Thursday, January 03, 2013
Awhile back, I wrote this post about how people should buy postage stamps with people of color in an attempt to help solve the race problem. I mentioned in that tongue in cheek way that makes all my regular readers fall in love with me that I wasn't going to make a list of 101 ways to stop being racist, because such a list defeats the whole purpose of everything. There is no such thing as a handy checklist that will magically make you not racist.
Well, wouldn't you know it--ever since I wrote that post, I have noticed in my traffic statistics that people are happening on this blog by typing into google How to stop being racist.
So, I thought about it and decided that if these people are caring enough about this issue to type it into google, then they should have the opportunity to come across an intelligent response written by an intelligent person that experiences racism, that gives them concrete things that they can do do try to improve themselves and the world around them. I really don't think we'll get to 101 things, but you never know...Let's see where the night takes us.
Oh, and I'm sure there will be some overlap with things I've written on this blog previously. That is what happens when you have a blog for 6 years and keep all the posts focused on a limited number of topics.
So, without further ado...
14 Ways to Stop Being Racist
#1) Realize that you a) are racist now and b) will never, ever, ever completely stop being racist. This is the most important rule, which is why I put it first.
You have been living in a society that tells you day in and day out that white people are prettier, smarter, harder working, cleverer, funnier, trustworthier, more talented and basically every good thing more than any person that isn't white could ever hope to be. If you need some examples of what I am talking about feel free to click here, here or here.
Or you can just watch this video, it pretty much sums it up:
So you get these pro-white messages everyday and chances are you have only been interested in learning how to stop being racist for a small percentage of your life. Additionally, not only have you been interested in counteracting these messages for a relatively small period of time, everyday you are still being surrounded by images that reinforce what you learned previously. That is what I call an uphill battle.
Have you ever heard of SMART goals? Good acronym to memorize if you want to acheive a goal.
Well, part of SMART goals is they have to be realistic and achievable. It is neither realistic nor acheiveable to think you can remove every racist thought from your conscious and unconscious mind. So if you want to be SMART, just make the goal to significantly reduce these thoughts and behaviors.
#2) Stop being so afraid of the word racist. I didn't say you were the spawn of Satan, I just said you were racist. This is a big part of why I made up the word racish, but that hasn't really caught on in popular culture yet. When I say you're racist, think about it like if I said you were selfish, or rude or impatient. I'm sure you are all of these things...sometimes. It's a character flaw. Our flaws are what make us human. I'm willing to bet you have many other good qualities, and being racist doesn't discount all those. So chillax.
#3) Yes, there are people more racist than you. So what do you want, a cookie?!! True, you're not going on twitter making racist tweets about the hunger games, and you never, ever say the n-word, even when you're drunk.
Whoop dee do. It doesn't make you better than the white people that do do those things. So just because you voted for Obama twice/dated a black person once/married a black person twice/have a black friend/have a three black friends doesn't make you better than racist hunger games tweet Johnny. Hell, I'm not better than racist hunger games tweet Johnny.
Johnny has problems, and his tweets are just one dysfunctional way that he tries to deal with them. We can all relate to dealing with our problems in dysfunctional ways. I mean think about it: This whole idea of certain people being better than other people is how we got into this whole mess anyway.
#4) Don't ask me questions related to being black that can be answered by doing a quick google search.
Things like, What is Kwanzaa? or Who is Tyler Perry? Don't waste my time asking me things like that--just google it.
Now, if we are friends and you want to ask me,
Do you celebrate Kwanzaa? What's your favorite principle? or,
I find Tyler Perry's movies to be quite ___________, what do you think?
I am probably going to be willing to share my thoughts. This is because you have done some work on your own and aren't coming across as lazy, expecting me to be your magical guide to all things black people.
#5) See more Tyler Perry movies. I'm only partially kidding with this one. This is kind of related to my postage stamps suggestion. The excuse that corporations often give for excluding people of color is that if they are included, whatever product they are hawking won't sell as well. Meaning, white people won't buy it.
Like, why do you think Eminem is the top selling rap artist of all time? Is it because he's the best? No.
It's because millions of white people bought his CD and never bought another rap CD in their lives. That just doesn't make sense to me. It's like, if you're interested in good music, wouldn't you just buy what was good--regardless of the skin color of the person putting it out?
If corporations are truly motivated by money, then it would seem we could get rid of a lot of racism by showing them it was in their financial interest to do so. So if a movie preview featuring black people seems mildly interesting to you--go see it. You like that one song by that black guy? Buy his CD (or hulutube it, or whatever the kids are doing these days.) We live in a capitalist society, and you make your voice heard very clearly by what you choose to spend your money on.
#6)a) Don't touch my hair without permission. b) Don't ask me if you can touch my hair. This has been covered by many black women before me, so I'm going to try to keep the explanation brief. Unless I have explicitly invited you to touch my hair (which is probably never going to happen,) don't. Just don't.
It is not normal for one adult to go up to another adult and to touch a part of the other person's body. The idea that some white people think this is okay brings up memories of white people thinking that black people are just there for their amusement, and that it is okay to violate someone else's boundaries just to satisfy your own curiosity.
#7) Smile more. If you get into the habit of smiling at most everyone you come into contact with, chances are you will end up smiling at the black people that you meet.
Smiles say, I'm nice! I'm friendly! I think you might be nice and friendly too! Let's talk maybe! There's no real downside, as far as I'm concerned.
#8) Go to therapy. This one is related to the previous rule. It's hard to smile if you're not happy. I actually wouldn't recommend it, because I am a fan of expressing your emotions authentically.
However, it is quite possible that the reason that you're not happy is because you need to go to therapy. Not so you can talk about how to be less racist, but so you can discuss unresolved issues from your childhood, or tell someone that big secret that you've only told zero other people in your life, or so you can finally confront and deal the trauma that happened to you in the past that wasn't your fault. I have sung the praises of therapy on this blog before , and that is for one simple reason: because it works.
Here is a nice, comprehensive article about therapy with suggestions on how to find a good pracitioner. I would add that therapy is just like any other profession: there are people that are really good at it, and people that are not. So it is important to find someone that you click with, because the most important indicator of whether or not therapy will be successful is the relationship between the client and the therapist. However, if you go to three different people and find reasons why they all suck, it may be time to examine if it's really them, or just you trying to find a reason not to go to therapy.
#9)Learn more about institutional/structural racism. Like, A LOT more. You may or may not know, but there are different types of racism. You can find other definitions for institutional racism, but the one I'm going to make up now is:
Thinking white people are the best ever + power = Institutional racism.
When I called you racist above, I wasn't really talking about this type of racism. And it is this type of racism that I think is the worst.
Now, wait. The more that I think about it, the more I think I might actually be talking about you. Are you...
A hiring manager?
A loan officer?
A jury member?
A health care professional?
A dictionary writer?
Someone who works in advertising?
I could go on, but you get the point. These people have power, and if they use their power for evil instead of good, it can have serious negative consequences for other people.
And if I may make a sweeping generalization: I think one of the main differences between black people and white people is that black people are much more familiar with institutional racism. Either because they've taken electives in school that have taught them about it, read more about it on their own time, have personal experience with it, or know other black people that do.
So how do you learn more about it? Well, you can start by reading one of the books about it on my goodreads list. Or you can just go to the race section of the library, and pick up whatever looks interesting (that's what I often do.) And if you haven't read my blog before, this post has a nice, depressing summary.
#10 .) Don't tell me within 5 minutes of meeting me that I remind you of a black woman you went to college with.
#11.) Don't be afraid to talk to your kids about race, or give them the impression that race is an off-limits topic in your house. It's like my white friend Serena said in the comments of this post--the less you talk to your kids about race, the more likely they are to be racist. I think that's because the less you speak to them, the more likely they are to be influenced by things like the dictionary.
Also, if you teach your kids that they are not allowed to say people are black, it's reasonable for them to assume that the reason is because being black is bad. Like, that's why our kids can't say the f-word--because it's bad.
We are not color-blind. Being color blind is an actual medical condition, and most of us don't have it.
At the same, you should be careful about saying things like, Everything about us is the same, except the color of our skin. Of course we all want that to be true in some idealized version of the world.
But when you tell a kid that, and then they see that there is only one black family on your street, but several in that crappy neighborhood you drove through that one time on accident, it's very easy for them to think, "Well, why do all these black people live in a crappy neighborhood? They must not try very hard."
We need to be honest with our kids about race (and the country's history related to race,) in the same way that we are honest with them about other uncomfortable topics like sex, sexual abuse, drugs, etc.
We need to give them information that is age-appropriate, and more importantly let them know that as their parents there is nothing that they can't come to talk with us about. Open communication with your kids is like smiling--no downside.
#12) Stop telling me to get over it. I would get over it if it was actually over. But since you're googling, how to stop being racist I think that means we can both agree there is still work to be done. You can read more on my thoughts about getting over it here.
#13) Take an inventory of your life as it relates to race. What is your earliest memory about race? Try to remember it with as much detail as possible, trying to incorporate all of the five senses.
Look back over your entire life and think of things that happened to you or that you saw that were somehow related to race or racism. What do you remember doing, thinking, feeling? You can even write the memories down if you'd like. How do you feel now, remembering them after the fact? Looking at these different stories will help you get a clearer picture of the role that race has played in your life.
#14) Speak up! If you see something--say something. I'm reminded of this pin that I've seen on pinterest:
You don't have to know what to say, or how to say it. But I can tell you from experience, the more you do it the easier it gets. But it's really not about it being easy, it's about you doing what you know is right and living your values. That's hard--but it's worth it. (You can read about me speaking up here, here and here.)
People often say to me, I have these conversations about race with my grandmother/spouse/co-worker, and I don't know what to say back to them when they say racist things. I think there are two reasons for this:
The first is that you don't know what to say because on some level, you agree with them. I know it's hard to hear, but like my man Dr. Phil says, You can't change what you don't acknowledge. I'm an actual black person, and I have to consciously tell myself that the negative messages I hear about black people aren't true. So I know white people that actually gain some sort of benefit from these beliefs can't just let them go.
The second reason is related to rule #9--you don't know what to say because you don't know enough about history and the present state of affairs to make cogent arguments.
I am confident that I can have a conversation about race or racism with anyone and effectively counter any racist argument they might make. That's because I know a lot about race (and racist arguments,) but more importantly because I truly feel that I have logic on my side. I have read the same things enough times in different books that I can remember them easily, and I don't have to fumble around for evidence to support my points. The more you learn about race, the easier you will be able to do that too.
In closing, I was somewhat apprehensive about even writing this post. But I decided that if even one person is helped by the tips that I've written here, then that's good enough. Because regardless of what anonymous might have you think, I want racism to go away. And I believe that it can...we just have to work at it.
As always, I would love to hear your comments.