On Being Raised Racist

30 Sep

This post is possibly inflammatory, and was very difficult to write… please read the commenting guidelines before crafting a reply.  Thank you.

I was raised racist.

That’s a scary thing to admit in this day and age, when merely saying the word ‘racism’ is inviting an emotional firestorm down on your head.

A few days ago, my submission to ‘Project O’ was posted.  In the days leading up to its publication, I began to grow concerned.  I’d answered the questions as openly and honestly as I was able, including things I wasn’t necessarily proud of, namely the fact that I was raised to be a racist.

As the publication date drew near, I worried about the fallout from such honesty.  People get angry, even volatile, when presented with the subject in theory, much less outright admission; how would people react to my admission that racism was indoctrinated into me since before I could recall?  Never mind the fact that I followed the admission with how, as I grew older, I began to realize that the way I had been taught to think was wrong, that I realized that love, compassion and acceptance of everyone was the right way to live.

I have to say a great thank you to the people who have replied to my submission, as they’ve all been kind and understanding, strengthening my resolve that my honesty was a good thing, that my bravery in admitting such a dark thing was not a mistake, and in my replies, more of my thoughts on the subject have become a little more clear.

In our effort to stamp out racism, we’ve inadvertently made it nearly impossible for people who want to change to admit that they need help, or people who have made great strides in overcoming it to share their progress with the world for good.  We’ve swept its very existence under the rug, like dirt we don’t have time to clean up properly before company arrives.

The problem with doing this is that when dirt gets swept under a rug, if it’s allowed to stay there, it begins to multiply; out of sight and forgotten.  Another thing it begins to do is wear at and erode the very fabric of the carpet it’s hiding beneath.

If we allow racism to continue being swept under the rug (by pretending that it was never a part of our lives, because we’re good people), we run the risk of allowing it to develop out of sight – hidden, and eroding away at the fabric of our society from underneath.  If we continue to force those who have been raised in an environment that promoted bigotry hide this away in shame, we continue to allow it to be a problem.

Currently, society doesn’t promote ‘recovery’ from racism.  There is no ‘12 Step Program‘ for the recovering racist.  There’s no anonymous group where they can go and, without judgement, share their defeats and their victories over this disease that is quietly crippling our society.  What do they have?  Hate heaped upon them when they dare to admit they’d had such a thought ever cross their minds.  If they’re ‘famous’, they have demonstrations held against them.  Their livelihoods taken away from them, publicly crucified for the simple act of being honest about an ugly problem.

The strongest voices for eradicating racism are not the oppressed, the strongest voices are those who have realized the error of their ways.  Who is a drug addict more likely to listen to: the former drug addict who promotes hope and proof that change is possible, or the person who has never had to struggle with the same problems and setbacks, who just say ‘Don’t Do Drugs’?

When we punish those who dare to admit that they’ve struggled with racism in their own lives, we’re silencing the most powerful weapons at our disposal to fight it.  If we constantly strip everything away from people who have the audacity to admit that racism once held them in its grasp, how on earth can we ever hope to get rid of the problem?

No one will speak up to say ‘you don’t have to be this way’.

No one will say ‘you can overcome this’.

No one will say ‘I chose love, and so can you’.

I’m not talking about the reformed card-carrying KKK members who have realized the error of their ways.  While their stories of reform should be heard, they lack an ability for the rest of us to ‘relate’.  It’s easy to say ‘See? I’m not racist, I’m not like them’.

I’m talking about every day people, those who quietly discriminate, sometimes without even realizing it.  Those who would never use a racial slur to anyone’s face, but use it at home in front of their children, or out of anger on the road when someone cuts them off.  That is the racism that is hurting our country.  That is the racism that is destroying our society from the inside out.  That is the racism we pretend doesn’t exist, and the racism for which we punish all who admit to having (or having struggled with) it.

We’ve made those who had no choice about the outlook that was instilled in them too afraid and ashamed to come forward and speak out against it from the voice of experience, because it would mean admitting you have that problem, and having that problem means that the world will try to take away everything you’ve ever done, and everyone will hate you.

I didn’t ask to be taught these things.

I never wanted to be that person.

But I can’t ask anyone to help me change, and I can’t help anyone else to change because I’ll be attacked for even admitting to such a horrible thing.

Instead of applauding those who want to make themselves a better person or make the world a better place, we sneer at them in disgust, wondering how they could have such unenlightened thoughts in this day and age.  We don’t take into account the fact that they had no choice.  They were taught to think this way at a time in their lives that they were biologically hardwired to absorb and learn everything they saw and heard.

If I taught my child from the time they were born that blue was actually red, would you blame my child for thinking, or even insisting that

BLUE <– this was the truth?

No.  Why?  Because we understand, intellectually, that a child is not responsible for the things they were wrongly taught as children.

The problem comes when those children reach adulthood without this problem having been caught and/or addressed.  Suddenly, this innocent child, this victim of circumstance, has become an adult who ‘should know better’.

Yes, on one hand, they are responsible, and should ‘know better’, but knowing better doesn’t change things that have been deeply ingrained in them since before they could even understand language.  Even when they have spent years struggling to overcome this issue, the depth with which this mindset has been embedded in their psyche would be almost impossible to overcome completely without help.  If they can’t even admit they ever had the problem because of backlash from society, how can they ever hope to fix it once and for all?

Personally, I’ve spent years trying to overcome this train of thought that has been ingrained in me.  I’ve struggled with wayward thoughts.  I’ve tried, diligently, to be a part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.  When I found myself so fearful and so nervous about the world knowing the truth of my beginnings, I realized that this fear was what was causing so much trouble with all of us.

Why does a discussion of racism make people so antsy?  Because someone might figure out that we were raised with it?  That for a time, before we knew any better or maybe even for a while after we did, we bought into the propaganda we were fed as children?

It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, brown, or purple… we were all taught our parent’s prejudices, no matter how small or large they may have been, even if those prejudices were only against the prejudiced themselves.

We need to realize that everyone has the capacity for change… even racists.

Don’t make the mistake of relegating racism to any one race.  We’re all guilty.  Don’t try to come up with reasons why you’re not a racist, try to come up with ways to open dialogue about racism.

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem.

They also say that you should ask forgiveness, and I do.  I ask anyone who is different from me: if you’re a guy, if you’re not ‘white’, if you’ve got a physical or mental handicap, if you’re short, if you’re tall, I ask you all to forgive me.  Forgive me for when I am weak.  Forgive me if I stumble in my attempts to overcome.  Forgive me if I say something ‘racist’ without realizing I’ve done so.  Forgive me if I have caused, or cause sometime in the future, pain for you by something I say or do, because I love you, I truly do, and I am grateful for all of you who cross my path, you all have something to teach me.

Forgive me if the shadow of who I used to be momentarily overpowers the light of who I strive to be, it’s not intentional.

If I err, please make an effort to point it out to me kindly, and I will make every effort to receive the correction in that same spirit.  If you try to correct me in anger, I’m going to respond in that spirit, too.  I’m only human, but I’ll try to remember that you are only human, too, and do my best to hear your message instead of your anger, but it’s possible I’ll fail.

Please understand that, while it’s no longer a constant struggle for me, I do struggle on occasion.  I may be afraid, I may be angry, I may be stressed out.  While these things aren’t excuses, they are the times in our lives in which the things buried deepest come out.  They may not be how we truly believe, but they are the seeds that were sown before we were able to discern the difference between good and bad, just and unjust.

I do not know why this burden was given to me in the first place, and I honestly don’t know why I have felt led to share it so openly.  I really don’t want to.  I want to hide it, to sweep it under the rug and pretend like it was never there, to save myself from the inevitable angry replies, the embarrassment and misinterpretation of intent, but I can’t.

I have to tell you who I was.

I have to tell you how I’ve struggled to change that person.

I have to tell you that I feel strongly that if we don’t start talking about this problem, instead of sweeping it under the rug and hoping that it goes away, that it’s going to tear us apart.

We’ll never get to the root of this problem if we’re all busy pretending we don’t have it.  Pretending a weed isn’t growing in your garden doesn’t make it go away, the only way to get rid of it is to first spot it, then to dig down deep, find the roots, and eradicate them from the soil.

Every day I make an effort to learn more about love, about acceptance, about kindness.  I refuse to let how I was raised dictate how I think and how I live.  I refuse to be limited by a limiting belief.  I refuse to let the weeds that were planted in the soil of my soul by someone else strangle and overcome the good things I choose to plant.

I refuse to let shame about where I come from overshadow the hard work and effort I’ve put into how far I’ve come.

I choose love… for myself, and for you.

The next time someone has the courage to admit that racism was taught to them as a child, instead of seeing who they were and getting angry, look at how far they’ve come.  Give them the chance to turn something ugly into something beautiful.  Let them have a voice to speak out against hate, instead of silencing them.  Look at the effort they have made to overcome this dark, ugly beast that they were saddled with, unasked, as a child.

May blessings be upon you all,

A.

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3 Responses to “On Being Raised Racist”

  1. spiritchild1972 September 30, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    The fact we are breed not born with prejuidce is no reflection on the child until the child is of a socially aware age. Whatever the age once they know the wrongs it is up to them to mend themselves. I myself was raised with a deep mistrust of English people. My grandmothet grew up in a time last century where she was beaten by English teachers for speaking MAORI. She never spoke it around Pakeha (white or foreign people).
    Not to mention the war of my people with the British. But my Dad just loved everyone. From the Aussie truck drivers that looked like Jesus to the Fijian that looked like Hitler with a fro. We fed them all. So colour was blind in my family. My issues arent racial but social or personal. If you disrespect me, i won’t respect you. However Racisim has never been an issue in New Zealand because there is no pure anything. 100% of new Zealand born will have maori in them so being racist is pointless. Having said that its always killed me a little inside to see Black and Native peoples have been treated in the US. The strength and resolve of them makes anything we MAORI people went through into perspective. You, Miss Beautiful Moon from the second I met you screamed Love and openess. You clung on to me and never let go lol U very fibre is one of pure love and friendship. Not once have Spirit told me to stay away. They said ‘You will love this girl’, little did u know my family mostly dark skinned. So you’ve never been anything but you. Errored ways mended. Very brave, very open, very Moon. Xoxo

    Like

    • KraftedKhaos September 30, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

      ❤ Thank you, my friend.

      This was indeed a difficult post to write, because I have many friends who aren't 'white', and from whom I've… I wouldn't say 'hidden', but definitely avoided mentioning that I was raised to be a bigot. I didn't want my friends to look at me differently.

      I think that's a major reason why so many people don't admit how they were raised. That, and their family. We all know that our families are simply that: ours. We know that they aren't perfect, but they raised us, loved us, took care of us. We still love them, even though they're not perfect, and we don't want others to look at them poorly, but we can't change the past. As much as we'd like to.

      I am who I choose to be, not who I was raised to be. There's no changing the past, but if I'm lucky, maybe something I say will have a positive influence on someone, somewhere, in the future. 🙂

      Like

  2. KraftedKhaos September 30, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    Joshua Bagby (joshuabagby.wordpress.com):

    I tried to leave a comment to your blog just now:

    “Amazing post! Bravo! I was raised pretty much in racial apathy due to where I was in California, but I have often wondered what I would do in past or future incarnations when raised in an atmosphere that encouraged it. I hope I run into a post as wise as yours.”

    It would not let me for some reason.

    Like

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