I am a privileged, predominantly white female. On forms, my ethnicity is white. My speech is white. My car, house, clothes, neighborhood, even my environment are essentially white. I have always been saturated by this whiteness. Growing up, I only knew one black family in my church, I only remember one black kid in my school, and my main integration with African-Americans mostly happened in front of my 90’s TV, watching the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Family Matters.
Embarrassingly, I believed what many present-day white individuals do: racial inequalities, prejudices and discrimination was something that happened a long time ago. Worse, I assumed their socioeconomic status or circumstance was purely a result of laziness, blaming the past, or their own work ethic. After all, don’t we all just have to work hard to get our happily ever after?
It wasn’t until my college years in a humanities course on American Culture when I began to understand the nature, depth and ongoing present-day racial disparities among non-white people in society. While I’ll never truly know what it’s like to be non-white and can’t identify to their history, I can do my part not to repeat it.
Yet, as my ignorance-is-bliss mindset faded and awareness increased, this didn’t change the overall prevalence of racist ideals. While there are many supportive white people and organizations out there educating and helping people of color, there are not so many white people in my environment who share my viewpoints.
Over the years, I have been guilty of my own micro-aggression (i.e., racist jokes, reinforced stereotypes) and colorblind racism, but I am much more conscious of this behavior and today work towards less offensive speech. Consequently, there is a peculiar and expected acceptance among my white community when these distorted viewpoints come up in conversations. Comments like:
“She was black.”
“Can you imagine if she was black?”
“He was like ‘ghetto’ black.”
“They are nig*er-rich.”
These comments, albeit seemingly guiltless, when said or heard over and over again, convey the ugly truth of racism. In order to exaggerate the context and emotion, and hint towards a common judgment to their story, the words become racist in and of themselves.
I try to give these people the benefit of the doubt, because they too are products of their environment and cultural upbringing. Yet the whole situation disturbs me.
How much am I contributing to this racism problem by listening to these comments? Do I speak up? Do I quit being friends (or family) with them altogether?
When we continue to (color)blindly assume and believe the common misconceptions of stereotypes that happen when we stay silent, we keep this ugly history present and acceptable. According to common sense, decency and morality, we need to learn to change our own behavior. I will choose to not further contribute to those conversations, and instead of simply changing the subject, I will speak up. Though they may not be ‘cruelly racist’ towards non-whites, there are far too many racist ideals shared with the kinds of jokes, comments and statements said and implied.
Something has to change. And that change, for now, will have to start with me.