Thursday, January 03, 2013

How to stop being racist (for reals this time.)

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 cop?
A hiring manager?
A loan officer?
A judge?
A teacher?
A jury member?
A health care professional?
A voter?
A dictionary writer?
Someone who works in advertising?
A journalist?

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.

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  1. there were a few hardy 'amens' shouted in the midwest tonight. (from a white, racist, woman):)

    but really, i loved this. for so many reasons. and i will be sharing it. and contemplating it some more!!


  2. What a wonderful post! Thanks D!

  3. Number 10.......was visited during Christmas break with my seven year olddaughter. We've spoke about race before...last year there were two black kids in her class and she had a few questions.

    Over Christmas break I was reading The Help (for the first time) and she wanted me to read it to her. As I was reading, I didn't read the 'n' word that was printed in the book and she was reading along and she asked why I didn't say 'that' word. She pointed.

    I never said the word but told her that it's one of those terrible insulting words that shouldn't be said. (She's smart enough that she probably sounded it out and could pronounce it though) The conversation went on about how things aren't perfect now but how things used to be horribly wrong.

    She loved the book and anytime she saw me reading she snuggled up close and followed along. Some of the conversations that followed were a bit hard but I'm glad we had them.

  4. Chunk Hatzumomo3:24 PM

    Great post! I think the 6 years of blogging have helped crystalized your thoughts, and many people will benefit from this analysis.

    I did have one question though. In point #3, we are asked not to judge ourselves better than people who make more overtly racist comments. Are we not free to judge on the content of character? I obviously look like an A-hole trying to argue that I should be judged better than Johnny, but by lumping us all together in the same category of racist humans, you are removing the carrot that motivates one to stop posting racist comments. I think it would be better to say we can never achieve the elimination of racist ideas, but we can certainly do "better" than to post racist comments. In that way, elimination of racism becomes analogous to reaching the speed of light, or a achieving a zero entropy cyclic process. --BOOM-- (physics bomb)

  5. No! Don't make me watch Tyler Perry! And LMAO at #10!

    Recently, on a message board I frequent, we all posted short clips of our voices. Another poster commented that I sounded "white." I asked her what she meant by that and what she thought I should sound like. She said she was surprised that I didn't have an accent. She even went as far as to say that she thought I would speak "Engrish."

    I found this all rather shocking, given the fact that I think I write pretty well, and my writing gives no indication that I have difficulties with the English language. Moreover, she knew that I was born and raised in this country.

    Why the fuck would I speak Engrish?!

    Anyway, happy new year! Always love to read your new posts. Is it funny that I thought of you immediately when this happened to me? Man, I couldn't even give this poor girl an Old People Pass. Yeesh.

  6. Amen! I find it so painfully funny how often a person of one race resorts to perpetuating stereotypes when relating to someone of another race without even overtly knowing it (because uneven racial dynamics are ingrained into our society). Aren't we all people to begin with? Why the preconceived notions based solely on phenotype?

    Racism is, unfortunately, doled out and experienced by people of color as well. It's that dichotomy thing that keeps the racial hierarchy intact.

  7. Such interesting things to ponder! You are so good at presenting things that I swear I have never thought of before. I think the hardest part of human nature is being able to judge our own character flaws. It is worth the introspection that is for certain!

  8. I'm so glad to see a post from you, and an awesome one at that! I love your have such a way with words. And I think it's AWESOME that people will actually have such a great resource to read when they google it! It's crazy that people search that but I think it's neat you're sharing this. You are making a difference!

  9. Thank you for this.

  10. Anonymous5:44 PM

    Wow. What a load of shit. The reason im racist is because of people like you. I bet you love to to make "whitey" squirm with your guilt tricks i.e race card, affirmative action etc. I wasn't born racist but made that way by blacks. Im supposed to feel guilty for something your ancestors suffered, not you but your ancestors. If white people are so bad take a drive through a white area then a black area you can see how different we actually are.

  11. Anonymous12:14 AM

    Thank you for this, much needed. Unfortunately Anonymous at 5:44 pm will never get it.

  12. Anonymous10:58 AM

    Being a biracial person you get racism a lot. In my life I have had the pleasure of meeting large group of different races around the world. Black people have told me I am white not black, and white people have told me I am nothing but a N*. I say fukitol pill none of them pay my bills. Racism needs to end for real. Were all the same we all bleed red. No one race is superior over the other NONE! Were all equal. I really did think black people would be more understanding to being biracial but a lot of them were as mean if not meaner than white people. I just don't get racism at all, even when I was 5 years old playing with different kids, til they stopped playing with me, and I asked them why and they told me their parents didn't want them playing with a N*. Didn't ever have that problem with black kids unless they were jealous of me then there was conflict, otherwise I felt greatly accepted, until they would point out my light brown skin and long hair. O well I can't save people from racism, I am sure if my family doesn't change their thinking on race, a lot of them will be in hell when the end comes, and that makes me sad for their souls. I am not saying they are evil because of it but any type of hate whatsoever isn't going to get into heaven. I know that for a fact. I been to hell and back. Being a child that had to rise above drug environment that is hell people, no child should have to ever endure those types of hardships. I sometimes feel a lot of black slaves died in vain to free us because of so much black on black crimes, due to drugs and violence. Which is why black history month can be really depressing for me. Then you got strong black women around you whom do nothing with their lives because of a man holding them back and instead of letting the cheating man go, they fight the other woman over the man. I have had to over come sexism and racism, and teachers don't care about students when their parents aren't active in their lives, trust me on that one. And I have worked with many professionals whom let racism rule their judgement and why I was fired three times from jobs when I was not at fault. The first I told my Schnucks supervisor over a month in advance about my Junior Ring Dance. Secondly I told the Nuns I had to protect myself against the combative men patients(they only allow women to work in the Catholic Nursing Home). Third time was when I was told by Jewelry Staff to do the exchange since it was under warranty(after I did it they took about 2 months to fire me). So yes racism ain't going no where til God clear that up. Sexism was in High School sheet metal class. I asked one of my classmates to use the item I made to give to the teacher, he got an A on my project that I received a C on. I lost my mind in class, needless to say when it was all over for the class I got my well deserved A! That was about 1 good story out of the rest. lol

  13. Aahhhhh! This is EXACTLY what I've been needing, an open forum to talk about my issues with racism freely and stop being so damn uncomfortable around black people, I hate it. Thank you for all of this. :)

  14. Anonymous9:14 PM

    I'm trying find out what I can do to help stop institutional/structural racism. I can't find an answer to this in Google searches. I don't know if the answer is that every individual needs to stop being racist and then that will end institutional racism. I don't want to see more innocent people stereotyped and stopped by police, killed because of the color of their skin, wrongfully convicted, etc. -CK

  15. Anonymous6:59 PM

    I want to belive in all humans, thats really why I read this article. I grew up in Oklahoma and Missouri. So, race was always an "off limit subject", yet at the same time there would always be rascit diolgue. Thats why I quit going to church and turned away from god even when I've always been religous. Ive thought about race often but not every moment. Now I live in a rich white community. It seems worse and harder to fight than ever. My peers likes to say they are liberal, but they still act like they know all the facts, like they lived it or something. Im always telling myself things that you said in the article; relax, its an uphill battle, and smile. I just can't belive I will always be rasict. I will always see color and I have to try harder to empathize with people. Until I can look at another person and see myself looking back at me I cant ever stop, not for a second, considering color. Every minute of the day people mind their color or gender because of the society people like me created and I'm just now asking how could I be this blind to the issue if not from being brain washed. I belive in unity under a creator and that is the one unity that is truly possible. I have a lot of work to do, but change is possible. Im already taking down my walls, now only my foundation is holding me back.