I don’t say the “n-word.” I have never intentionally discriminated against someone based on their race. I have “Black friends.” I dated outside of my race before I met my husband, and I’ve proudly talked to my children about not “seeing color.” I’ve never considered myself to be racist.
Those all sound like the right things to say and the right way to be, but in reality, I was totally clueless about what it means to be racist or antiracist. Let me explain. One of the first things I learned this last year is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Racism has been around for hundreds of years and is deeply entrenched in many systems. I didn’t know if I was racist or not at the beginning of last year. I don’t blame myself for being confused about this, but I do take the blame for not educating myself about racism until I reached my 40s.
I wasn’t raised to be a racist by my parents, but I remember many racist things happening around me that I did nothing about when I was younger. Once, when I was 10, my friend’s family celebrated “James Earl Ray Day” on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The mother baked a cake, and I can vividly remember the laughter they shared about its evil purpose. I knew it was not OK, but I’m sure I indulged in a piece of cake. It’s such a painful memory for me now. I don’t think I’ve ever shared it with anyone, not even my parents. I can’t go back and change what happened then, but as a mom, I can definitely make sure that my children have the tools they need to cope with a horrible situation like that one now.
As I grew older, I was not exposed to a lot of diversity. When I got to college, my eyes were opened more. I was also fortunate to have a college roommate who was antiracist before being antiracist was cool. I wish I had supported her more, but I was still not ready to learn.
This last year, I realized that I could no longer ignore my implicit bias, and I decided to do something about it. I started reading books, articles, and blogs about race issues. I listened to podcasts and webinars. I joined a book club that intentionally studies books about racial inequality. I have learned so much about myself related to race and my misconceptions. As one small example, I now say “Black” instead of “African American.” I recognize this isn’t a one size fits all solution, but what is more important is that I understand why “African American” may not be the preferred term for all people with Black skin.
I’ve learned that instead of teaching my children to not “see color,” I need to work on helping them understand that Black and Indigenous people of color have their own background and history, and it is beyond important that we try to understand that heritage so we are able to really SEE them.
I’ve learned that I’m not satisfied with just assuming and saying that I am not racist. Instead, I want to do what I haven’t done before, which is to be antiracist. I want to acknowledge the advantages I have because I am white. I’ve attributed my success to many things, hard work, good parents, luck, right time and place, but not the fact that I was born with white skin.
I’m learning little by little how to be antiracist. I’m going to educate myself when I know and when I don’t know, I’ll continue to ask questions. I’ve come so far, but I’ve got a long way to go.