testament to his power and potential.

    You hit the nail on the head with the distinction between “thoughts” and “behavior”. We are all products of our upbringing, and I suppose I could make a case that one generation’s thoughts reflect the behavior of the previous generation.

    What really matters, though, is what you DO, not what you think. (This is a point my husband, a clinical psychologist, makes all the time.) It works in both directions, too. . Even if your involuntary thoughts could be labeled as racist (or sexist, or whatever), you don’t spread the racism “virus” if you choose to act in a manner that belies those thoughts. Similarly, having thoughts about volunteering time or donating money to a worthy cause doesn’t get the job done if you don’t follow through and act on those thoughts.

    If you follow the generational argument I proposed above, then the actions we take (irrespective of our thoughts, which we may feel are shameful) shape the thoughts of our children’s generation. By working to pass and enforce nondiscrimination laws, for example (whether we do so out of feelings of guilt about our racist thoughts or for some other reason), we normalize racial intermingling for the generations that follow. The same argument can be made with regards to gender, sexual orientation, and so on.

    By being aware of the uncharitable thoughts we harbor, it makes us super-conscious about our behavior, which is all to the good. This is the conclusion I reached recently when a friend of mine (who is a true and loving Christian) remarked that I was the kindest person she knew. I was shocked and felt unworthy, because I’m only too aware of all the times I think horrible things about people. But when I looked at it from the outside, and only reviewed my behavior, I could almost see her point. It certainly made me want to redouble my efforts to be the person she thinks I am.

    And now look at the conversation you have started about racism (and all the other -isms by extension)!

  8. I am going to reply to this, Dr, I promise, I am running out of time, so everything in the evening is going to hinge upon what my work load is like.

  9. Bostondreams says:

    Kyle, wonderful post. I’m a Catholic Polack from a region that has a mixed record on race relations. We led the abolitionist and equal rights movement, and yet our greatest city rioted over busing, and it was the last to integrate its baseball team because of the racism of the owner. I know I have issues over race. Hell, there is such a thing as white privilege, and as Obama says, it can be hard for folks like me, whose family has been here less than a century, to see that. When he says that the typical white response when seeing a black man coming is to worry, that is true. To deny that is to be Taylor Marsh or a Republican (not necesarily different things, I guess).

  10. I have to admit, I’m getting emotionally drained and frustrated. Some of this is from anecdotes near me that I find myself ill-equipped to cope with. Largely, it is because this Reverand Wright thing is so, not to sound grade schoolish, unfair.

    It’s terribly unfair, Hilzoy (Or maybe Publius, forgot to check the byline), has it in a nutshell. The Republicans have been felating some of the most disgusting and ugliest “spiritual leaders” known to man, and they get away with it time and again. I was in an argument over this with someone. They simply could not vote for Obama because he had a racist preacher. And I started talking about McCain, Hagee, Falwell, and all I got was mumbled stutters about not really knowing.

    But he KNEW about Wright and Obama based upon a two minute youtube clip and hacked up analysis that he caught on tv. And it’s all UTTER BULLSHIT!

    Where I was going with this post is the exact opposite of where Taylor Marsh went with Obama’s comment about his grandmother being a typical white woman. She took umberage because not all white people are racists like Obama’s grandma, but I think it’s the opposite. I think we all have these feelings to a greater or lesser degree, and because we don’t actually cope with them, because society has made racism a sin without first having the group therapy and rehab, we’re all supposed to be magically healed because it’s not politically correct.

    And people don’t work that way.

    So we got to cut all the bullshit because if we don’t, my daughters are going to have to fret about race relations with THEIR children. Isn’t that what this is all supposed to be about? Making a better world for our children? Except for race relations where everyone is too complacent, or too “old world”, or too embarrassed, or too absolutely frightened to confront the problems in this country and our ethnic fabric to leave what could be one of the greatest gifts for our children; a culture that is at least a little less fostered on hate.

    Look at the young versus the old. Look how the young embrace homosexuality as part of our society easier than the old. THEY ARE DOING THE WORK. The shit WE are supposed to be doing they are doing the heavy lifting on, and shame on us, shame on us for allowing that too happen.

    And what is worse, is that because of this petty desire to maintain this facade about ourselves, we are on the verge of losing the first president that is not black, that is not young, that is not intelligent, but the first president who is willing to sit down and talk to us like we are fucking adults. That is what was put at stake on Tuesday. We could have a president that actually appeals to our better angels as opposed to our lesser demons, and we’re going to throw that away because we’re too afraid to confront our racial tensions.

    So yeah, I’m a little emotionally riffed right now, and this strikes me as one of the darker days of America. Not a black day, not an evil day, not 9-11, but a cough, a wheeze, and a slight stumble where we missed the opportunity to be something greater.

  11. And I wanted to apologize for a moment if I kinda blew by where the conversation was because I’ve been cooped up in my lab for most the evening, and these thoughts have been boiling up inside of me, and I had to get them out. I may take the above and turn it into its own post.

  12. Bostondreams says:

    I am reminded of something. I teach in a rural county in central Florida, which is truly more ‘Old South’ than anything else, and I am the resident loudmouth Yankee. My first year, I coached JV baseball, and told my pitching coach that the kids were getting MLK Day off. He said, and I quote, “Ah, we don’t celebrate that n****rs day here. It’s Robert E. Lee Day.’ I was stunned and just stuttered a response.
    I had 3 players that year with parents in the KKK.

  13. Andrew D. says:

    I totally understand where you are coming from. I come from a white French Catholic Canadian background and in spite of various expectations from the elder members of my family, we do have cousins who are married to black woman, an aunt who’s married and has a child with an Asian man and in addition I have a niece who is part Native American. The last thing I thought I was is racist. In addition to all these things, I’m gay and looking for my own acceptance, so how could I judge another?

    Imagine my surprise today when a group of black girls and white boys interjected themselves in a fender bender they claim they witnessed. From where they were located, the most they could have witnessed was hearing it happen, certainly their line of sight made no sense. Not till we were stopped did they come up accusing me of hitting her. Well I was not denying I accidently bumped this woman (no damage on either car BTW), the problem is this one black girl kept getting involved, taking pics of my license and everything. Next thing you know she get in my face, I get in hers and we exchange derogatory comments. Now I NEVER use the “N” word and did not on this occasion, but I know for a fact that in the heat of my anger I certainly made implications. I just wanted them to mind their business and go cause I knew they saw nothing. Well she didn’t like that I mouthed back at her and with a closed fist this 17 year old girl sucker punched me. As I pushed her off of me, someone else calls the police and said I was assaulting her. Can you believe that? The reason they were staying was because I refused to give the other driver my information until the cops came to look at the accident scene. No way was I letting her take off with my insurance info only to have her potentially scam me later. BTW, the girl I bumped into was white and in the end we both got on our way. However what disturbed me most of all was my reaction to this young lady because of her BIG mouth and unwillingness to deject herself from a situation which did not involve her. Let me tell you, things came out of mouth I never would tolerate from anyone else.

    Now I’m left with.. How could have I done this? How could I have let myself loose control and make blanket bigoted statements, which I know had no sound judgment or reason to them. Like you, I thought … I’m no racist, I’m better than this and yet I still feel DISGUSTED with myself. I just don’t know what’s happen to me. There are several social issues in the city of Halifax, which have left the black community jaded and rightly so. However, 50 years have passed and still many black people in NS harbor this jaded view of white people or “The Man”, how am I suppose to diffuse that? It doesn’t matter what I say, I’ve had black people find fault in all of it and don’t want to mend bridges. How do I deal with this? I’ve lived all over Canada and Europe, have frequented and lived in some of the largest cities, I’ve never had black people react to me so negatively, and vise versa. Back in Ontario I have a multitude of black friends and I wonder how I could have lost my view of a colorless world? This was never an issue for me till I moved to Nova Scotia. I now feel ashamed to have them call me ‘friend’ because now I feel like I don’t deserve it. These are people I respect and love, I feel like ‘ve totally let them down.

    Like you I don’t want to believe this is in me, but the better part of me knows I have to confront it and I feel nothing but shame. I can honestly say that I know exactly where you are coming from. We were all pulling for Obama in my household and I was elated when he won the American Presidency, I just don’t understand how I could loose all site of my better judgment when I was confronted with this particular situation, it’s never happen to me.

    If you’re willing, I would very much like to have an objective and positive discussion with you on this matter because it’s vital that it gets addressed if we’re ever to live in a “colorless world”.

    Best regards.

    A.

  14. Dexter says:

    Mmm well Kyle you can’t get rid of those thoughts. Just keep living. It’s just a mind.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Barack Obama 2008 - Friday Headlines : positivelyBarack.com - [...] I Am A Racist via CommentsFromLeftField A fascinating and mature discussion of racism going on over at CFLF [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook