Will the Real Racist(s) Please Stand Up?

It’s about to snow here in Raleigh, which means two things: there are no pantry staples in the stores, and there is 100% chance of no school tomorrow.

So I’d like to take this moment to talk about the white stuff.

No, not the snow. By “white stuff” I mean “white people.” Including me.

Because I’m hearing some nutso things lately on the news, and I’m hearing well-intentioned people wonder aloud or deny aloud if the President of the United States is a racist, specifically because he supposedly said some terrible things about countries with majority Brown/Black populations.

But here’s the thing: even if he hadn’t/didn’t say such terrible things (and we can agree that the reports of what he may have said are pretty terrible, right? Not just “salty language” sort of terrible, but the “Geeze I’m embarrassed I know you” sort of terrible that happens at Thanksgiving with your uncle who makes political incorrectness into a contact sport)…even if he hadn’t/didn’t say those things: he’s still a racist.

And not because of the Birther stuff.

And not because of the Muslim ban stuff.

And not because of the “Mexican rapist” stuff or the whole “Mexican-heritage judge can’t be impartial toward me because I want to build a huge wall along the Mexican border (but Canada gets no such architecture) stuff.”

None of that makes him racist. It makes a person many things, but not racist.

What makes him racist can be reduced to a simple equation which happens to be the (most commonly accepted in academic circles) definition of racism.

Ready? It’s going to make you mad. Just warning you.

Ready?

Here it is:

Prejudice+Privilege/Power=Racism.

And until the world shifts dramatically, being born with white skin still affords you so much privilege and so much power, it is impossible…my sisters and brothers…impossible!…not to be racist and participate in racist systems as a white person who isn’t a hermit living in the wilds of Maine.

BUT EVEN THERE they’d still be racist if they are white because the very fact of their whiteness gives them enough power in this world to give them a leg up.

Now, there are some (really poorly argued) articles on the interwebs that will debunk this definition. I obviously reject them, but I don’t do so glibly.

See, I don’t want to be racist. So why would I embrace a definition of racism that clearly paints me as racist?

Because it is true.

If I’m humble and reflective and honest and not defensive, I know it’s true.

It’s been proven true in my own life and my own actions, and it’s a cactus I have to hug if I’m ever going to effectively do anti-racism work and offload the (often subconscious) prejudice I have.

Look, this blog post will put me at odds with friends and relatives, and members of my own congregation. They don’t want to be racist, they don’t think of themselves as racist, and many of them have even felt prejudice from people of color (though, according to the above definition , they must understand that “reverse racism” is about as real as unicorns or good roads with low taxes…it doesn’t really exist). They don’t want to believe this about themselves, especially if they’re on the lower end of the socio-economic scale, or they’ve spent their lives donating to African orphans, or have black and brown friends.

Of course they don’t. I don’t. But it’s still true.

And the very fact that I can write this and have it read by many white people is indicative in part of the systems of racism I participate in (because, do we really need another white blogger writing about race?…and yet I continue…)

And we always seem to get hung up on the prejudice thing. I get that. I’ve felt prejudice from people of color directed toward me.

But what you have to understand is that prejudice doesn’t have a color attached to it. All races can be (are?) prejudice in some form or fashion, often subconsciously and many times quite consciously.

Prejudice is harmful and often hateful and is often dangerous. And while people can be less/more prejudiced, I’m not sure anyone can be totally without prejudice, especially when whole systems (economic systems/prison systems/government systems/hiring systems) have implicit and explicit prejudice.

But prejudice alone is not racism…though they can be linked.

I can be prejudiced. Denzel Washington can be prejudiced.

Let’s not pretend that the backpack I was born with was the same one that Denzel Washington was born with.

The man now has economic and influential power, and his pinky toe can act circles around me…he’s got talent (though he’s made some poor movie choices…looking at you Book of Eli).

But even with all that, I cannot dismiss the fact that the hill I’ve had to climb just because I’m white: that my job application with the boringly innocuous “Tim Brown” at the top as opposed to his “Denzel” will get looked at first and with more priority; that my presence in an establishment (with the obvious exception of buffet lines) has never caused concern; that jails are full of people who don’t look like me at an alarming ratio that causes just about every statistician to conclude bias in the system…

My hill is smaller and easier.

White is still synonymous with privileged power worldwide. It just is, despite the trends of increasing global diversity. And the fact that I don’t feel very privileged or powerful most of the time doesn’t change the reality that I am.

I don’t feel tall most of the time…but statistically I am.

That’s a horse pill for most of my white friends and relatives and parishioners (and I know it may put us at odds, but we’ve got talk about this!).

It is for me, too.

It’s a horse pill because there are so many white people who don’t feel empowered. Who don’t feel as if they’re privileged. Who don’t feel as if they have a leg up in a world of Affirmative Action and diversity quotas and falling Confederate Statues.

Look…I hear you my white friends. But it’s not about feeling. It’s about reality. The system is wrong and terrible and we participate and perpetuate it often without our knowing (but often with our full approval). It’s sneaky and real and you’ve been taught that it’s just status quo, but listen closely to our friends of color and you’ll hear that the status isn’t actually quo! It’s rigged and harmful to human flourishing in many parts of the world.

Because the powerful always want to retain power. It’s why we Christians have taken a wandering Middle Eastern man and made him white with perfect hair (and apparently all artists assume that he had some form of ancient Norelco trimmer because that beard is always on point!) and call him Savior. If Jesus looks like me, well, then my power is confirmed.

I feel your anger at my words here. Please know I’m just trying to talk about something no one wants to talk about in white circles above a whisper.

And the reality is that immigrants from Norway (where this Jesus looks like he’s from) are still preferred in this country to immigrants from Haiti, especially if they’re moving into your neighborhood, affecting your property value. Don’t think that kind of thing is attached to race? I have a couple of maps made by a man named Gerry Mander to show you…

But there is hope, my white friends (and my white me).

Let us hug this cactus in a way that unclogs our defensive hearts and opens our ears.

I am racist. I don’t want to be, and I gander you don’t want to be, either. I try not to be prejudice…but they’re not the same, folks. They’re not the same thing.

We were born into systems much larger than ourselves. But we can dismantle them, if we’re willing. We can give up some power, actively deny our privilege in the way one denies fatty foods that aren’t healthy, and we can dialogue and learn and grow.

Recently I was talking with a Black friend about racism and I said, “You know, white people like to pretend they’re not racist because it makes them feel better.”

He said, “That’s the most honest thing I’ve heard a white person say.”

And then we talked openly and honestly about racism, prejudice, and all sorts of things. That honesty was a big part of that dismantling process.

So, is our President racist?

As racist as I am.

So if you’re asking for the real racist to stand up…here I am. And probably you, too.

6 thoughts on “Will the Real Racist(s) Please Stand Up?

  1. Thank you for this. It’s something I need to be often reminded of over and over. It’s also why I can’t participate in the “I don’t see color” statement. I have to see color or else I will act (even unintentionally) in a racist way, i.e., putting writers I know on a panel, and all those I know well enough to beg a favor from are white.) I love the analogy to fatty foods. It will help me stop before I take the next easy, natural, and thoughtless act.

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