“But I’m not a racist!” says every white person who has ever done something racist. Whenever a racially charged incident comes out, it is inevitable that the offender will vehemently deny their racism. They “don’t have a racist bone in their body” and they most definitely have “black friends”. They listen to hip-hop sometimes, quote Dr. King and while they wouldn’t want their daughter to marry a brown or black man, it’s not because they are racist; its because other people are and they don’t want life to be hard for their baby girl.
People all too often view racism in the egregious extremes like the KKK. They can identify racism only when it’s stark naked in front of their face. It’s easy to identify a racist when he or she is yelling racial slurs but far too many people miss racism when it falls short of the extreme.
Racism, like all human behavior falls on a continuum. On one extreme is the KKK, white supremacist overt racists and on the other are the Accomplices who are willing to put their lives, safety and wellbeing on the line to fight racism. In statistics, there is a concept called a “standard distribution”; a standard distribution shows that in most cases, one can expect that behavior will look similar. Approximately 65% of people will fall somewhere in the middle range, about 13% will fall on either side of the middle and only a small amount will fall to the extremes. In a test, for instance, most students will fall between a B and a D while only a few will be an A or an F. Applying this to racism, one can see that the extremes are less common and most people fall somewhere in the middle. Because human behavior is dynamic, most people will move back and forth along the continuum.
Racism is not just the overt instances that we see in our country.
In fact, the bulk of racism comes in the form of covert racism…we see it in the justification of police violence in terms of “if only they followed orders”, the excuses made for people who engage in racist actions, those who believe that they are “colorblind”, who think that if we only stopped talking about racism that it would go away, those who subconsciously grip their purse a little tighter when a person of color walks by, those who think affirmative action gives minorities an advantage, those who believe that Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization, those who think reverse racism is a thing and we definitely see it in the white fragility that pops up whenever someone is called out for racist behavior.
Racism is insidious and that’s part of what makes it so dangerous because as long as it isn’t obvious racism, even good white folks can turn away. As long as people are viewing racism through only the most extreme behaviors, they will lack the capacity to look within, to examine the most subtle and covert acts of racism that continue to cause untold harm in our communities.
Racism is calling the cops on two Black men in Starbucks. Racism is calling the cops on a Black man barbequing in the park (and then bursting into tears when the cops arrive). Racism is calling the cops on Black women leaving an AirBNB because they didn’t wave at you. Racism is fearing indigenous young men on a college tour and calling the police. Racism is senselessly fearing someone and never pausing to ask yourself WHY you are afraid. Racism is refusing to acknowledge that racism is a part of the USA’s history and that it is embedded in our systems. Racism is believing that people can all reach the same goals if they just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Racism is criticizing our former president for wearing a tan suit while excusing the current for…well, pretty much anything. Racism is expecting people of color to educate you for free and get mad when we say no. Racism is expecting people of color to be nicer when we are calling out your racism.
You can be a well-meaning person who still perpetuates racism. You can have minority friends and still have covert racist beliefs. You can be educated and still ignorant.
Not all racists wear white.
The sooner you can accept that, the better for everyone…especially those whose very lives are at risk at the hands of those who claim “but I’m not a racist!”