Linda Lewis Griffith

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

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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