Monday, May 16, 2011

Racism Is A Two Way Street, And Some Of My Best Friends Are Color Blind

Yesterday, while being lazy and spending far too much time online, I found the Harvard Project Implicit website. I found the link to it in a blog post attacking White Liberals for their superior attitudes towards blacks. I was tempted to leave a comment suggesting that racism is a two way street and if they didn't believe that, they needed to look at what they were saying. I chose not to leave a comment at all simply because I don't know the author of that post and I don't know what that person has had to deal with. I am, after all, white.

I certainly can't say "I'm not a racist" because I was born and raised in a family that is. I believe wholeheartedly that it's wrong, but overcoming my upbringing isn't always that easy. There was more than one family problem caused by my being seen hugging a black man while standing on the street in broad daylight. The first time I was 18 and didn't handle it well. The second time I was in my 40's, married, and assisting my stepfather run errands. Coming out of the dry cleaners with his clothes, I encountered my friend John Dove. We shared a bit of conversation after which he hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. My step father locked me out of the car. He let me open the back seat to put the clothes in and hit the automatic lock button as soon as I closed the door. I had to catch a bus to get home, fortunately we lived in the city way back then.

My Mom tried not to be racist, although she too had the upbringing. I think I'm a little more successful at it because at least I don't go around saying some of my best friends are black. When Mom found out that I got left behind because of a kiss on the cheek from John, she was livid. Frankly, John was a far better person than my step-father was. Of course, my step-father wouldn't have seen it that way since he was white and that made him superior to blacks. Even one who was a scientist, who created the CD ROM technology and held two other patents for something having to do with photonics, I think.

I was 8 years old befoer I ever met a black person in real life. My Dad worked part time for a building contractor. He spent nights until dark and weekends working for no pay on this job. His pay was kept by the contractor as a down payment on the house Dad wanted. Work on finishing our house took place in the winter and as we were getting into spring, the finishing touches were being done on the inside. We spent our Saturdays there while Mom and Dad did things like sand and stain doors, paint walls, etc.

One Saturday just a couple of weeks before we moved in, a man showed up to lay the tile floors in kitchen and bath. His name was Mac, and he was, not only black, but he was the tallest man I'd ever met. Even taller than Grandpa in my 8 year old eyes. He was a minister of a small church and he too worked for the contractor, only he did so during the week since the church couldn't support him and his large family. He was the only adult who didn't treat me as if I should be seen and not heard. He treated me as if I was special in some way. Dad would tell me to leave him alone and he would tell Dad I was fine, and not bothering him at all. I know how to lay tile floors because of what Mac taught me, and I have used that skill now and again.

Knowing how I feel about racism, I honestly thought I'd do much better on the tests than I did. My results on the 2 demo tests I took are that I Moderately prefer Other People over Muslims, and I also Moderately prefer Whites over Blacks. At first I wanted to argue with the scores, but then I got to thinking about what the test scores of Muslims and Blacks would be. I'm pretty sure, given their scope of experience that they wouldn't score any better than I did. What it all means anyways is that there is still more work to be done.

My problems is that work can't be done by myself. It requires honest dialogue and people who are willing to listen to things about themselves that they might not like to hear. I've come a long way from the child whose Dad and Grandad would sit at the table and laugh about siccing the dog on some poor unsuspecting young black child who happened to wander too close to the house. I've learned to stand up and say don't do that when a derogatory term is used to describe someone who is not white. I've also learned enough to fearlessly write a blog post saying that racism exists, and no we white people don't understand, so will you please stop lumping us all together and talk to us as individuals. Who knows? You might find a person of quality underneath my white skin. I may not understand, but I can learn.

Harvard Implicit Project


  1. racism, ..... what a subject!

    Interesting accounting, and one I can identify with (as many whites probably can).

    My grandfather always said that there were only two kinds of people - "good and bad."

    I've always tried to remember that, although there has been times I've forgotten it.

  2. ICE,

    Except in certain more fearful people, racism has become an implicit bias rather than an explicit one. Even in me or I'd have scored better on those tests. I'm disappointed in myself, but not beating myself up over it. John died the same year Dad did, he was the only person who would have dialogue with me or anyone else about it. John was "allowed" to work for the government in out of the way rooms where people wouldn't see him, yet he never used that as an excuse to not be everything he knew he could be. I admired him tremendously because he knew he'd have been left in those back rooms if he hadn't developed the CD ROM technology. Sad, isn't it?

  3. A century ago it seems now I had a black sergeant refer to one of our Korean air traffic controllers as a, "stupid fucking gook". I right away challenged him with asking what would you do if that man called you a "nigger"?
    Tony broke down in tears...

    Offer that stuff no quarter.


    Now, Sarge is not prejudiced at all - I hate them all equally - I think I seen that in a movie about Marines...

    Righteous tunes...

  4. You're right, of course, Sherry.

    I think, to a great extent, a great deal of our biases and prejudices have been turned inward. It is a two way street, for sure.

    When I was in my late teens/early twenties, I started hanging out in blues clubs in order to play at the open mic jams they would have. During that time, and my subsequent years playing around with different blues bands and such, I made many a friend & mentor who was black.

    I have to say, in all that time, I was never made to feel like I was "the skinny white kid", and I never felt that they were "the old black dudes".

    I don't doubt that I would score about the same as you did on the test. I was raised by in a North East Texas rural family, after all.

    Good post.


    I was the pupil, and they were the teachers.

  5. Coming from Canada I, fortunately, didn't have the same white against black upbringing most Americans went through during the 60's. My father, coming from a different generation, would make off the cuff comments Archie Bunker style but still without the underlying edge. Like the time he was accounting when the lights went out at work, and he told Percy to open his damn eyes so he could see him in the dark.
    That isn't to say I never met people who were racist...just that it wasn't , fortunately, prevalent in our society.

  6. Just to add...cultural prejudice was far more prevalent in Canada. English vs French, so we just didn't have time to hate people who looked different, we were too busy hating people who sounded different. :D

  7. Sherry:

    I remember once reading a magazine article in which a well-educated adult white male said that while his consciousness had been raised to the point that he was not intellectually a racist, he would always be emotionally a racist because of his upbringing, over which he had no control.

  8. Sherry
    We have racism here in New Zealand. I have to admit I am a racist, not because of the color, or the number unemployed, or the number in jail, but beacuse of the Governments handling of the Treaty of Waitangi which was signed by the Government of the time and some of the Maori chiefs. We have the right to be on the general election role or the Maori if you have some Maori blood. For many years there has not been a full blooded Maori. The Maori have separate government members of Parliament. Have a bit of Maori blood in you are your entrance into university is made easier, i.e. you don't have to have the same qualifications as the non-Maori especially for courses they have decided that they need Maori representation in e.g. Medicine, Dentistry, Law. The Government has settled claims with different Maori tribes and paid them large sums of money to recompence them for what they have lost, given them part of the fishing quota etc. As far as I am concerned we are all New Zealanders, we all come from somewhere else and should be working on an level playing field

  9. Well, we just lost a school bond election partly because of raciam... As one family said of a school they are taking their kids too, the blacks there no their place. Hello?

    We are in the South sure, but folks this is the 21st century. Surely WE realize we are created equally.

    Is this what the Bible means when it says "WE will pay for the sins of our fathers?"

  10. Just as a side note...

    "I am NOT over 60. I'm 59.95 plus shipping and handling."

    I love that!!! :D

  11. Sarge,

    Yeah, that about describes my family. They hate them all. I try to look for the person rather than the skin color or ethnic origin. I guess I'm not as successful at it as I thought.

  12. PaulV,

    Sometimes the music is all that matters. It transcends skin color and creates it's own kind of peace.

  13. Egaladeist,

    The Northern United States form of prejudice took the form of pettiness. Unlike the south there was no violence perpetrated against blacks on an individual basis. We didn't don sheets and burn crosses, but what we did was just as damaging because we separated them from our lives. Dad had a decent working relationship with Mac, but he never would have invited him to our home. Nor would Mac have invited us to his. Maybe because that allowed him to avoid being rejected.

  14. TAZ,

    Isn't it amazing how some can claim to be Christian and yet they think absolutely nothing of hating others for their differences?

  15. Whit,

    That's true and yet very disappointing. We know it's wrong and yet we can't seem to make that emotional adjustment. I can remember being 18 and coming home in a good mood to the "inquisition" over what my Aunt saw me do when I hugged a black man. He was just a friend, yet I was treated as if I'd committed a heinous crime. One of those excess emotional baggage situations that I still carry

  16. Bride,

    The US has it's Affirmative Action problems as well. Oddly, your last sentence is similar to what set the person off who wrote the blog that started me on this journey.

    The author of the post was responding to a statement made by a well respected liberal journalist that White Liberals were President Obama's base. In my mind, Liberals are his base, not necessarily just the White ones or the Black ones. That statement points out the need for Affirmative action because without it, Blacks here would be overlooked or ignored. When the journalist was called to task by others for that statement she just said she wasn't racist and those who objected should just get over it. I wanted to point out to her that if she wasn't a bit racist, she'd have left the word White out of her sentence.

    We can't spend our time separating people from something based on the color of their skin or their national origin, and then try to tell them to get over it, we're all equal, when obviously we don't really think that.

    I know nothing about New Zealand, but if the settlers did there what they did here, then the Maori's never had the chance to advance themselves on equal footing to the White population. Affirmative action is the only method of helping them pull themselves up. My next question would be will the White New Zealanders ever really see them as equals? I ask that because it hasn't happened here yet.

  17. Heide,

    Sad isn't it? We still have that Superior White attitude against people who are not white.

    Explicit racism alive and well in the South, while us northerners keep trying to tell people of color that they're equal to us but at the same time we treat them differently and won't address their pain at our insensitivity.

    And we're passing this on so that the next generation will pay for the sins we commit.

  18. TAZ,

    I did good with that one. That shipping and handling keeps going up, but I'm only 59.95. LOL What a bargain!

  19. I must be fortunate in that being raised in the south and white my parents taught me a different value growing up. That lesson was to treat ALL peoples with the respect they deserve based on their behavior..A lot of white's don't deserve my respect as well as a lot of other individuals of different races..not based on ethnic considerations but based on individual behavior.

    I like to believe that I judge each and every person on his or her own merits without any preconceived bias or prejudices.

    I have traveled quite a bit in my life and seen
    prejudice in every corner of the globe that I have visited...Ever been a southerner in New York City....Ever been an American in France or

    No one has the market cornered on racist spans all races, cultures, educational and economic levels.

  20. TAB,

    Well said! Most of us have preconceived prejudices of one form or another. It is a 2 way street and until we see each person fully as an individual we won't ever change it.

  21. you know I've often wondered why god (if there is one) didn't make us all the same color?

    but then, we'd persecute people with big noses, or whatever.

  22. Ice,

    That's the best question for which I have no answer that I've ever heard.

    And we'd probably find someone to persecute even if we were all the same color.