Linda Lewis Griffith

‘Am I racist?’ 7 ways to tell if you’re secretly biased — and how to fix it

Cal Poly students speak out against racism at emergency town hall meeting

Cal Poly students gathered for an emergency town hall meeting in San Luis Obispo on Monday, April 9, 2018, to speak out against racism after a fraternity posted racially insensitive photos of members in blackface and gang costumes online.
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Cal Poly students gathered for an emergency town hall meeting in San Luis Obispo on Monday, April 9, 2018, to speak out against racism after a fraternity posted racially insensitive photos of members in blackface and gang costumes online.

No one wants to think of themselves as a racist. Yet, in recent weeks, both presidential candidate Joe Biden and President Donald Trump have been publicly chastised for their racist views and actions — charges each man adamantly denies.

So, I got to wondering: “Am I a racist?”

I like to think of myself as fair, accepting and open-minded. Then again, so do Biden and Trump. Is it possible I’m a racist and don’t know it, a closeted bigot afraid to come out?

I needed to delve a bit further.

I started by looking up the definition of racism.

Dictionary.com says it’s a “belief or doctrine that inherent differences ... determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others.” A later definition adds “hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.”

I certainly don’t feel superior to other races. And hatred and intolerance?

Not there either. I think I’m OK by that standard.

But what if I looked even deeper?

I did some research and discovered something called “covert racism” that often runs under the radar. It may masquerade as curiosity, concern or kindness, so even do-gooders fall into the trap.

Here are some examples:

  • Did you ever act overly friendly to a person of another race to make sure you didn’t seem biased?

  • Do you have uncomfortable thoughts about a person’s race, even if you don’t verbalize them?

  • Did you ever ask someone for advice about dating a person from their race?

  • Did you ever make snap judgments about a person’s preferences based solely on their race or ethnicity?

  • Did you ever ask someone questions about their race, as if they were a spokesperson for all other members?

  • Have you noticed someone’s race and behaved differently in some way because of it?

When I ask myself those questions, the answer is definitely “yes.” Guilty as charged.

In my own, ignorant way, I, too, have been a racist.

This doesn’t mean I’m bad. There’s never been a whiff of malice.

Instead, I’ll plead ignorance with a strong desire to do better in the future.

How can I overcome my racism?

Pay attention to thoughts and reactions. I’m often shocked by certain mental images that cross my mind, but they’re a part of who I am and how I was raised. I can simply notice them, then behave in the way I deem best.

Educate myself. Read and listen to a wide variety of sources. I want to know what people of all walks of life and opinions are saying.

Engage in dialogue with people of different backgrounds. I always enjoy hearing about others’ experiences, especially if they differ from my own. And the more time I spend with them, the more understanding I’ll become.

Know that I’m not an expert on racism. If something I’ve done or said is construed as racist, I can ask for clarification. An honest “Help me understand why that is insensitive” opens the door for discussion and provides an opportunity for me to learn.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a retired marriage, family and child therapist who lives in San Luis Obispo. Reach her at lindalewisgriffith@sbcglobal.net.
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