Sometimes I’m Racist

No one wants to admit it, but someone’s gotta be. 

Franchesca “Chescaleigh” Ramsey on HLNTV’s “Naked Justice”

Dear Emily,

While the subject has been brewing all year, the cases of Mike Brown and Eric Garner have brought the topic of racism to the front of conversations for possibly the first time since the Civil Rights Movement. But the difference this time is, we’re not necessarily talking about the overt, n-word spewing, purposeful racism (although, yeah, that’s sadly still everywhere). This racism seems different. It’s a nearly subconscious racism that everyone experiences and no one wants to admit to.

So I’m asking you to admit something: sometimes you’re racist.

Do you want to be? Of course not. Obviously you try not to be racist. But sometimes you fail. And nothing will change for people like Brown and Garner until you start owning up to your own white privilege more, and the fact that with that privilege comes bias, prejudice, and yeah—sometimes straight up racism. You know the phrase the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem? You have a problem.

Because here’s the thing: one time recently you saw a black guy open a driver’s side door in a parking lot and, for a split second, you thought he was breaking into the car. Then your rational brain kicked in, and you immediately realized it was his car and he was just getting into it. See what I mean? Sometimes you’re racist. Super fricken racist. No getting around it racist.

I know you grew up in a very white town and it’s taken you a while to understand what modern day racism looks like. And, while no one today wants to be called a racist, people still are. As Jon Stewart said,

“We have made enormous progress in teaching everyone that racism is bad. Where we seemed to have dropped the ball is in teaching people what racism actually is. Which allows people to say these incredibly racist things whilst insisting they would never.”

No one wants to believe that they’re part of the problem, that they have these biases against people. And yet, here we are. It has to be at least some of us. And sometimes it’s definitely you.

No one sat you down and told you how to feel about people who weren’t white. Mom and Dad never spewed epithets out the car window. I don’t know where your racism came from. I guess it came from everywhere. It came from the slow absorption of a lifetime of prejudice happening around you.

I’m not saying you sit in your house and mutter terrible things about people of color. I’m saying that, like everyone, you sometimes say or think things that are prejudiced. Sometimes it’s racist, sometimes it’s ableist or homophobic or sexist (like a week ago, when you rolled your eyes at how ditsy a woman at the gym sounded until you realized she was talking about computer engineering.) And even if it’s unintentional and only for a split second and you wish it never happened, it does. And the only way you’re going to get better at recognizing your prejudices and privilege is to admit when it happens, not deny it.

You need to get better at recognizing your own biases, including the ones that are more subtle than the example above. It’s the very least you can do (and really, the very very very very least), that instead of denying people the racism they see with their own eyes, you can believe them, and put the responsibility on yourself to make a change.