Being racist hurts, and what NOT to do about it

This whole process of confronting my own racism has been interesting, to say the least. Like when you buy a car because it’s unique but the moment you drive it down the street you see the same car everywhere, now that I’m aware that I am both racist and otherwise a good person, now that I’m willing to accept that those two things can both be true and therefore willing to look openly at my own thoughts and actions through that lens, it’s not hard to see my racism.

It’s not hard to see it, but it’s damn sure hard seeing it.

I stopped at a stoplight with my family and the windows open, and heard two voices saying fuck this, fuck that, this bitch did this and that, and turned to look and saw two black teenagers and in a split second my brain went “that makes sense.”

What the hell? I thought that? That’s what I think? Me?

When I unpack that for even a second it falls apart. I was that kid 15 years ago. I had that exact conversation, I’m sure with one of my white friends. That scene would have made literally the identical amount of sense had I seen people of any other race, but instinctually, before my conscious mind had caught up, my racist subconscious judged and labeled those people based on what they looked like. It’s a hard thing to watch myself do.

It’s as if my mind has turned on me. Or moreso that it had been scheming behind the scenes all along, and I’m just now pulling back the curtain and finding its sabotage. It’s a cocktail of guilt, sadness, shame and of (self?) betrayal. It’s realizing that I am not who I thought I was. It’s finding a canine skeleton in the closet and remembering that it was I who killed the dog, way back when.

It’s hard. And for my white friends doing the work of really looking at your own racism, I empathize.

The instinct, when confronted with an undiscovered darkness within myself, was to confess. So, prior to George Floyd but after reading White Fragility, feeling all these things I confided in one of my black friends how sorry I was for this. I opened up and shared my experience, and I knew something was off as soon as I closed Zoom.

It took me a second to realize that all of my realizations and their accompanying emotions, while cathartic for me to share, effectively forced my friend into taking on my white guilt. By sharing everything that this revelation has uncovered, and all the shit that it’s stirred up inside me and how sorry I was about everything, I turned my people’s systemic racism against him and his people into a story about me and how I was feeling about the whole thing. Enough about you and the systematic oppression of your people for hundreds of years, let’s talk about me. Sigh.

To his credit, he was incredibly gracious about the incident. I’m assuming that he felt like “yet another white person making everything all about them,” but if he did he kept it to himself and actually engaged in the conversation. I benefited from bringing it up with him (only because of the way he handled it), but he didn’t. It was the wrong conversation to have.

I had to learn this the hard way, just like I always do. And I expect to learn other things the hard way too as I continue to walk further out onto this heretofore unexplored limb. But I share my story in case it might spare other black people their white friends confidences.

Later on, this video found me as well. I wish I had watched it prior to that conversation.

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