Hi. My name is Gabe and… I’m racist.
It’s true. It’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s something I work against, but I don’t think I’ll ever be free of it. It. Look at that. “free of it.” I don’t even like saying what it is.
I don’t think I’ll ever be free of my own racism.
There. I said it.
For me, and I’d wager for most white people, racism doesn’t just go away. You can be aware of it and try to keep it in check. You can break the patterns of racist behavior when you notice them, but you can’t just turn them off. At best you can be in recovery. We’re talking some 12-step “It’s been 7 hours since my last racist thought” kind of shit. And even though I can’t think of one off the top of my head, I don’t doubt that it’s been less than 7 hours.
I’m a recovering racist.
It’s one of the reasons I get so pissed off when I see white people saying “I’m not racist.” I tend to see that in one of two ways. The first is immediately before or after saying something racist, like the old woman who lives across the street from me who yesterday said she didn’t want to talk to one of her neighbors “because they’re black, and you just never know who has a gun these days.” In that context it’s easy to spot that “I’m not racist” means exactly the opposite. The other way I see it used is during a critique of racism in something that the white person likes or identifies with. “You say this song/movie/video/book is racist, but I love this song and I’m not racist, so there!” That one may not be as obvious an admission of racism, but it’s a damn fine example of derailing. It’s stopping the critique and trying to refocus it on the fine, upstanding, not at all racist person who said it.
And I’m just as guilty of this shit as the next person.
See, our whole culture is shot through with racism. It was in the air I breathed as a child. It was in the stories I read, the shows I watched, the behaviors of those all around me, and now it’s in me. It’s one of my own little demons, one of my own original sins, inside me for as long as I’ve had consciousness.
I’m a racist. Now that I’m aware of that and working on my own recovery I can try to get on with the work of being anti-racist.
I’m thankful that I’m not alone in this. Once I realized that dealing with my own racism is akin to being in recovery from it, I just knew that someone smarter than me had to have thought of it too. Luckily I was right. damali ayo has even written a wonderful piece called “The 12 White Steps” (link is to a PDF). Give it a read. Then read it again. Then, if you’re so inclined, print a copy and stick it to your bathroom mirror, on the wall next to your desk, anywhere you’ll see it over and over. If you don’t want to open the PDF, you can read the short version of each step here.
- Admit you have a race
- Accept that there is a higher understanding that can restore you to sanity
- Realize you don’t know it all
- ‘Fess up
- Own your legacy
- Move beyond your ABCs
- Make racism a white issue
- Bite the bullet
- Share the cookies
- Go the distance
- Teach your children well
- Recruit, recruit, recruit
My name is Gabe and I’m racist. I’ll be fighting that my whole life. Fight with me.