How I Came to Realize “Racist” May Apply to Me: An Open Letter to Myself

21 Day ChallengeDear Maegan,

Much to your surprise and chagrin, you may be racist sometimes.

The Part of You Committed to Personal Evolution

How horrifying is the idea of labeling yourself as “racist”? It’s HORRIFYING. But also severely important.

As a part of the inter sectional and shared values committee at my place of employment, we were invited to take a 21 day challenge that would give an opportunity each day to educate ourselves on racial equity. Debby Irving, a racial justice educator and author created the challenge coined “21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge” in which we will intentionally read, listen, notice, watch, connect, engage, or act each day for 21 days to expand our framework. Click on the link if you’re interested in taking this journey with me.

I am currently on day 4, and like a true overachieving book-worm, I have already read a book on the subject, several articles and op eds, and listened to a few podcasts. Where else can I amalgamate my thoughts and feelings if not my blog? So here we go, friends. If you’re not interested in reading my revelations on this subject, just know that the takeaway is that I can often be a racist person who judges people before I even know them and acts upon that judgement. Surprise, if you have a brain, you have bias. Let’s begin the awkward and often depressing journey of acknowledging our own biases in an effort to move more fluidly through our frameworks. 21 Day Challenge Day 2

To begin my journey, I connected with a local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). Their next meeting is a book club meet up to discuss the book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. I purchased and read the book that night. It’s only 182 pages, but it packs a wallop that forced me to give myself time and space to process. First of all, let me say that this book challenged me on many different levels. I found myself becoming angry and refusing to admit that I do some of the things she talks about well meaning (or not so well meaning) white folks do. I found myself justifying my bias and wanting to stop reading immediately. I had to put down the book several times to allow myself to take a step back to realize that this is what this book SHOULD be doing. Did it make me mad? Was it hard to read at some points? Yes. Did I realize a whole cadre of biases I had that I didn’t know were there? Yes. Do I now realize just how often I need to check myself and my biases? Yes. I highly, HIGHLY recommend this book. I learned so much about myself, the framework through which I view the world, how that interacts with society, and how I can stop being an asshole by acting upon my biases that I didn’t know were there. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

  1. “The ideology that whiteness is supreme, better, best, permeates the air we breathe — in our schools, in our offices, and in our country’s common life. White supremacy is a tradition that must be named and a religion that must be renounced. When this work has not been done, those who live in whiteness become oppressive, whether intentional or not.”
  2. “My white teachers had an unspoken commitment to the belief that we are all the same, a default setting that masked for them how often white culture bled into the curriculum.”
  3. “This is partly what makes the fragility of whiteness so damn dangerous. It ignores the person-hood of people of color and instead makes the feelings of whiteness the most important thing… If Black people are dying in the street, we must consult with white feelings before naming the evils of police brutality. If white family members are being racist, we must take Grandpa’s feelings into account before we proclaim our objections to such speech. If an organization’s policies are discriminatory and harmful, that can only be corrected if we can ensure white people won’t feel bad about the change. White fragility protects whiteness and forces Black people to fend for themselves.”
  4. “White people desperately want to believe that only the lonely, isolated, “white only” club members are racist. That is why the word racist often offends “nice white people” so deeply. It challenges their self-identification as good people. Sadly, most white people are more worried about being called racist than about whether or not their actions are in fact racist or harmful… They want to believe their proximity to people of color makes them immune. That if they smile at people of color, hire a person of color, read books by people of color, marry or adopt a person of color we won’t sense the ugliness of racism buried in the psyche and ingrained in the heart.”This really opened my eyes to the idea that “White Supremacy” is not just the group of people who identify as Neo-Nazis committing hate crimes in a city that is not mine. It’s so much more than that. It’s the idea that White is Right; the idea that “colorblindness” is a good thing that makes white people just and tolerant. I’ve heard this several times and understood that it doesn’t feel right, but don’t I want to believe that all people aren’t fundamentally the same. Hello, that’s White Supremacy. We want to believe that everyone is like us. We don’t want to see color and the injustices people who are not white experience every day, sometimes multiple times a day. We want to believe that we are good (white) people who do not have biases against anyone different than us. This book showed me that idea is COMPLETE SHIT. No matter how evolved you are, how many diversity workshops you’ve attended or even presented at, no matter how many times you have liked a racial justice post on a social media platform you, we still have implicit bias because we have a brain.

What are your thoughts on this? Does this ring as true for you as well? Thanks for hanging on with me through that longer post. Happy self-reflecting 🙂

With kindness and the eternal pursuit of personal growth and development,

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