First – thanks to Chris for this image of me from yesterday, on top of Old Glory obviously I am either getting my camera out of my case or putting it back. Duh.
And now to address the title of this post. I was driving over to Nicky’s place this afternoon when I caught an interview on CBC with a black female author who stated categorically that all white people are racist – not because they choose to be and perhaps (probably) not even consciously. She said that we tend to believe in freedom of choice: that we choose what we think and feel, and we choose our attitudes.
But that, she said, does not take into account how we were raised by our parents and it certainly does not consider the enormous influences of the society we live in: our education both formal and informal; it does not take into account the subtle messages we are bombarded with every day as we grow up, and right into our adulthood. I mean – if you’re my age (or quite a bit younger) how many black Barbie Dolls did you see on the store shelves?
Her premise, and I agree with her, is that try as you might to believe otherwise, you grew up racist – with racist attitudes. If you are white, you grew up and continued to live in this society, believing that white people are superior to those with coloured skin.
Intellectually, it’s preposterous. How can the pigment of your skin determine your worth? That’s like saying brunettes are better than blonds. It’s stupid.
But there it is.
After listening to the program, I chose to take a hard look at myself – at how I was raised and at the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, messages I grew up with and continued to live with right to the present day. My parents absolutely believed white people were better. I had no black friends growing up in Northern Ontario and nor did I have any in Toronto. There were no black kids in my high school that I can remember – or First Nations. My first genuine encounter with a black person was my first black boyfriend.
Like most “progressives” I don’t think of myself as racist. I believe in equal rights for all I will and have protested and marched for that. But deep down inside lurks the beast. And I feel the shame of those learned feelings that don’t feel like they belong to me even though they do. Can I ever eradicate that early training or the messages from society that are so deeply ingrained?
I don’t know. The only tools I have are my willingness to combat my discomfort with empathy – my willingness to listen to black and brown voices, and to be open to learning a helluva lot.
And the only place I can start is by telling the truth. I am a racist.