Why I’m a Racist…the Response

Two weeks ago, I sat in my favorite chair at 6:00 am with a cup of coffee and troubled IMG_3140heart.  I opened up my lap top and started writing.  I didn’t know what I was going to say or how I was going to say it, but only that I needed to say it…for me.  My heart was so heavy that I needed to look directly into it and see why.  So that is exactly what I did.  Less than an hour later I hit “publish” primarily because it was time to go to work.  To be honest, I didn’t even know if the post was done yet and I certainly didn’t think many people would read it,  but I just had to get it out.  (Have you ever had something you had to share even though you “knew” nobody was really listening?)   I spoke to an issue that breaks my heart, but aside from that I had nothing to offer it but authenticity.  What happened next was incredible.

In less than two weeks over 1.5 million people have read my words, radio stations have called to talk to me about it, people have republished it and wrote articles about the article.  That’s cool and all, but the thing that has absolutely floored me, and the reason I am back in my chair with a cup a coffee writing, is the responses.  The conversations, comments, emails, posts and private messages that you have shared so genuinely with me.  Whether we agree or not, you have shared something deeply personal with me and I want to honor that.  You have given me a gift.  When I first sat down to write I had a very limited perspective on the issue of racial inequality and in a lot of ways that is still true, but you have given me a bird’s eye view into the heart of America on this issue.  Yes, the reactions ran the spectrum.  There were those whose responses were just hateful. I am not going to waste your time with them.  There were others that were comical, but held deeper meaning.  And then there were most of you.  You bared your heart and I will never be able to say thank you enough.  I hope that I am able to do justice to your words.

Let’s start with the comical:

 “Your wife and kids are not blond.”

Yes, I received this multiple times.  For the record, they are sandy blond; lighter or darker depending on the season and the lighting.  That being said, if you read an article about judging others based on some physical attribute and you get stuck on how blond my family is, I have to ask you: What are you avoiding?  I don’t mean this as a dig at anyone, simply a question for consideration.

“You don’t know what the word racist actually means.”

or

“You’re title is just click-bait.”

Yes, I do know the official definition of the teracismrm racist.  I also know what the full definition is.  But without arguing those points let me just explain why I used that term.  First, there is just about no more offensive thing you can call a white person than a racist.  It creates such a feeling of discomfort that I am forced out of my comfort zone and I promise you, that is the only place change ever happened.  Second, I have realized that because I had this picture of what racism was, and it doesn’t line up with who I am, I feel like I am in no way connected to it.  If I’m not connected, there is nothing I can do about it. Re-examining what that word could mean helped me to connect with an issue that I was having trouble engaging with before.  It helped make it personal.  Finally, did I realize that some people would click on the article simply because of the title?  Sure.  While it was not the reason I used the term, why would I change it just because it might motivate people to read what I wrote?

“Finally someone who gets it.”

Now that we have covered that, let me tell you what the overwhelming majority of you said: “Thank you for being so honest.” “Finally someone who gets it.” “Thank you for articulating what I have been saying.” “I sit here reading this through tears…”  While you might be tempted to think that these were responses from African American readers, they were not.  White folks, by the hundreds, have been responding like this.  My new friend Jackson Young put it this way:

“I need to realize that even though the slogan is “Black Lives Matter”, they don’t mean that other lives don’t.  As I sit here in tears I realize they mean, racism exists, inequality exists, and that their lives matter, that they are a part of humanity just the same.  It’s sad when you think about it…us white folks don’t have to have movements because we are not reminded daily to a level of ridiculousness the color of our skin.”

He went on to say:

“So today moving forward I will no longer remind everyone all lives matter, I also will not profess people of color matter more, but I will say people of color matter too and they need to know that.  We are the only ones that can show them that, so help me, next time you see someone of color remind them with a simple gesture  ‘you matter too.’Let’s start there, once our brothers and sisters know we have their back, they will feel like they matter. It’s sad when any color of humanity has to say ‘hey don’t forget about me.'” 

 

I have no words to add to that.

I have received just as many responses from African Americans.  I believe these three best sum up the majority:

  “I deeply regret that my father and grandparents are no longer alive to read this.  Your words are beyond their hopes and dreams.”

“This is how we heal and move beyond our pain.  It takes each of us looking at ourselves, being honest and deciding that we want to be better individuals.”

“As a black woman it was refreshing to the point of tears to read your words…I have always looked forward to the day when we all could openly dialog about race and its impact on our nation.”

Based on these responses and many others it seems pretty clear that most African Americans are not looking for an “excuse for missed opportunities” or to “blame white people for everything.”  Men and women of color were moved to tears simply because some white guy from New Jersey acknowledged what they deal with every day.  They are simply looking to be heard.

I think I can sum up this “bird’s eye view” in a couple of points (clearly brevity is not my strong suit).  First, most white people think racism is disgusting.  They don’t want to be associated with it in any way and any suggestion that they are is deeply offensive.  They feel like they have been unfairly judged by society as “having it easy” and supporting racial inequality because it benefits them.  Neither of which are true of the majority.  They just want that reality acknowledged and then they are willing to talk.

Second, most African Americans don’t believe that they are owed any special privileges. They feel that they have been unfairly judged by society as wanting “special treatment,” which they find just as offensive as discrimination.  Their primary frustration with “white America” (if they have one) is simply the refusal to admit that racial inequality exists.  They just want that reality acknowledged and then they are willing to talk.

This is the point…

This is the point: if we can just get over ourselves long enough to acknowledge the other side’s reality, we could actually DO SOMETHING about this whole mess.  Please hear me, we are ready to have the conversation.  Find someone in your life who has a different experience than you, and ask them what it’s like for them. That’s the easy part. Then listen.  Don’t argue, don’t justify, don’t defend, just listen.  I think you will be surprised how willing they are to hear you after that.

 

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9 thoughts on “Why I’m a Racist…the Response

  1. louiswu49

    The response I get most often when talking about white privilege is one of defensiveness. No decent person likes to think of themselves as racist. When the concept was first brought up to me, I thought to myself, “Damn, I don’t feel racist”. But I kept listening. I came to understand. We should all do that.

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    1. Makeda Evans

      Yours was the BEST perspective I have read in a long time!! As an Air Force brat turned Veteran, I grew up around all races and nationalities. I have 3 sons (1 my own and the other 2 my boyfriend’s) who are 15, 9, and 5. I have had to teach my oldest son, not only how to behave if he gets pulled over, but also how to talk when he’s upset. He is nearly 6 feet tall and has a voice as deep as the ocean. He has had facial hair since he was 7, that has gotten thicker over the last year. Nothing about his appearance says, “I’m a kid”. Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin were kids too. Tamir was playing in the park. Trayvon was walking home from the store. My son has no idea how much of a target he is, and I can’t really explain it to him. That frightens me!!! Philando Castille did everything right and still died. The gentleman in Tulsa had car trouble. The total disregard for life is appalling!!! And then recently, a POLICE OFFICER in Jackson, GA, lied about being shot by a black man. She could have gotten someone killed!!! It has to stop, but the hearts of men have to change first.

      Thank you so much for your transparency!!!

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  2. NICOLETTE REISS

    I am an American (inter alia) that has lived and worked outside of the US for more years than I’ve spent living in the US. I just came back and have been so saddened at the lack of progress, the backslide actually in white enlightenment – attitudes. The willingness for most “normal” – yes racist whites to cling onto their comfortable denial of the appalling injustices, unequal treatment and injustice has been alarming to witness. There’s a common perception that a mass and widespread acknowledgement of the reality will result in personal loss – loss of power, loss of position (so what?).. this nation is one embracing selfishness, xenophobia and feat as evidenced by Trump’s support… and this fear is controlling perception. So it was a relief to read your blogs – to see Jane Elliot’s no nonsense clips – to have my faith restored in white Americans. I have been blessed and benefited from being exposed to many cultures and races from an early age and have parents who practiced equality. I carpooled with black and white children, My father promoted minorities and women in his trailblazing company. I’ve consistently spoken out about my experiences with white privilege – because it is the right thing, the only thing to do. I’ve always repeated this Einstein quote

    “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions”

    I search for Einstein’s few everywhere and have thankfully found some right here. Bless

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  3. Titus2Homemaker

    ” we [white folks] are not reminded daily to a level of ridiculousness the color of our skin.”

    Actually, we are. Continually throwing the phrase “white privilege” up in people’s faces shuts down dialogue just as surely as claiming there’s no such thing as racism. I get the original use of the term, and in some instances, it’s a legitimate appeal. But the majority of the time it’s a weapon to accuse us of being so ignorant and so incapable of basic human empathy that we’re held at arms’ length and not allowed into the conversation.

    I don’t say that to be rude or obnoxious. I point that out for the same reason as the conclusion of the post: because we ALL have to be willing to LISTEN to each other, and to have a little faith that we’re on the same side, or we’ll never get anywhere.

    Yeah, sometimes white privilege is a thing. But being black isn’t the only way people are ever put at a disadvantage, and it’s a cheap shot to imply that no one else has ever had it hard, been mistreated for no good reason, looked down on for who they are or where they came from, etc. It’s a game of one-upmanship.

    So how ’bout we all just agree that racism is real. It’s a huge problem in some places, nonexistent or nearly so in others, and in most places probably somewhere in between. Wherever it exists, it’s wrong and we need to do everything within our power to change it.

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  4. lornaboyle

    I’m so glad you did this follow up, Jeff! I thought your previous blog was gutsy and heartbreakingly honest, and it quite frankly blew me away. Although the “clickbait” title did put me off at first – in a sort of “head in the sand, don’t want to know” kind of way. But as luck would have it, curiosity got the better of me and I’m very glad I read it.

    This follow up piece gave me some hope for humanity. Like you I’d been both saddened and frightened with all the recent rhetoric about race relations… I honestly had thought things were getting better before Trump raised his ugly head. Silly me!

    Seeing this post led me to others… and more delving made me realize that there are a lot of people with the same feelings as you have experienced, who want to try and figure it all out. I led me to a blog by Lori Lakin Hutcherson “Got Privilege?” (not sure if I can post the link… https://goodblacknews.org/2016/07/14/editorial-what-i-said-when-my-white-friend-asked-for-my-black-opinion-on-white-privilege/ – but it’s well worth the read.

    I think this is why I love technology, the Internet and social media especially. Others I’ve spoken to disagree, saying the world was a simpler place before. But blogs like yours, a troubled man exposing your vulnerabilities and your deep thoughts, shows me just how much better we are when we are all exposed to other points of view. We are so much better off learning about each others cultures and about how everyone experiences life in a completely different way. Twenty or thirty years ago people were completely insulated in their own small world, quite oblivious to another person’s everyday challenges. Yes. I find it all pretty amazing. And I thank you.

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  5. Patty Raddock

    A friend recently published your essay on her wall, and I read it and felt that you were being too hard on yourself using that reaction-evoking word to describe yourself. A racist hates out of ignorance. A person who feels badly that they don’t understand how minorities might experience the world is a self-aware, non-judgmental human being. And even more sensitive to understand this about themselves. And then, to go out and try to rectify that makes you extra special, (outward appearance & record and all!). I’ve known many people of different colors and creeds I my life, and I was lucky enough to have been brought up by, and had values instilled by my wonderful parents who at a very early age taught me the golden rule. I am Jewish by heritage, nothing by practice, but I think I am a Christian in the definition as I understand it. We need more people to be generous in their hearts. I don’t know how to make that happen. It slays my heart.

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