I am very white. I am very liberal. And I am also racist. I have grown up seeing the media misrepresent people of color as gross stereotypes that oppressed them. I’ve been taught by the school system that white people have contributed more to society than people of color. Even at a young age, I’ve held personal prejudices against people of color based on what I was taught by friends and family and even teachers. Am I proud of this? Absolutely not.
Before we begin, I want to clarify a few things. First, this article is not justifying racism. Racism is not acceptable period. Second, this article is not about how I’m okay with being racist. Third, this article is about people who are racist but deny that they are racist. White liberals, I’m looking at you.
As a white liberal, you might feel personally attacked, and my response to that is to just take a moment to hear me out. The most important thing to define is what exactly racism is. According to Oxford Dictionary, racism is “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.” While in theory, this definition implies that any race can be racist towards any race, we need to consider the concept of institutionalized racism.
Ever since the Age of Exploration in Europe, through the Slave Trade, and the murder of thousands of Natives in America, to the exploitation of Chinese immigrant workers and Hispanic/Latino workers, to the segregation of Black men and women in the south, to the imprisonment of Japanese Americans- I haven’t even covered a measurable percentage of the atrocities that have been committed- white people have benefitted from the oppression of people of color through centuries of holocausts and enslavement from governmental institutions in the United States.
While you are white and may want to consider yourself an ally for people of color, you must understand that even though you know racism is wrong, you are still capable of it. We were raised in a society that promotes this kind of inequality whether it be intentional or accidental. Being in denial of your racism won’t help the problem.
I will have racist thoughts from time to time. I will say something that is not at all okay. But I recognize what I said, did or thought. I evaluate why I said, did or thought that thing. Then I correct myself. If a person of color calls me out or calls something out as racist, I listen to them. They know racism more than I do and have experienced racism on levels that I will never be able to understand.
I know sometimes it can be scary to admit to being racist. You might think we live in a society that will call out and attack racists, but you have to understand that anything that you experience from admitting your racism and ignorance is nothing compared to the hundreds of years of suffering the ancestors of people of color have experienced. It won’t compare to the hardships a person of color could experience due to race. Or the fear a terrible ally can provoke. Imagine a person you trust doesn’t want to listen to you when you tell them, “Hey that thing you said about me and people who look like me is pretty awful. Don’t do it again.” and they reply, “No I couldn’t possibly do that, I’m a liberal ally. Look at what a great ally I am.” (Disclaimer, I’ve only experienced this as a white woman who has had liberal men claim “but actually, I can’t be sexist as I am liberal and an ally therefore I’m not capable.” I’m going to throw up.)
Like I said, recognize your racism, correct it and move on. And continue being a fantastic ally by sitting down and listening when a person of color says something is racist. If we’re going to get anywhere and try to dismantle the institutions that keep equality from happening, we actually need to listen to our own racism and the people who our oppressed by systems that benefit us.