Sunday, November 13, 2016

I'm Not Racist, But...

This is a phrase I've heard a lot lately.

I'm not racist. I'm not a bigot. I'm not sexist. I'm not homophobic. 

But I voted for Trump.

But I understand why others voted for Trump.

But "All Lives Matter."

But those protesters are too loud/violent/troublesome.


I've struggled greatly this past week. I am not going to pretend like I have all the answers because I most certainly don't. I couple of days after the election, this was what I shared on Facebook:

And I've been doing a lot of thinking and searching and contemplating since.

This isn't about he won and she lost. This isn't about who "my" president is or isn't.

This is about a very ugly side of our society that has now been given validity and permission to change, in a dangerous way, our societal norms. 

For the sake of this blog post, I'm going to focus on racism. But this applies to any aspect of the hate speech and actions perpetuated in the past election season. Feel free to read it while thinking about your attitudes and thoughts about black people or Muslims or the LGBTQ community or women or survivors of sexual violence or disabled people or whatever.

A couple of points to remember.

1. Racism has existed a long, long, long time. Pretty much the entire history of America, in fact. Trump being elected President is not the cause of racism. 

2. Racism will continue to be around for a long time. If Trump had lost the election, racism would still be a reality.

3. This conversation is not for the people who voted for Trump in support of his hatred. This conversation is for the people who are baffled by the response or maybe understand it a little but not the intensity of it. 

4. Not everyone who voted for Trump is a bigot or filled with hate. Not every Republican is a bigot or filled with hate. Not every Democrat is open minded and affirming and loving. 

A big question I've heard from some people is.... how can I be ok with people who voted for Trump or who support people who voted for Trump? How can I get past my anger and hurt and reconnect to people I love or care about?

Well, here's the answer that has been rolling around in my brain.

I will embrace these people because I was once embraced when I was ignorant about racism, too. 

In high school, I became friends with a group of girls and all of them were black. Now, there was no test or questions asked about what I thought of black people or my life experience involving black people. We just got along and had fun and friendships grew. And over the years, through conversations with my friends, through time in a club at school, through experiencing the lives of my friends, I had to face the realization that I was racist.

By virtue of being white, I was racist. 

But I was willing to learn and change and grow. That's what my friends helped me do. There wasn't an agenda or a checklist. None of them had this idea that they were somehow going to take this white girl and teach her how to be not-racist. But it was a natural occurrence. It was a natural consequence of spending time with people who were black.

In college, I didn't know many black people at all. But I did start to connect to other non-white people. Phillipino and Indian and Middle Eastern and Chinese and more. But it was in college that I took a hard look at racism, thanks to my social work degree program. I learned a lot about American history that wasn't really talked about in standard education. I learned about statistics. I learned about the idea of "mob mentality." I learned about societal norms and prejudice. I learned about social injustice.

After college, I started my career in social work. The agency I worked for had a focus on diversity and part of that included a brown bag lunch series designed to encourage conversations about race. This was around the time of Rodney King and the subsequent riots. I was a 23 or 24 year old white girl and as I listened to the experiences of the older black women in the room, I found that I wanted to wave my arms and sing "Good news! I'm not racist! I'm the hope of the future! You can trust me!" The conversation turned to the riots in Los Angeles. And to the idea that a group of black people had attacked a white person. And I very much wanted to know what to do - I'm white and I would want to be part of fighting injustice but is there some way to let people know that I'm not a racist or a bigot or whatever? So that I don't end up attacked? Some way to let them now that I'm one of the good white people? 

That was remarkably ignorant. And pretty damn racist of me. I basically was saying that I wanted my white privilege to allow me safety. That my whiteness should somehow be able to rescue people or be appreciated by black people.

When the response was that a white person getting beat up was.... well.... too bad, so sad.... I was angry. And hurt. I thought it was a really terrible answer. I thought they were the ones being racist! 

And it took another 15 years of reliving that conversation and that idea for it to start to really crack my brain open. 

Take a jump forward and ask me again - how can I love, care about, embrace, help the people who don't see that they are part of this hurt and anger?

I will because my black friends embraced me when I was a racist and didn't know it.

I will because my black co-workers were honest with me about my racism.

I will because my white college professor believed in teaching a bunch of privileged white kids about what racism really is - and she didn't hold back or try to protect our feelings. 

I don't have all the answers. Especially not right now. But if you are willing to really set aside what you think you know and listen, I am willing to be in that discussion with you. I am willing to learn with you. I am willing to find answers together. 

Maybe that is how we all start moving forward. 

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