Updated: Oct 12, 2020
WARNING: FOUL LANGUAGE.
Dear racists (and white people who don’t think you are racist),
I used to be just like you.
I grew up in a middle class, white, conservative, racially prejudiced family. My grandmother was an old Italian woman who saw people of color as less than and different from her. Those beliefs were taught to my mom, not directly, but through watching and learning, just as they were to me.
I was never told “black people are bad” or “black people are less than us” or “black people are …. “ anything, really. It was just an attitude. It was the remarks after watching the news. It was the comments made about different races that weren’t white. It was the company we kept. It was the silence about racial differences.
I grew up in a tiny, white suburban town with only two black kids in my grade. Families in town all knew one another, were up in each other’s business all the time, and congregated together at functions. I don’t remember Phil or Mike’s families ever being present at parties or events. I was surrounded by whiteness.
So, when I moved to a private, catholic high school, which happened to be relatively diverse, I remember being terrified. I had never been around that many black people in my life. And I can honestly tell you that I was nervous for my safety. I associated that much color in one space with crime.
I wasn’t taught otherwise. Between my home and what the media showed you, crime wasn’t committed by white people. I associated crime with black.
Over time, I made good friends with people of color and my overall fears of safety fell at the wayside.
But those underlying beliefs that black people were “other” were still there.
I can quote myself, verbatim, as a teenager. “I’m not racist, I have black friends,” as I’m sure many of us have said at some point in our lives.
I thought racism or racial prejudice was about whether or not I had an outward hatred toward black people or people of color. I thought to be racist meant I wouldn’t ever associate with someone of color because I had the conscious thought that they were less than me.
That’s what a lot of white people think.
We think that white supremacy means we are part of the KKK. We think that racism is calling people of color the n word (which I used to say and think was okay “because they say it in rap music.” We think that racial prejudice is an overall hatred of people of color.
I remember being in high school, watching the news with a family member, and something about race came up. There were protests of some kind (I don’t remember what it was about because things like that didn’t involve me, so why care? Right?). A woman came on the screen and was clearly enraged at the treatment of black people, angry at white people, and sharing her thoughts.
I remember the conversation we had.
I remember our eye rolls. I remember the “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me’s” and “give me a fucking breaks.”
I remember the “it’s not my fault your great, great grandfather was a slave. I didn’t do it. When are you going to get over something that happened way before your time? You’re the reason racism still exists because you can’t get over it and keep bringing it up!”
“I mean come on, have you seen Remember the Titans? We have come SO far since then. Racism isn’t here anymore! Everyone is equal! We can all go to the same places and do the same things.”
These were common things I heard in my teenage life. In my non-racist home.
This was my belief system until I was 18.
Until I got an education. A REAL education.
They don’t teach you about true racial injustice, oppression, discrimination, or white supremacy in high school. Unless you grow up in a home that teaches you truth, unless you do your research … unless you even understand there is research to be done, you lack that education and that understanding.
I went to school for psychology, and went on to get my masters in clinical mental health care and human services.
It’s funny how much we think we know about people before we get an education on people. Because “people” isn’t just whites. “People” is every race, every ethnicity, every religion, every gender, every sexuality, every damn thing that makes up a human being. If you plan to work with “people,” in particular, their mental health, their minds,you need to have an understanding of where they come from, and understanding of how different the human experience can be across races, cultures, and so on.
I can remember just how red and uncomfortable I felt in lectures, while reading books, while doing research writing papers on social inequalities and injustices that have plagued and continue to plague our world for centuries.
I remember learning just how radically different the life of a white person is from a person of color; the things we couldn’t even fathom understanding; the things I thought only happened decades ago and were since long gone.
I remember learning that I. Didn’t. Know. Shit.
And how could I have even pretended to know what an entire race of people went through, when I cant even begin to understand what any other person in this world goes through?
My initial response was resistance. My secondary response was discomfort. My third was embarrassment. My fourth was guilt. My fifth was empathy, what little understanding I could have without being a person of color and having experienced it myself, and compassion.
Now? Passion. And anger.
Anger that this is something that every single white person hasn’t been encouraged to explore and understand to try and dismantle the systems in place that continue to oppress people of color and make their lives So. Much. Fucking. Harder. As if being human isn’t hard enough.
Here’ s the thing about being human. We like to think that our beliefs are what’s truth.
Beliefs aren’t facts. Beliefs are learned. And while it takes a little more conscious effort than the initial sets of beliefs we have, new ones can be formed.
I learned to be racist through a system that was built on the oppression of black people. I learned to be racist through my upbringing, that according to those who brought me up, weren’t racist or prejudiced. I learned that whites are different from people of color. I learned that “they” are “other.” And because these beliefs weren’t creating behaviors of violence or “intolerance,” I assumed these beliefs were just.
I viewed my family as good people. We didn’t wish harm on others. We didn’t turn people away who needed help. We didn’t kill anyone. We weren’t criminals (yet...). We were good people.
So how could good people have a racist bone in their body? How could good people have beliefs that were wrong?
Just like you, I didn’t think my beliefs were wrong.
But beliefs. Are. Not. Facts.
For the whites who don’t want to believe that they are racist or prejudiced, who don’t want to believe that it still exists in the world or that we have a deeply rooted problem with racial inequality, police brutality rooted in racism, and oppression of people of color – I hate to burst your bubble, but you are operating on nothing more than a belief.
There is no true, factual evidence that exists that these issues don’t truly exist.
There is only true, factual evidence, through statistics, through history, that prove that this is a problem.
There is only true, factual evidence, that you are compliant and a part of the racism that continues in our world.
Ouch. Yeah I hated hearing that to the first time. Again, I didn’t believe it.
I want to remind you that you don’t have to even be aware that you are doing this. It’s called white privilege. We don’t even have to think about our existence in this world, because it’s just accepted. We are white. We are safe. We are welcome here.
Whether or not you want to believe it is a choice. The fact remains white privilege is something you have.
I’m going to level with you.
I can understand fundamentally why you have a negative response to this. Why on earth would you ever want to admit that you’re racist? Why would you want to admit that you have been part of something so horrific as racial inequality or oppression?
No one would want to think that.
I sure didn’t.
By admitting that, it means you are questioning your character. And “you are a good person!”
Why are you inserting additional narratives to the story?
You can be someone who has not consciously been aware of their racism and prejudices and still be a decent person.
What you are lacking is education.
What are you are lacking is awareness.
Those things do not mean that you are a demon.
Some of what you’ve been taught isn’t even your fault. It’s embedded in our white culture. Prejudices are something that is natural as we learn and shape beliefs around different groups. We can’t outrun an initial prejudice.
But we can unlearn them.
Those things can be countered. Those things can be changed.
I am proof of this.
Education is power. Education is everything.
By not getting an education on this, by not reading FACTUAL information about this (not opinion-based shit), you are complicit in the continuation of racial prejudice and oppression in this world.
Your ignorance is a gift you are given because of your white privilege. You are able to ignore this. You are able to pretend this isn’t real.
People of color don’t have this luxury.
I repeat. By ignoring this, you are complicit.
What do you have to lose by opening up a book? What do you have to lose by understanding a world that you are completely unaware of? What do you have to lose by learning about something other than your own culture and people? What do you have to lose by absorbing facts?
Is it power?
Because if the answer is power, then you are proving my (our) point that whites are in power and we benefit from it every day.
Is it peace?
Because if the answer is peace, then you are proving that ignorance is bliss, and you have been ignorant throughout your life about this. Because you know that the truth is devastating. Because you know that the truth means you have to change. Because you know that the truth means you have been allowing people to die, and to be seen as less than, and to have been treated as “other” and less than human throughout your life.
I’m not at peace anymore.
But I would much rather be filled with rage and discomfort knowing that I am doing what I can to make people of colors lives MATTER.
I write this because I have been you. I write this because I made the choice to not be like you anymore.
It is your choice to stay the way you are. Thinking that how you are makes you a “good person” and that there isn’t anything to change.
It is also your choice whether or not you want to rise up and be a better person.
Because now? Now is what determines whether or not you are the “good person” you claim to be.