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.