This post originally appeared on The Culture Blend.com
“I AM NOT A RACIST!”
The Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan
(and practically everyone who has ever been accused of racism)
This post is hard for me. Here’s why.
I’m not that kind of blogger. I’m not an activist. I write about culture and raising kids abroad and what happens when you accidentally tell someone that their hindquarters are fragrant and delectable. I’m THAT guy. I have purposely and skillfully avoided the hard issues NOT because I don’t think they are important.
I steer clear because I have never considered my contribution valuable. I have opinions like EVERYONE ELSE in the world but bringing them into this conversation would be like bringing a squirt gun to a firestorm.
My labels don’t exactly lend credibility either. “Hey everybody! Pipe down, we’ve got a white, American, straight, Christian, male who has something to say about racism!”
“Gee. Great. We haven’t heard from one of those guys yet.”
But there is something rich that happens when you step away from your “home” culture and see yourself (and the world that you grew up in) through a different set of lenses. Am I right?
It’s challenging but it is good.
It hurts but it helps.
It’s alarming . . . but sometimes . . . it’s transformational.
With all of that said I think I have something to say about racists.
I might be one — but I can’t tell. Here’s why.
The word “racist” ONLY seems to show up in two forms. As an ACCUSATION — or a DENIAL. It’s never a discovery. Never a realization. Never a confession. There is zero room for nuance. Zero range. Zero spectrum.
You either are or you’re not.
It’s used exclusively in the second and third person (positively) — “YOU ARE A RACIST AND THEY ARE TOO!!”
in the first person (negatively).
“I AM NOT!!”
(take 2 minutes and 52 seconds to watch this video)
The two-sided approach produces radically different definitions.
The ACCUSER says, “Have you EVER used a term, said a word, thought a thought or acted in a way that could be considered racist? Then you must be one.”
Justin Bieber said the n-word when he was 14.
Paula Deen said it before Justin Bieber was even born.
The DENIER says, “Is any part of my life NOT racist? Then boom! I am NOT one.”
“I have Asian friends.”
“I voted for a black man.”
“I’m not as bad as that guy.”
So by the ACCUSER’S definition — are YOU a racist?
I am (and I cried a little bit when I wrote that).
BUT as the ACCUSED I am SO quick to DENY, DENY, DENY.
My daughter is Asian.
My son is black.
Look at this picture.
How could I possibly be racist?
See how that works?
I’d love to have a different conversation. Here’s why.
“Racism” is a powerful and important word. The conversations that surround it are also important . . . in ALL of their different forms.
The venomous political debates need to happen.
The marches have changed things.
The ACCUSATIONS and the DENIALS make total sense.
AND THERE IS MORE . . . There is another side to the conversation that typically gets reduced to ashes in the firestorm.
It’s a conversation where I look at ME and not YOU.
I ask MYSELF hard questions instead of responding poorly to yours.
I come face to face with my own mess and I own it, even if I hate it.
I move forward to something better instead of being chained to my broken past.
It doesn’t start with “I AM A RACIST.” We don’t even agree on what that means. But . . .
It might go something like this.
I grew up around people who shared my labels. In my home, I was taught to love people both by instruction and example. Growing up though (although never in my family) I heard racial slurs and hateful, horrible stereotypes that formed my own prejudice. I heard banter that celebrated the misfortune of other races.
I heard “Polack jokes” before I knew that Poland was a country. I heard the term “Jewing them down” from the same people who taught me about the Jewish people in Sunday School. I heard terms like “Spick” and “Gook” and “Raghead” and “Chink” and had to ask each time which ethnicity we were talking about because I had never met any of them in real life. I listened to joke after joke that mocked the physical features, the language, the eating habits, the poverty and the crime rate of the African descended people who lived on the other side of town.
And I laughed.
I laughed because I valued the approval of people who were like me more than I valued the actual people who weren’t.
I regret all of that and it breaks me to think about it. I wish that it were not a part of my story but there is no way to untell it. Ignoring it has never made it go away.
I have grown since then. I have changed dramatically — but even now I continue to discover pieces that are packed tightly and deeply in my core that I never knew were there. Layer after layer of entitlement continue to be peeled away.
I still struggle to recognize and acknowledge the humanity of the humans around me.
But I am ready to have that conversation.
What about you?