“What you are aware of you can control. What you are unaware of controls you.”
Anthony de Mello
A good friend told me if I was going to write this, I had first better define racism. Which, as it turns out, is not such an easy thing to do. There are so many definitions, so many ways in which racism takes form. In the end, I decided I cannot define the racism I want to talk about. How can you explain that which is there, but you cannot see. It’s like trying to explain currents to a child. But maybe I can show you.
A little over a year ago, while in an Uber to the Milwaukee airport, I struck up a conversation with my driver. He was a military veteran who had served in both Korea and Vietnam. I had spent some time living in Asia, so we chatted about both countries, their cultures and where each of us had lived and visited. This man was worldly, not only for the places he visited, but for the things he had seen. He was also black.
As a white man living in a race-conscious world and also working on a piece about racism, I felt an urge to ask this man some of my more delicate questions about race and racism. As I did, I found out that while he currently lived in Milwaukee, he had grown up in the Deep South during the 1950’s and 60’s. As we talked about the current political-racial climate and Milwaukee, which is one of the most segregated cities in the United States, this man said something very interesting.
“You know, I think places like Milwaukee are more racist than places down South. Down there, dem’ people had to grow up seeing their parents coming to school to scream at black kids. They saw black people getting beat for no reason at all. The racism is more out in the open, and because it is, the younger generations had a chance to face it and learn from it. White people up here same as white people down there. Oh, they might not say nothing to your face or beat you, but you see it. You see it in the way they look at you. You see it in how divided this city is. But because it ain’t never been out in the open like in the south, they don’t think it exists. And they ain’t never had a chance to learn from it.”
This is what I am going to talk about. That which is there, but we do not see. The mental patterns influenced by evolution. The subtle, learned beliefs and unspoken prejudices that, like a current deep below the surface of the sea, subconsciously guide the behaviors and actions of us all.
The Merriam-Webster definition of racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” But that definition feels a bit dated. I know there are people who feel this way, but I don’t think they are the majority. And I don’t think there is anything I can write that will change their mind.
I once heard a woman in a documentary say there are three types of people in the world. Those who see, those who can see when shown and those who will never see. I am not concerned with those who burn crosses and plot to kill people because of the color of their skin. They will never see, no matter what they are shown.
So, while the “let’s burn crosses and have KKK rallies and line up to stop kids from going to school together” form racism STILL exists and is reprehensible, I believe the subtle form to be much more prevalent, and perhaps, in the long term, even more harmful. This piece is for those in the second group.
Those who might see, if only they are shown.
I’ve put off publishing this for close to three years. It’s difficult enough to accept uncomfortable truths about yourself; it’s another thing entirely to share what you find publicly. Especially now, with everyone cancelling one another like monthly subscriptions they no longer need.
But fuck it, right? No point in doing this if I’m not going to do it. Good writing, as far as I see it, is about the pursuit of truth. So that’s what I am going to tell you. The truth.
The only catch with the truth is that it’s subjective. My truth isn’t yours, nor yours mine. Which means the only way for me to write truthfully is to first understand what my truth actually is. Which, when I started writing this more than three years ago, was something that completely alluded me.
It was 2019, the tail end of my “backpack round the world’ days. I had been traveling abroad for close to five years and was pretty gassed up on myself. There was nothing I didn’t think I could do. Nothing I didn’t think I knew. I started this piece after recognizing a pattern in just about every place I visited. I thought this pattern was worth sharing. I felt it might help people better understand prejudice and bias and how we all interact with one another.
Originally, the idea was to show how we’re all, at some level, racist and prejudiced. I was going to talk about how divisiveness is a basic instinct. How we love to group ourselves into “us” and “them.
I was going to use clips like this one, from comedian John Stewart:
I was going to quote famous authors, like Yuval Noah Harari, author of the book Sapiens:
“Evolution has made Homo Sapiens, like other social animals, a xenophobic creature. Sapiens instinctively divide humanity into two parts, ‘we’ and ‘they’…. In the language of the Dinka people of the Sudan, ‘Dinka’ simply means ‘people.’ People who are not Dinka are not people. The Dinka are bitter enemies of the Nuer. What does the word Nuer mean in Nuer language? It means ‘original people.’ Thousands of miles from the Sudan deserts, in the frozen ice-islands of Alaska and north-eastern Siberia, live the Yupiks. What does Yupik mean in Yupik language? It means ‘real people.’
I was going to talk about how in every place I’ve ever lived or traveled, the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality has been a constant. I was going to recount the innumerable human divides I have seen while traveling. Koreans vs. Japanese. Greeks vs. Albanians. Vietnamese vs. Chinese. Argentinians vs. Chileans. I was going to tell the story about how I learned, while hiking in Patagonia with a group of Europeans, that when a Belgian person meets another Belgian person, the first question they will ask is, “From what part?” and that the answer is either North or South. To outsiders, this means nothing. But to a Belgian person it matters very much, because the Dutch-speaking Flemish in the North don’t much care for the French-speaking Walloons in the South.
I was going to talk about how, when I lived in Korea, I learned you’re either ‘hanguk-saram’, ‘weguk-saram’ or ‘meguk-saram.’ Hanguk means Korean. Weguk means foreigner. ‘Meguk’ means American. Saram means person. You were either a Korean person, a foreign person or an American person. How I learned that even if your parents were both 100% Korean but you were raised outside of Korea, you weren’t considered hanguk. You were considered ‘gyopo.’ I was going to talk about how the only way to re-gain your ‘hanguk’ status was to move back to Korea and live in Korea. Leave ‘them’, and come back to ‘us.
I was going to list broader examples of this instinct in action. State vs. state. School vs. school. Pro football team vs. pro football team. River Plate vs. Boca Juniors. I was going to show how the “us” vs “them” mentality is so strong, that it can lead people to kill, simply because someone cheers for a team that wears different colors:
I was going to say that if we can create barriers and hurt one another for something as trivial as which sports team we cheer for, it’s not too much of a stretch to think we’d do similarly awful things based on a difference in skin color. I was going to say that of course we’re racist. I mean come on, other than gender, skin color is the most obvious way we can divide ourselves.
I was going to talk about how the ways in which we divide and categorize one another can be subtly seen in the way we talk to one another. How, for example, to my Mexican neighbors I’m a ‘gringo.’ But my Argentinian neighbors aren’t ‘gringos.’ They’re just Argentinian. Neither are my European neighbors. Gringo is a word reserved for
I was going to use stories of discrimination I have experienced while living abroad; being denied entry into bars in Seoul because they were “Korean only” and being targeting by Thai police with roadblocks specifically designed to bribe white people; to show that this is not a condition specific to white people.
I was going to talk about how things like this still happen to me. How toll booth operators and street vendors and traffic cops in Mexico will try to hustle me for no other reason than the fact that I am white. There’s even an expression for it. We call it the “gringo tax.”
I wasn’t going to do this in an attempt to gain sympathy, but rather to show how we all see color. Just as we see gender and age and hairstyles. To show how, as author Robert Cialdini writes, “Typically, people are more ready to search for and register separations than connections.”
The goal wasn’t to help people feel good about being racist. Quite the opposite, actually. I wanted to create a space for acknowledgement and admission. I thought if people could understand these basic instincts and see them presented in a wide variety of examples, then maybe it would prime them to more readily accept their own prejudices.
But as I wrote, something felt off.
I am normally my biggest critic, prone to long periods of editing and re-editing. But this was not that. This was different. For the first time, I was actually afraid to publish what I wrote. I think part of it had to do with racism being such a touchy subject. But there was more. I felt like a phony. I felt that my was I was writing would expose me. But expose me as what? I suppose deep down I knew the truth, but just wasn’t ready to admit it yet. So I put the piece aside and got to work on other things.
Then, in the spring of 2020, George Floyd was murdered. Amid a firestorm of social justice protests and marches all over the world, I opened my computer and got back to work. Now is the time, I thought. Now is the time to share my special knowledge and understanding with the world.
I began to read and research. I doubled down on black history in America. I thought of ways I could creatively get people to see the depths of the plight that black people in the United States, and around the world, have faced. I ran the numbers and created graphs. Graphs like this one, that show of the 245 years the United States has been a country, people of color have only been able to vote for (wait for it) 56 of them:
I was going to talk about how change takes time. How, if we’re only 63 years removed from a time when a judge in Mississippi sent a young black man to an insane asylum after the young man applied to the University of Mississippi because “only insanity could make a black man think he could apply to the university” that maybe, maaaaayybe, we’ve still got a little work to do.
I was going to tap into what I learned in my History of Race in America course from college. I was going to present questions, and ask for tip of the tongue answers. Questions like:
A child is born. The mother is black and the father white. Is this child white or black?
And I was going to tell you that the reason your mind immediately answered “black” was because of a rule known as the “one drop rule,” which said that if a person had just one-drop of “colored” blood in their body, then they were black. I was going to talk about how, once upon a time not too long ago, people of color were asked ON THE OFFICIAL U.S. CENSUS to classify themselves as an quadroon or octoroon:
A quadroon meant you were 1/4 black. An octoroon meant you were 1/8 black. I wanted to show how we’re ALL color conscious. How we’ve been slowly and subtly trained to see color. I was going to talk about how none of us are special. How if this is the history of the culture in which we were raised, then of course we would subconsciously adopt the same ways of thinking.
I was going to show how people of color see color too. How the unconscious prejudices and biases we hold, like measuring the degree of a person’s blackness, are learned behaviors that have slowly trickled down, like raindrops on a window, passing from one generation to the next:
Shaq: “Well I am known as the black Steph Curry”
Kenny: “Steph Curry is black”
Shaq: “Steph Curry’s light skinned, I’m black”
— TheWarriorsTalk (@TheWarriorsTalk) February 17, 2019
I was going to talk about how, for whatever reason, dark has always seemed to be equated with bad. The darker the radar on a weather map, the worse the storm. The darker a country’s color, the worse their COVID situation:
I was going to say that maybe, maaaaaaybbbe, if this is the logic we apply to pandemics and weather reports, that it’s probably the same logic we subconsciously apply to people? That maybe, the “dark is bad” way of thinking is the reason why a multi-billion dollar skin lightening industry exists?
I was going to show that (gasp!!) even black people can be racist. How in the United States, a country so steeped in racism and racial divides, it’s silly for anyone to be naive enough to think that because they’re the oppressed, they’re somehow magically immune from prejudice.
I was going to use examples. Like how, if I, a white man, called a black opponent a “bitch-ass black boy”, things wouldn’t be forgiven with an apology and a handshake:
Montrezl Harrell to Luka Dončić:
“Bitch ass white boy…” pic.twitter.com/oJnpq8bg6g
— Bambino (@AwkwardSylynce) August 22, 2020
But the more I wrote and researched and read and talked with friends about racism, the less I wanted to work on this piece. I became grumpy. “This was the time,” I thought to myself. And I was wasting it.
But I couldn’t help it. The more I read and researched, the more I was pushed inward. In my attempt to show everyone else their own racism, I was forced to face my own. And I didn’t like what I saw.
I recounted memories I would rather forget. Like the time when I was a teenager playing video games with a black friend in my basement and I screamed the word “nigger” out loud at a video game character. I don’t know why I said this. The character wasn’t even black. He was Italian. The word just came out. I had been experimenting with the “n” word with my white friends. The word was so forbidden, so taboo, we just had to play around with it, same as we did our parents vodka bottles and our neighbors’ mailboxes.
It hurt me to remember this story. My stomach twists as I type the keys. I can still feel the tension in that room as we sat for almost an hour and played, neither of us speaking to one another. I’m not sure why I didn’t apologize. I guess I hoped we could just forget what I said.
I remembered other stories. Like how one time, while working as a bar back, a beautiful blonde woman approached the bar to order a drink. After ordering, she turned and affectionately touched the shoulder of the guy she was with to ask what he wanted. The guy had had his back to me, so I couldn’t see his face. As he turned to answer, I froze and stared, momentarily stunned to find out he was black. I only froze for a second or two, but that second was all that was needed. They both understood my surprise. I was shocked a beautiful white woman was dating a black guy. Before I could tell them I was only a bar back and couldn’t even take orders, the woman told me to forget it and asked for her tab. They left shortly after.
I wish I could make these wrongs right. I wish I could connect with my friend and apologize. I wish I could somehow tell this couple how horrible I feel for the way I acted. But we cannot change what is done. The only hope is to improve things going forward. Which is why I am here.
But here is not such a comfortable place to be. I cannot help but wonder about my black friends who read this. What will they think? Will they look at me differently after? I have clients who are of other ethnicities. I have clients who are in inter-racial marriages. What will they say? Will they want to stop working with me? My nephew’s best friend is black. What will he say when he is old enough to read this? Is there a place of forgiveness for my sins?
My memories, and others, forced me to dive deeper. To ask uncomfortable questions of myself, such as:
“Why does it make me feel uncomfortable to write this?”
“Why am I so set on educating people about how we’re all racist?”
“Why do I want black people and latino people and Asian people to admit that they too can be racist?”
Was I looking for justification for my own behaviors? Perhaps a little company to make me feel better about my own sins? My truth was beginning to surface, but I still wasn’t ready to look it in the eye. So I distracted myself with other work. And then, after sharing earlier drafts of this piece with some friends — black friends and latino friends and super-smart friends who use phrases like “neo-liberal capitalism” — I realized something:
What the fuck do I know?
What do I know about you and your life and how you perceive the world?
What do I know about injustice? What do I know about police discrimination and of feeling inferior solely because the color of my skin? What do I know about growing up in a world where my race is not represented. About constantly seeing cultural heroes, whether a Marvel character or an actor or a singer, be of an entirely different race than me. How can my being denied entry into a Korean-only bar compare to the uncountable number of times black teachers in Korea were denied jobs simply because of the color of their skin?
I realized I could not preach to you about who you are and why. I cannot intellectually tell you how to accept and admit your own racism. There is enough of that going around already. I have to show you. I must, as Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “Be the change I want to see.” And the only way to do that it by telling you my truth.
So I’m gonna start this off like they do in AA, with a healthy dose of admission:
My name is Nate and I’m a racist.
Now before you tweet a link to this post and start the whole cancelling process, hear me out. Because like I said in the beginning, I have lots to say. One of them being this:
You’re probably racist too.
The Two Realities
“The first rule is you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
A little over two years ago, I was talking to my aunt on the phone. It was the middle of the first month of the pandemic and we had scheduled a FaceTime call to catch up. We talked about my life in Mexico. We talked about the pandemic. My aunt was pretty cautious about COVID. She is older and a smoker for most of her adult life. As we talked, I asked her if she felt “more vulnerable to this virus because of your smoking and because your lungs might be more compromised?”
And then, with just the slightest pause, my aunt looked back at the screen and said “You know honey, your lungs are compromised too.”
There are two realities in life. The reality of who we think we are and the reality of who are actions dictate us to be. Often, these realities can be very different from one another.
In my mind’s eye, I wasn’t a smoker. Nope, not me. I wasn’t one of those dirty smokers with their stained fingers and bad habits and total lack of discipline. But as soon as my aunt said this, I took a step and realized that in the reality dictated by my actions, I was. I saw how ever since college, I had smoked. Joints, cigarettes, cigars, vapes. I saw how smoking had been one of the few constants in my life all the way from college to Korea to South America and now, to Mexico. In fact, at the time of my phone with my aunt, I still smoked cigarettes when I drank. I constantly pestered friends to let me hit their vape. As I write this sentence, two cigarettes sit in a small ashtray to my right. It was easy to spot my aunt’s short-comings. My own, not so much.
I saw the slight ways in which I separated myself from the smokers. I wouldn’t, for example, buy cigarettes or vape pens very often. I would always bum off other people. If there is a Hall-of-Fame for bumming cigarettes or vape pens, I am a first-ballot entry.
As I worked on this piece, I realized my racism was much like my smoking. In my mind’s eye, I wasn’t racist. Not me. I wasn’t one of those dirty, ignorant hillbillies with the confederate flags that hang off the back of their truck. I was the enlightened one. The world traveler who hasn’t lived in a pre-dominantly white country for close to seven years. The guy who is typing this very sentence from a Mexican pueblo in a neighborhood whose population is 99.9% Mexican. I speak Spanish. I have black friends and latino friends. I’ve dated black women and Asian women and Mexican women. Nope. Not me. No how, no way. I voted for Obama for God’s sake. Twice.
But as I went inward and I looked closer, my actions showed a reality much different from the one my mind had created. I saw how, throughout my life, I have had very few close friends who were of a different race. I’ve only had two close black friends. Even though I’ve lived in Latin America for more than five years, I only have a handful of Mexican and Colombian friends.
I saw how, even though I’ve ventured to the far corners of the Earth, wherever I went I always seemed to drift towards people who looked like me. I stuck with the “us” and kept my distance from “them.” In Korea, my best friends were all white guys. Sure, I dated Korean girls and had some Korean friends, but the majority of my time was spent with other ex-pats.
I remembered how my friends and I used to mock Koreans. How we shook our heads at the Korean tourists who would travel to the Philippines only to walk some of the world’s most beautiful beaches in a bucket hat, long-sleeved shirt and pants. How we made fun of the Korean couples who wore the same outfit. How we chuckled at the passion Korean people had for all things Korea. How we looked down at Korean guys and called them pussies for wailing so dramatically on the basketball court.
None of us ever explicitly said this, but I know we all on some level felt we were better than Koreans. Foreigners had status in Korea. We were revered for our culture, our English, our looks and yes, even our height. I cannot speak for the others, but this status made me feel good. And superior to those who were revering me.
It’s easier now to see how this behavior was driven by insecurity. We were foreigners, living far from home in a country where we didn’t speak the language. Plus, we each had our own individual insecurities. Insecurities that played a large part in our decision to move across the world, to a place where work was easy and women worshipped us. I know this was the case for me. And i can see now, how having someone below me made me feel better about them.
When I moved to South America, I more readily embraced the culture and the people of the countries I visited. I made more friends and was better about opening myself up. But I was still careful to keep my distance. I was always on guard, constantly suspicious. If, for example, a tieñda owner or waitress made a mistake with my bill, my first thought was that they were trying to rip off the gringo, not they they might be tired from working a 12 hour shift. I suspected every Colombian teenage boy that passed by me of being a thief. In Peru, I griped at how it seemed the locals were only interested in wanting to sell me stuff.
As I sat back and came to terms with my racism, the logical next question popped into my head:
“Ok, why does this exist?”
And for that, I had to go back to my childhood.
Now, before I go on, I want to be clear that I am not trying to make excuses for my behavior. I accept full responsibility for my actions. After the age of about 8, I knew better. I could feel in my gut what was right and what was wrong and I chose not to be better. My racism is mine to own and mine to accept responsibility for.
But we all come from somewhere. And our somewhere’s shape who we become. I was not born racist, just as I was not born sexist or homophobic or agnostic. These are learned behaviors.
I thought back to my upbringing in Wisconsin, one of the sneaky most-racist states in the entire United States. Milwaukee, the state’s largest city and where I attended university, is one of the country’s most segregated cities. Just check out this little heat map:
We knew this when I lived there. West of the river was black, east of the river was white. wrongand choosI saw how my racism was equal parts primal, parental and political. It was my instinct to divide subconsciously reinforced by hundreds of thousands of tiny experiences.
Experiences like driving with my grandparents to our favorite pizza restaurant in my hometown and hearing them comment about how now that it’s summer, “the schwarze” were out on their porches. My grandparents were both German. Schwarze is the German word for black.
Or the uncountable number of times I heard family members, people I looked up to, make racist jokes. I thought about how everyone would chastise these people, but they would do it with a smile on their face and a laugh in their belly.
I remembered how, as a kid, I was afraid of black people. How I would roll up the window when a black person would ride past on their bicycle, certain that they were going to slow down and shoot me. Not because I had any reason to be, but because of the ideas that the media created about how dangerous black men were. It seemed like every other night, I watched a news broadcast I had seen the movie Boyz n’ Tha Hood when I was way too young and it
The Come Up
“The truth will set you free. But first, it will make you miserable.”
– James Garfield
As my truth became more clear, I began to work on not being racist. For whatever reason, it was the black community that received the majority of my “woke” energy. Perhaps it was sub-conscious guilt coming to the surface. Perhaps I was influenced by what was happening in our country socially and my ego demanded I keep up with the times as they changed. Whatever the case, it was awkward.
I overcompensated. I treated black people like they were a girlfriend I had cheated on. I was overly polite. I held doors open for much longer than was necessary. I over-extended myself to strike up conversation, even in situations when the person clearly wasn’t interested in talking to me. I made it a point to make eye contact and say hello, even when there was absolutely no need to do this. Every black guy got a head nod, every black woman a big ole’ smile.
“Look. Look at me. Look at how nice and open-minded and forward thinking I am. Look. See, I’m not racist. I’m not like them.”
Most people, bless their hearts, were kind. They smiled back and were patient. Others ignored me. Some looked at me as if I were crazy.
It wasn’t until later, when I was watching a documentary about the TV series Schitt’s Creek that I realized this wasn’t the solution. In Schitt’s Creek, one of the the dominant love stories is between two men. They meet, start a business, fall in love and eventually get married. And they do it all without any of the typical drama associated with gay relationships. Neither character is ex-communicated by their family. Neither has any self-loathing demons they need to overcome. There isn’t a typical townie who works to ruin the relationship and who needs to be converted from their homophobic ways. The town and the characters in the show accept the couple, without ever saying a word.
I remember watching the show and thinking to myself how this was the first time had ever watched a show where a gay relationship was portrayed so openly and normally.
after a little bit that my overcompensation was not the answer. That the goal was not to overly and explicitly acknowledge a person’s blackness. The goal wasn’t to went out of my way to do things for them that I normally wouldn’t do for anyone.
Over time I realized that sucking up to black people wasn’t the answer. I realized that being nice to someone just because of their race was kind of the same as being cruel to someone because of their race.
I remember having this realization hit me when I was watching a documentary about the TV show Schitt’s Creek. The hit Canadian TV show after a little bit that my overcompensation was not the answer. That the goal was not to overly and explicitly acknowledge a person’s blackness. The goal wasn’t to went out of my way to do things for them that I normally wouldn’t do for anyone.
I knew the heavy lifting was done. Now that I accepted who I was, the rest would come down to simple awareness. I tried to be conscientious of how I responded to individual situations. When, for example, a black woman cut me off while driving,
I’ve used the word maliciously as a young adult. Drunkenly, my experimental days of my youth came back. It hurts me to confess these things. I feel shame. I question my own character. I worry about my black friends. What will they think? I think about my clients who are black. Will they want to stop working with me because of this? I hope they will understand what I am trying to do here. But I wouldn’t blame them for turning the page either.
My racism isn’t personal. Personally, I love everyone. If you meet me on the street with a smile, I’ll smile right back at ya and strike up a conversation. I have friends who are black and have dated black women. I believe whole-heartedly in racial equality. But I don’t actively work to support the advancement of people of color. That’s a “them” problem, not an “us” problem.
“You know man, I actually think the South is less racist than the North.”
It is the summer of 2021 and I am on my way to the airport in an Uber. I had struck up a conversation with my driver. He was a very bright man. He was also a man who had seen some things. He fought in the Vietnam War. After, he served in South Korea. We bonded over Korea. We talked about Korean culture and food.
Eventually our talk turned towards racism. This man was black. He had grown up in the South, moved abroad and then moved to Milwaukee. There was something about him. I felt like I could learn from him. Like I could
“Can I ask you something? As someone who has lived abroad, do you think that the
Embracing the Truth
“The truth will set you free. But first, it will make you miserable.”
– James Garfield
In an article on the firing of former Raiders coach Jon Gruden over racist emails Gruden sent several years back, writer William C. Rhoden wrote that “in the war on racism, there is no statute of limitations. War criminals should be sought out and punished.”
While I appreciate the sentiment, I think this rhetoric is too strong. If the guilty, such as myself, live in constant fear of persecution for their misdeeds, then how will they ever admit them, either to others or to themselves? They will not. They will continue to deflect and defer and suppress the truth, individually contributing to the preventing any of us from moving forward.
The way to get someone to change is not to shame them and beat them and show them how bad they are. It is to do the opposite. It is to create a place of love and acceptance and harmony that they will naturally want to join and be a part of. You don’t get people to come to your party by telling them how shitty everyone else’s parties are. You get them to come to your party by throwing a kick-ass party.
I know that this is not what the black community wants to hear. I know that there are still layers of anger and frustration with this narrative of, “just wait, just be patient, just let things run their course.”
But so many of the black people who will read this post are more than just black. You are parents and teaches and bosses and mentors. Surely you have seen this theory in action in other parts of your life. Surely you have seen that the best way to get a kid to play a game with you is to not yell at him and tell him how unappreciative he is of his family time, but rather just to play and have fun until he eventually comes over and joins.
re mothers and fathers. They are bosses. They are coaches and teachers. Test my theory in another area of your life. For the teachers and coaches, when you have a student who refuses to listen or participate, try screaming at them and telling them how terrible they are. Then try ignoring them and creating a really fun environment with the rest of your students and see what draws them in.
This isn’t over. The changes that we as a people need will take time. And they will take individual acceptance for our own actions. We are a tipping point historically. But change takes time. Always has, always will.
|Unconscious bias||Also known as implicit biases, are the underlying attitudes and stereotypes that people unconsciously attribute to another person or group of people that affect how they understand and engage with them. Many researchers suggest that unconscious bias occurs automatically as the brain makes quick judgments based on past experiences and background|
My racism is subtler, more hidden. I treat people of color differently. I am, to this day, very aware of skin color. When a black person enters a room, the color of their skin is the first thing I notice. Immediately, there is a friction, a tension that I can’t always describe. Perhaps its guilt. Maybe I know deep down I have been racist in the past and that the game has been rigged in my favor and I want to make up for it. Maybe this is why I initiate conversations with black people that I would never initiate a white person. Maybe my acceptance from them is really me searching for acceptance of myself.
Sometimes I feel an urge to want to help black people. To bring them up. To bring them into the fold and make them feel comfortable among the large group of white people they are hanging out with. My sister tells me it’s called being a “white savior.” This is another symptom of my racism. I am cool with everybody, but 90% of my friends are white. I don’t ever hang out with a group of all- black guys. My friend Joel, who is black, he can do this. I’m not always so sure that I can.
It hurts my stomach to read that last sentence. It causes me shame and makes me question my own character. I worry about my black friends. What will they think? Or my clients that are black. Will they want to stop working with me because of this? I hope they’ll see what I’m doing and understand, but the world is not a kind place for admission of fault these days.
My racism isn’t personal. Personally, I have friends who are black and have dated black women. Nor is it premeditated. My racism is subtler. It’s primal, but it’s also paternal and political. It’s a natural instinct subconsciously reinforced by hundreds of thousands of tiny experiences.
Experiences like driving with my grandparents through a predominantly black neighborhood and commenting about how now that it’s summer, “the schwarze” were out on their porches. Schwarze is the German word for black.
Experiences like the time a group of black kids kicked the shit out of me and my friends. Or the times when family members said openly racist things or used the “n” word and most of my family members laughed things off in a “well, he isn’t entirely wrong” type of manner.
Some of the experiences were cultural. As a kid, I was terrified every time a car with black men pulled up next to ours. Why? Because I watched Boyz N’ Tha Hood and saw Knucklehead gun down Ricky. thought every random black guy I saw was going to whip around and shoot me, just cuz.
I have made racist jokes. I have made them about black people, latin people and Korean people. I don’t make them anymore, but I’ve made em.
I have been in the presence of blatant racists who have said despicable things and have done nothing to condemn them. Most of the time I would let out a “c’mon man” and just shake my head.
It hurts me to admit I am racist. It attacks my ego and a fundamental sense of who I like to believe I am. I’d love to look at myself as the enlightened, well-traveled lover of all people. But the truth is that I still have some bad mental habits to kick.
To this day, I still have the awful habit of making snap judgements about people based on the color of their skin.
To this day, I still have the awful habit of making snap judgements about people based on the color of their skin. The thoughts may only flash through my mind for a second
Experiences like driving with my grandparents through a mainly black neighborhood and having them comment that it was summer and now “the schwarze” were out on their porches. Schwarze is the German word for black.
Experiences like growing up in a rough neighborhood and having the shit kicked out of me by a group of black kids. oing to visit my grandparents at their country club and being served by an all-black waitstaff. Or sitting in front of the TV and watching as yet another young black man was shown being taken away in handcuffs. Or sitting at the adult table at dinner parties and hearing family members, people who in my mind were heroes, share opinions that I can now see are obviously racist.
To this day, I still have the awful habit of allowing my built-in prejudices to make mental snap judgements. If a black woman cuts me off, my mind defaults to “black people are reckless drivers” before it ,an interaction with a stranger based on the color of the skin. If a black women cuts me off, my mind will immediately it’s not The thoughts may only flash through my mind for a second
These small experiences, like waves hitting a large rock on shore, shape us. They shape how we view the world and the people in it.
To this day, I still have the awful habit of making assumptions on the content of a person’s character based on the color of their skin.
On paper, you’d classify me as pretty open.
I am white, but I have not lived in a predominantly white country for close to seven years. First it was Korea. Then Colombia. Now Mexico. In fact, this very sentence is being typed from a Mexican pueblo, in a neighborhood whose population is 99% Mexican.
I have friends who are black. I have dated black and latina women. I believe in changing the systemic disadvantages that people of color face on a daily basis.
But it’s foolish for me to think I’m not racist. To believe that because I live in another country and speak another language and date people who look different than me that I’m good. That my subconscious is somehow wiped clean of the thousands of societal and familial and cultural influences and experiences that have shaped how I view the world.
Because the truth is while I look like a racially tolerant person on paper, deep down I’m still a racist. And here’s the kicker:
You are too.
If you’re openly using the “n” word, you’re obviously a racist. But only if you’re white, right? If you’re black, it’s all good.
Relax. I’m not going to get into reverse racism. It’s just another example of the societal rules we are taught. Of the ways that we subconsciously divide ourselves.
Systemic and institutional racism are quite trendy topics these days. They are beliefs that most people, especially intellectual white people, are ready to hop on board with. I am a part of this group. I agree that the system is flawed and that there are policies set up against people of color.
But individual racism? But systemic racism only exists because individual racism exists as well. Without us, is there a system? Philosophically, the system may be separate from us, but in reality we are the system. We live in it, work in it and maintain it. So if the system is racist, then individuals inside the system must be too.
Just not you, right?
I am writing this post to try to help. To try and help white people admit the racism that still lives inside them. My hope is that if more of us can admit who we are individually, that maybe our admission will help to change things systemically.
It’s always easier to admit something when other people admit it as well. When you know that you are not the only one.
So I am going to show you a pattern. A pattern that helped me to accept my racism.
Patterns are essential to how we learn. Just look at counting. First we learned the symbols for the ten numbers. We learned the pattern for how those ten numbers were arranged:
Then we learned how to create larger numbers. The pattern stays the same, we just learned to change the number in front:
10, 11, 12, 13
20, 21, 22, 23
When we got to the hundreds, we added a 0 to the pattern:
101, 102, 103, 104
201, 202, 203, 204
It’s the same with most things. Reading and writing is all about patterns. Patterns of letters make words, patterns of words make sentences and patterns of sentences create thoughts.
Understand this why sentence above not and do you one the?
Why do you understand this sentence and not the one above?
Because I arranged the words in a pattern that made sense to you.
When you look at patterns in how we treat one another, it won’t take you long to see that one thing we really like to do is divide ourselves. To create groups and factions. To draw lines, buddy up and separate from one another. There is “us” and there is “them.” Way before it was Christian vs. Muslim, or black vs. white, it was Mayan vs. Aztec and Greek vs. Persian.
Skin color doesn’t matter. Black people do it to black people. They, if only jokingly, divide themselves:
“It’s not about what you get, or even what you give… it’s what you become. ”
There’s much talk these days about systemic racism and how things could improved and who needs to be cancelled. But we are the system. We built it, run it and vote for who controls it. Systemic racism only exists in the presence of individual racism. And systemic change will only come after individual acceptance.
I was going to talk about the silly ways in which I’ve divided myself from others. How, after only a few months of living in a small beach town, I mentally began to identify as a local. How I would use this new “identity” to separate myself from the silly tourists with their brightly colored shirts and stupid vacation hats. The poor saps who had to come visit here, while I got to live here.
Never mind that I’m not local, nor Mexican. Never mind that the people I was separating myself from looked like me, spoke the same language as me and shared similar cultural interests. A s I imagine it is in all beach towns around the world, it is cool to be local. It gives you a certain status. I wanted that status. I wanted to be cool, or feel cool. So I separated myself from “them” and joined the “us.”
because obviously we’ve moved past the point of believing black people are superior to white people solely because of their genetic make-up, right?
If you paused, even just slightly, to re-read that last sentence to make sure you read it correctly, then thank you. Because showing surprise or second-guessing the idea that black people are superior to white people is an example of the deep-seated racism I’m going to write about.