I'm Racist, You're Racist, We're All Racist Here

By most people’s definition, I am not a racist.

I was raised in a home where racism and racial prejudice were neither accepted nor tolerated. In fact, I was actively taught that variations in skin color were beautiful, like diversely colored flowers in a garden. My parents didn’t burden me with subconscious, racist tapes, such as the ones my friend Paula bravely admitted to in her recent post. The main message I received about race from my two strongest influences - my parents and my faith community - was that we are all part of one human race and one human family.

As a result, I was never taught, actively or passively, to fear black men. In fact, I always had a sense that if I had brought home a guy of any darker skin shade, my parents would have been thrilled. When I was in college, a friend remarked that her dad would croak if she brought home a black boy. That concept was completely foreign to me.

When it comes to purse clutching or crossing the street, I honestly have more instincts to do that when a white man approaches than a black man. The only explanation I have for that is that my biggest fear is the Ted Bundys and Jeffrey Dahmers of the world. Though I’ve learned that the ethnicity of serial killers actually falls closely along the lines of society’s demographics in general, I still associate psycho killers with white, middle-aged males. I have no instinctual feelings of threat when I see a black man.

Curious to see if I’m just deluding myself by thinking I don’t have many deep-seated racial prejudices, I took this implicit racial bias test from Harvard University. In fact, I took it twice. Both times, my result showed a slight preference for African Americans over European Americans. It may not be accurate, and my hunch is that it’s not totally methodologically sound, but that’s my result. According to the geniuses at Harvard, I really don’t have any subconscious negativity toward black people.

As race unity is one of the primary principles of my faith, I’ve been involved in countless classes, workshops, and discussions focused on overcoming racism and racial prejudice. I’ve read books on the struggles of interracial couples and families, attended talks by people at the forefront of racial issues in America, and helped organize festivals celebrating unity in diversity.  

Though my immediate family is as white as Wonder bread, my extended family is a veritable feast of multiculturalism. Of my five sisters-in-law, one is African-American, one is Columbian, and one is Korean. I have eight nieces and nephews who are biracial. I also have many, many friends whose families are delicious mixes of cream, coffee, and chocolate. That Cheerios commercial that garnered so much attention reflects normality for me.

Frankly, if post-racial America were a real thing, I could be its white poster child.

I’m not sharing all of this to boast about my lack of prejudices. I’m sharing so that I can explain how, despite my inclusive upbringing, my apparent lack of implicit racial bias, my multiracial family, and my faith’s focus on race unity, I still struggle with racism.

Yes, I am a racist. And chances are, so are you. Don’t take it personally.

Racism is an ambiguous term, so I’ll define it based on my own understanding and experience. To me, racism isn’t a conscious belief system of racial superiority, though it manifests that way in some people. Racism is not a set of subconscious negative biases, though it presents that way in some people. Racism isn’t defending George Zimmerman’s actions or Paula Deen’s cooking, though it sometimes shows itself through those transparencies. Racism is a systemic disease, a malfunction of the body politic, a malady that affects all of us, whether we recognize it or not.

Racism is a cultural cancer, caused, in large part, by our long human history of conquest, war, and fear of the “other.” Over time, fear mutated into superiority, “other” became “lesser,” and as civilization grew, those racist concepts became ingrained and institutionalized.

Though racism permeates every nation, it is particularly pervasive in America, a country that was literally built on racism. We’ve come a long way, but our history still stares us in the face. We can’t get away from the fact that the prosperity we proudly espouse as the American dream was first acquired on the backs of black slaves. We can’t get away from the fact that the phrase in our beloved founding document stating that “all men are created equal” really meant “all white men are created equal.” It’s ugly, but it’s the truth.

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