Whenever I hear a sentence begin, 'I'm NOT racist BUT....' I know something racist is coming, otherwise there's no need to start a sentence that way. So I'm taking a different approach and proclaiming my racism up front.
So how did this come about? I was born a good white baby into a culture where racism is in the wallpaper and the breast milk. It goes unnoticed by most white people as does any oppression by the oppressor group.
It is institutionalised into traditional forms of white authoritarian parenting. All babies generally come into the world feeling pretty good about themselves as humans, unless there's been serious in-utero trauma. But, given that white babies' (the only ones I can speak for) natural healing processes are shut down from the get-go (crying is discouraged by distraction; babies are left alone in rooms to 'cry it out'; shaming is used as a tool to shut down feelings) and the white population's generalised disconnection from each other is modelled, eventually children end up feeling awful about themselves.
The ONLY way our society offers for young people to feel good about themselves again is to provide someone for them to feel better than. The vulnerable, hurt, white child, cut off from connection and healing, takes up the belief, inherent in the media they are saturated in, that they, if bad, are at least better than people of colour. This is a crucial step to becoming a full-blown racist. I truly believe that a shift in the culture of parenting in white society will make a serious inroad into racism. People who feel good about themselves in a connected, healthy way, have no vested interest in feeling better than others. And this shift IS happening, if the myriad blogs, websites and facebook pages on gentle parenting are anything to go by.
This kind of authoritarian racism is also perpetuated at the class level. Working class people who were treated so poorly in their country of origin by the owning classes, often went on to feel better about themselves in 'the colonies' by looking down on the indigenous population. I'm aware I'm generalising and there's always exceptions but it was definitely the norm.
Next, if the land white people are living on was taken unlawfully from people of colour and the basic history of this is not acknowledged by each and every family, as well as the government, then this is also the institutionalised racism I'm speaking of. If we white people don't acknowledge the many mass killings; the robberies and lies, the daily meannesses, and the well meaning but belittling 'benevolent attitude' of the church and previous as well as today's 'government services for Aboriginal people', we are perpetuating the racism. I've seen memorials popping up around the country (this is written in Australia) where massacres took place. I've seen them at Evans Head, New South Wales and Port Fairy in Victoria....I've been told stories of others by descendants, one in particular at Angels Beach in Ballina, one at Bacchus Marsh in Victoria and another in Ipswich, Queensland, a few of many...it's a small start. Many white people in this country still refuse to believe they occurred. We need to educate ourselves. The killings have an impact on people to this day which is made worse because the white people they are living with side by side won't even admit they happened.
Then there is the even less spoken of or understood 'benign racism', the kind where we as white people act differently around people of colour. Here's one example: I remember getting on a bus one day years ago and sitting next to a person of colour and talking to her. This is really embarrassing to admit but a thought was wafting somewhere in my mind that I was making her day by asking her about her day, thinking 'I bet no one else would think to do this'....projecting my racism onto the other unsuspecting passengers. It's like I half expected the clouds to part, a harmonic chord to be struck and a shaft of light to beam down on me. This relates back to what I was saying regarding authoritarian parenting as I had found a way of feeling good about myself for a while.
And a really annoying thing for people of colour, having been closely listening to them lately, is when we, as white people, ARGUE with them if they say they are experiencing something as racist that we are saying or doing. People, they LIVE it, they breathe racism in and out in our overbearing, bullying cultures every day of their lives that they are interacting with us. Believe me, they know it when they see it. Again, most of us white people don't see it. Accept what you are being told. Don't argue. Learn and move on. Humility is not the same as humiliation.
Finally, racism exists within the overall economy. We are only a relatively rich white western world because of an ongoing, continuing-to-this-day history of slavery, racism, and taking what wasn't and isn't ours.
I believe the more we can stand up as white people and admit to our racist heritage at the personal, cultural and economic levels; the sooner we can move forward.
Because right now, no matter how new agey we're all being as white people, we're not going anywhere until we clean this up.
So yes, I'm racist....but...I'm working on it.
And I know I'm not alone, but it's not enough of us either.
* I really recommend these novels: Benang by Kim Scott; My Place by Sally Morgan; Kate Grenville's books, The Secret River, The Lieutenant and Sarah Thornhill; The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and anything by Louise Erdrich, Maya Angelou or James Baldwin.
* It's worth checking out any dvd you can find by Jane Elliott. She gives a teeny-tiny insight into what racism might feel like (nothing like what it must be to live with it day in/day out). Here is a free doco of hers I found online: