Not Being Racist Isn’t Enough.
I recently attended an awards ceremony. I was nominated for a few things, but I didn’t have high expectations. There were many others who had also been nominated and who, in my opinion, had a much better shot at winning. All of a sudden, they called my name! My jaw dropped and I looked to my left and right to see if I had heard correctly. All eyes were on me! I stood up and walked to the stage. As I approached the podium, the announcer handed me the award and said “Congratulations, Anna! You earned this award. You didn’t murder ANYONE this year!”. I gleefully accepted the award, gave my acceptance speech, and returned to my seat.
Okay… maybe that didn’t happen. But do you get where I’m going with this? We don’t receive rewards for NOT doing the things that we shouldn’t be doing.
Recently I had someone break a promise to me. Prior to breaking the promise, they told me “Well at least I’m not breaking my promise…” (as if they deserved some kind of recognition or respect for that). Um, no. It would be pretty crappy if you broke a promise to someone you cared about – but if you don’t break your promise, that doesn’t make you a hero… that just means you’re NOT being crappy.
It’s the same with racism. We shouldn’t get credit, respect, or recognition for NOT being racist – but yet, that’s the world we live in. It’s notable and “respectable” when a white person says they hate racism. But WHY? We’re only standing up against something that was never right in the first place! The only respect or recognition we ought to receive should be for speaking up and using our voices; for actually taking a stand against racism. We shouldn’t get that just for “not participating” in it.
I’m very fortunate to have grown up in a home that taught the truth about skin color and racism. Growing up I was taught that there’s one race: human. My mom would actually put that on the forms we filled out at the doctor’s office when it asked what our “race” was. I even had a boy “My Scene Doll” who had brown skin and a killer smile. His name was Sutton and I named my first car after him (but we won’t go into that today, LOL).
3 Takeaways On Racism:
Throughout the year I’ve come to appreciate the diversity of my group of friends. I’ve had the privilege of having heart-to-hearts with many people from different cultural backgrounds, and I’ve been intentional about the questions I’ve asked them. For those who haven’t had the opportunity (or rather, created the opportunity) to be around culturally diverse people with solid character, I’m going to share three takeaways from conversations I’ve had that I think the world would be better off if it understood.
1) What offends one person, might not offend another (and vice versa)!
I asked one of my friends once if he felt offended by people calling him black. I was curious because my mom would never let me say “the black guy”, she would make us say “the man with dark-skin” or something else that didn’t name a man’s identity by the color of his skin. My friend told me that for him, it really depended on the person who said it (as well as the context it was being said in). Every person is different – what’s racist to one person might not be to another. Know who you’re speaking to – and if the people around you don’t know your heart or don’t know you on a personal level, lean towards the side of caution and respect; don’t toe the line.
2) Be understanding of others’ past experiences and hurts – even if you aren’t “in the wrong”.
I wouldn’t date someone if he treated me like the ex who cheated on him. He would need to heal from that hurt before getting into a relationship (or he’d be paranoid and possibly treat me poorly). On the flip side, if he had been cheated on but he picked himself back up, worked on himself and healed – we might be able to have a successful relationship! Sure, there might be times where he would still feel nervous or uncertain, but he wouldn’t treat me differently because of these fears. And, when those fears come up, I could make an effort to be understanding and to reassure him that I would never do that to him.
It’s not that simple when it comes to racism. People who have been affected by racism don’t have much time to heal. That wound regularly gets reopened. When someone is “sensitive” or mistakes something you did or said as racism – EVEN IF IT WASN’T, try to have some understanding. Wounds don’t heal that well when they’re constantly being reopened, and you never know what recent events and experiences have impacted that persons interpretation of your statement. If it’s appropriate timing, take a moment to explain yourself and your intentions; apologize if necessary. Don’t play the victim role; you are not the victim here. If you’ve been wrongly accused and you’ve explained yourself and the person is still being unreasonable, what you do from that point is up to you. I would personally remove myself from the situation and take a moment to reflect on what I said and figure out how I could’ve rephrased it. I wouldn’t do this because I want to be “careful” around my black friends, but I would do it because I want to be respectful of their feelings and don’t want to ever leave any room for misinterpretation.
I had an interesting encounter with an online coaching client. I had created home workouts for her, and I included “ape walks” in her program. These help improve mobility and build strength in your triceps, core, shoulders, and more! When my client saw that I had put those in her program, she was outraged. She sent me a very angry message demanding that I remove that exercise from her program immediately. I was shocked. I messaged her back and immediately apologized for the offense. I explained that that was not my intention or my heart. I told her that I knew of a very similar movement pattern / exercise, and it was called the “bear crawl”. I asked her if she was offended by the overall movement, or the name of the exercise. She told me that it was the name, so I substituted the exercise and never included “ape walks” in her program (or any other clients program) ever again. Did she overreact? Maybe; but that’s not my place to say. I don’t know what it’s like to walk in her shoes. I didn’t do anything wrong – but I offended someone and touched a wound that hadn’t healed. I explained my intentions, apologized for the misunderstanding, and we were both able to move on and continue working together peacefully.
3) “Reverse racism” isn’t a thing!
The definition of racism is “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized”. The alternate definition is “the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another”. White people have never been identified as a minority, and I personally have never met a member of another ethnicity that believes that white people are superior – from my experience, most just believe that white people were MISCONCEIVED as inferior. This is why we fight for equality. What some white people commonly mistake for “reverse racism” is really just prejudice. Prejudice is defined as “an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason”. See the difference?
One time, while I was dating a black man, we were out for dinner and I excused myself to go to the ladies room. Two women who were sitting near our table stood up and followed me. As soon as we were in the restroom, they cornered me and started criticizing me for dating a black man. They said a lot of things I don’t care to repeat and shoved me into the wall. They pulled one of my extensions out and threw it on the floor. I stood up for myself to some extent, but I also got into a stall as quickly as I could. Once I was in there, they shouted a few other things and finally left the room. I burst into tears for a good 30 seconds – but then I composed myself, dried my face, and walked back to the table. I didn’t even tell the guy I was dating what happened.
The things they said made it clear that they misjudged me. They didn’t know the first thing about me; they didn’t know that I truly loved this man and (at the time) wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. This could’ve been seen as “reverse racism” – but it wasn’t. White people aren’t viewed and discriminated against as a minority. White people don’t have experiences like this regularly. OTHER ETHNICITIES DO. So believe me when I say, prejudice is WRONG and needs to be stopped – but on the topic of racism, it’s not even a point that needs to be mentioned. It’s unrelated. It’s like saying “Yeah, black people are victims of racism – but there are women who are victims of human trafficking, too!”. Yes, that’s true… but that has NOTHING to do with what we’re talking about. When we’re talking about racism, we aren’t talking about prejudice. Leave that conversation for another day.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! I hope these words are received well. I have no unforgiveness or contempt towards anyone involved in the situations or examples mentioned above. I am simply trying to speak up about what’s important to me, and I hope it makes a difference in someone’s life.
I’d like to conclude this with of my favorite Martin Luther King Jr quotes:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Speak up. Be brave. “Not being racist” just isn’t enough.