The Racist Bones in Our Bodies

I have racist bones in my body.

When I went to Germany, I was really struck by how they owned their ugly history. There were monuments and memorials, very much a country of "this is not who we are, but we will not erase this ugliness, but rather, own it, so that we do not do it again." I mean - I'm not speaking for Germany, but that was the impression that I got. And it struck me that as Americans, we really prefer to sweep our ugly history under the rug. To pretend that it didn't shape who we are today.
The thing is, there isn't anything wrong with saying, you know, yesterday I had some beliefs that were kind of fucked up. Today, I have fewer. Tomorrow, I hope even less. But fucked up beliefs have always been part of my history and in order to purge myself of them, I have to be willing to admit that they're there. I can't sweep them under the rug.

These pieces of my past...
My grandparents used to make me cross the street when people of color approached. It was ok, though, because they were just being cautious. Right?
My 6th grade boyfriend was black, and my mom and stepdad made me break up with him, not because they were racist, you know, but because "society wouldn't approve." I mean, how could they be racist? They had black friends. Right?
When my husband and I opened a business in a very diverse neighborhood, I spent the first 6 months hoping we would be ok, despite what I perceived as the neighborhood's "sketchiness." (it wasn't sketchy. It was economically challenged and it was diverse.)
I've let my sticker on my license plates expire for up to 9 months at a time, drove up and down a street where people of color are regularly pulled over, and never received a ticket. I've actually only been pulled over for it once. And they let me go.
I went on vacation once to a southern plantation and thought nothing of the history of such a place. Thought nothing of the fact that I would be horrified if someone wanted to vacation at Auschwitz, but plantations are cool because they're houses and maybe haunted and look at all of the pretty trees.
I am 100% positive that I have made jokes or insensitive comments in the past and still put myself in the "not racist" category.
So I went through most of my life thinking that I wasn't part of the problem, because I believed segregation was wrong and slavery is wrong and racist insults are wrong and discrimination is wrong and I'm a good person and I don't have a racist bone in my body, right? Because I don't see color, right? And it's not my fault if the police don't want to pull me over EVER, for repeatedly breaking the law, for 9 months, while people of color are pulled over all around me.

Looking back, it's embarrassing.


And then a couple of things happened, and I had a "holy shit" moment. The moment I realized that I am indeed part of the problem. And ever since, I've been trying very hard to recognize that and work against it. I'm sure I fail regularly. Part of that failure is probably being really willing to point out racism in other people, but shoving my own past under the rug. It's not me, it's you. So here it is - have some of my history. It's gross and this is just a tiny chunk of it, and probably not the worst. And it makes me feel gross. I'm not better than you. I'm flawed. I've made so many mistakes, I couldn't possibly count them all. But here is something that I'm glad that I eventually learned:

We do need to see color. Privilege is a thing and if you're white, you've got it. Systemic racism is real and if you're surrounded by mostly white folks, there's a reason that you're not seeing it. If you were raised by people who regularly said racist shit and engaged in racism, you were influenced. And I know that everyone wants to believe that they're not part of the problem and that they're "one of the good ones," but man...if you really don't want to be part of the problem, you're going to have to take a very hard look at who you are and what you believe and how you were raised and how this American society currently benefits you in ways that it absolutely does not benefit others. When we say, "this is not us," and people of color are saying, "no - this is how it's always been. People are just feeling a little more emboldened these days, and also, you haven't been paying attention," we should listen. We should pay attention. And we should examine our actions and our belief systems and the things we casually say and do and we should listen to people's stories and see color and not try to sweep our history under the rug because we're embarrassed. It sucks to be embarrassed, but I guarantee you it's far worse to fear for your life and the lives of your loved ones and to watch your rights be trampled on while people confidently tell you "I don't see color."

We have racist bones in our bodies. It's not helping anyone to pretend that we don't. Those racist bones are there - we have to be conscious of them so that we can work against them every single time they try to come to the forefront.

If yesterday we were very wrong (and so many of us have been so very wrong - I have been very wrong), we can be thankful to have been given today to correct our course and do the work to be on the right side of history.

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