“Conversations with Racists Like Me,” is a writing idea I have been actively trying to ignore for nearly four years. The thought creeps into my brain when my guard is down in the wee hours of the night. It whispers when my anxious busyness cannot distract me. Much energy has been spent in avoidance.
At this point it might be helpful for me to define, “racists like me,” since the word, “racist,” is a hot potato which no one wants to hold in their hands. And therein lies a huge part of the problem. How do we talk about something we cannot even agree on the definition of? Some define racists as bat wielding terrorists who gleefully inflict pain on black and brown bodies. While others, like myself, are comfortable with a broader definition which includes minimizing and blindness to the lived experience of black and brown people.
If you believe in the first definition, then of course being called racist would cause offense. Whereas, if you wonder if you might be blind to the hardship of others, being called racist may feel justifiable. It may leave you curious to understand how you lost your ability to see.
Glennon Doyle, in her recent book, “Untamed,” wrote a chapter called, “Racists.” In it she writes, “In America, there are not two kinds of people, racists and non-racists. There are three kinds of people: those poisoned by racism and actively choosing to spread it; those poisoned by racism and actively trying to detox: and those poisoned by racism who deny its very existence inside them.”
Racism as a poisoning versus a judgement of character is an interesting idea. We do not judge someone who gets poisoned by the food they eat. Instead, we offer care and compassion as their body works to heal.
For me, I have come to fully embrace that being a “good person,” has nothing to do with also having racism in me. Naming myself as, “racist,” offers me freedom to decide what is next.
And what is next, is in part, sharing my story. Even though we can’t agree on the definition of the word. And I risk offending people who are operating from a definition different than mine. Even though I don’t like people to be mad at me. And my talking about race has been shocking and hurtful to some I love most.
Even though I may be wrong or make a mistake. Even though the pandemic makes our lives extra hard right now. But isn’t racism also a pandemic? Even though it seems everyone is talking about race. And we are so “over it.” Even though selfishly I want to write about more “pleasant” topics. Yes, I do hear myself and acknowledge my ability to choose when to be uncomfortable or not.
My awakening does not change the lived experiences of black and brown people. My outrage alone, cannot disrupt systems, policies, hearts and minds which have allowed two different Americas to exist. It does not matter that I am “woke” if things do not change for those who don’t need a tutorial on racism.
My hope is there will be enough of us to form the critical mass needed for real change to occur. And by “us,” I mean white people. And this does not happen with my silence.
I have been searching for clues leading to a greater understanding of how I came to be who I am. How I, an intelligent and kind person missed so much. I went back in my family tree and found my Great-great-great grandfather Daniel Wood. His racism and choices he made nearly two hundred years ago contributed to my racism.
I like to think wherever he is now, he has regrets and wants a do-over. That his is the voice in my head urging me to have conversations with racists like us.
And if I am wrong, he is dead. And dead men have lost their chance to speak.