Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Racism With Which I Was Raised

Recently I saw a video in which a woman ranted and railed against the victim of her verbal assault, calling her "wetback," talking about "her kind" being such abominations.  We've all seen The Donald (or, as my son refers to him, President Bunmunch) spew racist epithets more times than we can count.  People are still, in 2016, being assaulted simply for the color of their skin.  The racism with which I was raised was not nearly so bold.

The racism with which I was raised was far more subtle.  It could almost be dismissed if one didn't make a concerted effort to think critically and reflect.  It's the kind with which a great many of us were raised, perhaps still raise our own children, without even believing it to be what it is: racism.  Degree of racism does not make it better or worse.  Racism, in and of itself, no matter how flagrant or indirect, is horrifying, abusive, and terribly, terribly real.

I was raised hearing that black people went to jail more often because they committed crimes more often.  I was raised hearing that "Ebonics" was just laziness and a gross lack of education.  I was raised hearing the story over and over of the black girl who often picked on others, leaving them with a perma-fear of all black people.  I was raised hearing about the different definitions of "respect" that black and white people have in their communities.  I was raised in schools with, maybe (big maybe) a handful of black kids, hearing that those are the "good" schools.  I was raised hearing that it would be OK for me to date a black boy, but not to have a child with one.  I was raised in a religion that has a generous estimation of 9% black people among its members; a religion that, in fact, teaches that black people were the antagonists in many of the stories taught to the young children and converts.  I was raised hearing that Affirmative Action was a blemish on our society.  I was raised hearing that drug dealers, rapists, wife-beaters, and thieves were largely black men.  I was raised hearing that black women were spitting out kids at an alarming rate for the purpose of sponging off the welfare system.  I was raised hearing that "reverse racism" existed and was heavily in play in our communities.

At the same time that all of this was being indirectly taught, I was also being told explicitly that racism was bad, that black kids and white kids were equal, that everyone was the same.  I was taught that we shouldn't see color.  Talk about mixed messages!

I never once heard anyone say the N-word.  I never saw anyone in a robe and pointed white hat.  Never once was I told to "get a white man" the way someone driving past me and my black boyfriend once screamed at us.  Never once was a black person treated poorly or with anything other than respect and kindness in my presence.

The racism with which I was raised was insidious and understated and every bit as treacherous, harmful, damaging, divisive, and genuine.  That's what makes it, perhaps, even more injurious, because it's harder, nearly impossible for some, to detect, to deflect, to pinpoint, to challenge.  So it goes uncontested by most, questioned by few.  And it goes propagated by many.  I bet, if you think about it, you can probably see your upbringing somewhere in here, perhaps even yourself.  I bet, if you think about it, you'll get a little uncomfortable, maybe even squirm or flinch.  That's how you know this is important.  That's how you know you should read it again, contemplate it once more, share it widely to help others face their experiences and feelings about them, too.

The voices with which I was raised, the racism with which I was raised isn't erased from me simply because I've fought against them, scrubbed them with a healthy dose of critical thought and change.  No.  It's all still there.  And when one of those deeply-seated thoughts creeps up seemingly out of nowhere, I work to stop it from becoming action, I consider why it arose, I own it as a blemish, I check my white privilege, I discuss it all with my young son, and I work to change it both in myself and, hopefully, in others along the way.  This is why I write.

TL;DR
Hey, we can pretend we aren't racist, that we weren't raised to be that way, because we're not as blatant as Trump or David Duke, but we're doing ourselves, our kids, and our society as a whole a grave disservice if we do.  Instead, I encourage us all to continue to reflect, continue to confront ourselves, and let our children see us do so in effort to help make the future generation just a little better for everyone.