Yes, you're racist.
No, you're not a terrible person.
I grew up in the Deep South. In fact, *cue deep twang* the first place I remember living was the back-end of a dirt road that said 'end county maintenance,' 6 miles from the Mississippi state line. My town, Wilmer, Alabama (which no longer exists, for the record), had a mayor who was literally illiterate and had a record that involved inappropriate touching of children.
So yeah, when I say I'm a redneck at heart, and a Southerner, well.... trust me, I mean it.
So, I get it. We all grew up being told that, "racists" were those people who kept slaves, who said black people couldn't vote, or who beat them up for going to restaurants. "Racists," were those people in the white hoods who burned crosses.
"Racist," was one of the worst things you could be, said our well-meaning, "color-blind," parents who grew up during, or just after, integration of the schools and had a couple of black coworkers but probably not any actually close black friends.
Our parents meant well. They probably shushed our grandfathers, who hissed about, "n*****s moving into the neighborhood," at family dinners, and encouraged us to, "be nice," to the new black student transferring into our class.
Of course, if they're like my family they also decried, "those people in the ghettos," on the news, quietly and completely unconsciously encouraged us to make white friends at school, and made various, "I'm not racist, but," comments about, "welfare queens," the smell of textured hair, "thugs and criminals," and how hard it was to, "find good help who wouldn't steal."
Mixed messages much?
Yeah, me too.
So then what happens when you're an adult, you're trying to be a good person and you see awful things happening and you decide you want to help, so you start researching.... and suddenly, everyone's saying you're a racist!?
"What?! No! I'm not a racist! I would never do those awful things!" you think, hurt and shocked and feeling absolutely awful that these people you only want to help would accuse you of something so vile!
I mean, maybe you've complained that Black Lives Matter would get an awful lot farther if they didn't block roads, and surely Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wouldn't stand for those awful riots. Maybe you've made comments about how they really need to tighten up the requirements for unemployment and food stamps to keep people (welfare queens/black women) from "taking advantage of the system,". Maybe you've worried about going into "those parts of town," because there's so much more crime there, and those gangs (of young black men) are out of control! But you know, that's not racist! That's just acknowledging a problem!
Weeeeeelllllll, seeeeeeeeeee, here's the thing: You've probably never been told this, because our schools (especially if you're also from the South!) sanitize and 'whitewash' this stuff.
- Dr. King referred to riots as, "the language of the unheard."
- Most of the Civil Rights Movement marches blocked roads. Oh, and shut down an entire city's mass transit system....
- In FY 2015, "nearly two-thirds of SNAP participants were children, elderly, or had disabilities. Forty-four percent of participants were under age 18, 11 percent were age 60 or older, and 10 percent were disabled nonelderly adults. Many SNAP participants had jobs. Nearly one-third (32 percent) of all SNAP households – and more than half (55 percent) of households with children – had earnings in 2015. Overall, 44 percent of SNAP participants lived in a household with earnings." USDA.gov
- There's a LOT of data to parse on this topic, but the TL;DR version is that on average, white people commit just as much crime (and in some areas, far MORE crime, such as forcible rape) but are less likely to be arrested, less likely to be jailed, and less likely to serve prison time... all of which means that racial criminality statistics based on arrest or incarceration rates are artificially inflated in favor of white people. Constitutional Rights Foundation
Look, the long story short here is: you grew up surrounded by quiet, insidious racism. You didn't know it, most likely, and had absolutely no idea you were internalizing it.
No one is mad at you for that.
Seriously, we're not! You were a kid, you had no idea that those little things your parents said and did, the little ways you watched your teachers send your black classmates to detention more often (for the same things you and/or your white classmates were doing!), the fact that your history textbooks focused almost exclusively on European/white history, were racist. You had no idea. It's what normal looked like to you.
But see, here's the things: unto every child comes a time to grow up. A time to be stronger and wiser than your parents. See, your parents probably argued with their parents that integrating the schools was going to be fine. They probably told you happy stories about Rosa Parks and the Bus Boycott, and how the Civil Rights Movement was important and good.
But every generation has an obligation to outgrow its parents'.
And now, here's yours.
Got questions about racism & race? Here are some resources:
- FAQ from "White People Challenging Racism" (see also: "But why is racism my problem, if I'm white?")
- On Racism and White Privilege (see also: "I really don't get this whole 'privilege' thing")
- 11 Things White People Need to Realize About Race (see also: "I'm colorblind! I don't see race!")
- Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is (works best if you are a bit of a gamer)
- How to Explain Privilege to a Broke White Person (see also: "WTF? My life has been hard. I don't have freaking privilege!")