“Ain’t got any of them black boyfriends, do ya?”
“You got a boyfriend?” “No.” “Ok, well as long as it’s not any of them black boys.”
“These afros & dreadlocks are so gross & disrespectful looking. How do they expect anyone to take them seriously looking like that? Especially with all those tattoos too!”
“Why do we need Juneteenth as a holiday? This is silly.”
“This rioting is out of hand. Why can’t they [black people] just be happy they aren’t still slaves?”
“Slavery has been over for 150 years. Why are they [black people] still complaining?”
“The Civil War wasn’t actually about slavery. It was about states’ rights.”
“You know they’re all on Welfare” [referring to black people, particularly black women].
“Police aren’t actually racist & never use excessive force. These thugs just don’t listen & do what they’re told.”
“Those statues are our history! I can’t see why anyone wants to tear them down” [referring to the removal of Confederate monuments].
“I’d prefer you stick to white boys but an Asian or a Hispanic boyfriend wouldn’t be as bad as a black one.”
“My granddaughter has a black friend. One isn’t so bad but the trouble is once you’ve got one, the whole lot of them wants to invite themselves over.”
“My parents told me I could be friends with black kids but I couldn’t spend the night at their houses & they couldn’t spend the night at mine.”
Does any of this sound familiar to you? I hope not, but I suspect for some of you these kinds of conversations are all too familiar. All of these are quotes that I remember from my own childhood or adolescence (NOT necessarily by my parents, to be clear) or that friends of mine have shared with me from their experiences growing up. Or lastly they are things that I have seen posted on social media by family or acquaintances from my hometown or from other similar small towns. For the purposes of this post I will be writing everything in the first person to help the post flow better & to better preserve anonymity but do remember some of these are not actually MY OWN experiences, though some are. Furthermore, I am concentrating on white racism against black people because I am white & because I am confronting these mostly offhand remarks that I (& others) experienced during my (our) formative years that were mainly aimed at black people. However, I am well aware that other races struggle with their own share of racism & that even white people can be victims of racism. I even experienced a handful of unkind remarks because of being white as a child, but that isn’t the point of today’s post at all. Simply put, racism isn’t just a black issue or just a white issue, but as a white person I feel I am best suited to speak out about the racism I see being perpetuated against others from my own community.
Let me preface this by saying that if you’re reading this & recognize yourself in any of these quotes (even if they’re just things you’ve thought to yourself but never actually said out loud), I still love you. This post isn’t about shaming or embarrassing anyone. I can love people even when we disagree on things. But I do not love the attitudes these quotes reflect. And I have black friends, neighbors (literally next door & across the street), & coworkers who deserve so much better- which is why I can’t remain silent any longer. I regret my silence on this matter far too much already.
The past year in particular has forced me to recognize just how many racist attitudes unfortunately still persist in this country, particularly in small town America, even among people I know & love. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I am by no means perfect, & I make no claims to be. However, over the past 10 years or so, particularly the past 5 years, I have made conscious efforts to confront my own internal bias & find ways to erase it or at least navigate around it. Yes, the U.S. (& the world at large) has made great strides in the area of civil rights compared to decades ago, but even so, there is still work to be done. And you know where that work starts? It starts with you & it starts with me. What the past year has made me realize is that the burden of erasing (or at least minimizing) anti-black racism cannot fall on black people. (I say anti-black racism because all races can be racist against any other race, as previously mentioned.) After all, would women ever have achieved the right to vote & other such basic rights in society without at least some men standing up & fighting for those rights too? Undoubtedly the answer is no. Those who are experiencing discrimination & racism cannot alone be responsible for ending it. If that were the case, don’t you think these issues would have been erased ages ago? It’s as completely backwards as saying that the onus for preventing rape falls only- or mostly- on women (oh wait, we all too often DO send that message in our society, but that’s a post for another day).
Again, this post is not about naming names or calling out anyone in particular. It’s not even about sending anyone on a guilt trip. This post is about me saying I refuse to be part of the problem. And that means I refuse to remain quiet & accept the “casual” racism that I all too often see & hear from some folks I know & love- folks who I know are in many ways truly wonderful, loving people. I’ll also be completely honest & admit that this post is largely intended simply to clear my own brain & to try to atone for some of the guilt I feel for not confronting this issue earlier. I’ll also confess that I’m a typical product of my generation & I find it easier to call out these attitudes online than I do in real life. What can I say? I’m an introvert, a born writer, & a work in progess…
I am also well aware that most of the people making these comments do not consider themselves racist & most would not DREAM of being actively rude to a black person to their face. But that doesn’t make these comments any less dangerous. As I stated in my previous blog post, sometimes it’s our most casual, offhand comments that reveal our true, underlying feelings & prejudices. Now- it’s time to examine each of the quotes from the beginning of this post & explore exactly why these things are problematic. I will group a few of them together since they’re on the same or similar subjects.
- “Ain’t got any of them black boyfriends, do ya?” “You got a boyfriend?” “No.” “Ok, well as long as it’s not any of them black boys.” “I’d prefer you stick to white boys but an Asian or a Hispanic boyfriend wouldn’t be as bad as a black one.”
- Ah, yes, interracial dating/relationships. This is a topic that the older I get, the more I truly cannot understand why anyone has a problem with this. Now these quotes, I will confess, do come from some of my own family members (though I certainly know plenty of other white girls who were told the same things). Not trying to throw anyone under the bus here, but yes, a few people in my family did in fact say these things to me (& probably to my sister too). I was always so flabbergasted as to why anyone would say this nonsense that I never really responded much, partly because often it was asked when I was too young to have had a boyfriend at all, regardless of skin color. Furthermore, my parents never made these kind of remarks so it didn’t make sense to me why others would say this- or even care. Plus as a child I was too naïve to understand why anyone would ever feel this way. Of course as I got older, I understood it a bit more but it always bothered me. After all, the people who say this stuff almost always identify as Christians, & I can’t wrap my head around how they could think that God wouldn’t want his creatures to love whoever they love. Don’t these people believe we all trace back to Adam & Eve anyway? I actually asked a loved one once to explain how an Asian or a Hispanic boyfriend would be less problematic than a black one, & needless to say I didn’t get any kind of logical answer. Again, I promise I am not trying to make anyone look bad here. But the truth of the matter is this kind of thinking is just gross. And if you persevere in this kind of thinking, frankly, you deserve to be called out on it. (This is the stuff that literally keeps me awake at night, trying to figure out how some people I love so much who are generally so kind can hold such antiquated, hateful attitudes.)
- “These afros & dreadlocks are so gross & disrespectful looking. How do they expect anyone to take them seriously looking like that? Especially with all those tattoos too!”
- I honestly think this comment stems from pure ignorance, from truly not understanding that black hair is in fact quite different from white (or Asian or Native American) hair. I cannot believe it took me 30 years to truly grasp the fact that an afro is one the natural forms of black hair if left to grow & brushed out a bit. Please forgive me for my ignorance, y’all, but I truly didn’t know that! I suspected it but I just wasn’t sure & I was always too afraid to ask for fear of offending someone or looking stupid. Once I realized this I became so angry that anyone would ever discriminate against someone for a hairstyle that is quite literally 100% natural. Again, the people saying this stuff almost always identify as Christian, so I beg of you, if you think like this, please explain to me why black people wearing their hair in the natural way God made it is wrong? Also, did you know that having black hair relaxed (to basically look “more white”) is not only expensive & time consuming but also damaging to the hair? As for the dreads, all human hair can naturally form dreads. So again, why is that gross or wrong? As for the tattoos- well, all I have to say is some of the nicest people I’ve ever known, some of the hardest working people I’ve ever known- of all races- have had tattoos. If you don’t like them, don’t get them. But let others do as they please & remember that physical appearance has zero impact on someone’s intelligence or ability to do their job well- OR their overall character. End of story. P.S. If you think black people aren’t actually discriminated against based on their hair, then explain to me why we need to pass ordinances like this: https://www.wral.com/wake-commissioners-ban-discrimination-against-natural-hairstyles-for-county-workers/19587931/.
- “Why do we need Juneteenth as a holiday? This is silly.
- First of all, who in their right mind complains about getting an extra holiday?! Especially if it’s paid! But on a more serious note, the ending of slavery WAS a big deal. It is most definitely something to celebrate. Imagine if YOUR ancestors were slaves. Wouldn’t you want to celebrate the fact that that ended & that you’re free now? See, that’s what I thought.
- “This rioting is out of hand. Why can’t they [black people] just be happy they aren’t still slaves?” “Slavery has been over for 150 years. What are they [black people] still complaining?”
- Sometimes I have heard these things word for word. More often though these messages are very clearly implied by the memes & posts shared by certain people. I am going to be brutally honest & even admit that these thoughts have crossed my own mind a few times in the past. But what I have realized is that these kinds of statements send a very clear message- one that I absolutely cannot condone. That message is: “Black people aren’t really human. They’re not like everyone else. They should just be happy we aren’t treating them like total animals.” Again, if you say or think things like this & call yourself a Christian, please explain to me slowly how some of God’s creatures are better or more deserving than others. Whether you’re religious or not, this kind of thinking is just absurd. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes for two minutes & consider that not everyone has experienced the world the way you have. And then extend some grace to your fellow man. Let me be clear & say that I do not condone rioting or destruction of property, especially private property/businesses that have nothing to do with the subject of a protest. BUT if you’re more upset by rioting than you are by police brutality that leads to MURDERS, then please ask yourself why that is, & furthermore, would you feel the same way if the rioters or the victims of police brutality were white? If the only thing you ever discuss in regards to racial justice is how bad rioting is, you’re sending a very clear message that racial justice doesn’t actually matter to you.
- “The Civil War wasn’t actually about slavery. It was about states’ rights.“
- This one came from a teacher of mine in high school, one of my favorites actually. I hadn’t thought about this quote in YEARS but I suddenly remembered it recently & was appalled to think that a teacher had actually said this- especially knowing black students heard this too. First of all, even though it wasn’t a history class, this statement is just factually inaccurate. There’s just no way around that. Sure, states’ right was part of it. But what state right were they principally fighting over? That’s right- the right to own slaves! So, yes, like it or not, the Civil War was in fact about slavery. Frankly, I think white people just say this to make themselves feel less guilty, particularly if they know they actually had ancestors who fought for the South. My response to that is- so what? Everyone has ancestors who did bad things. No one is responsible for what their ancestors did, especially when it goes back generations. Just admit it & move on. That’s what we expect black people to do with slavery, right?
- “You know they’re all on Welfare” [referring to black people, particularly black women].
- Ok, first of all this is one is just plain false. There are actually more white people on Welfare than black people. Now of course there are also a lot MORE white people in the country than there are black people. Is the percentage of black people receiving Welfare higher than the percentage of white people receiving Welfare? Maybe. But stereotyping like this isn’t helping anyone. Furthermore, have you considered that these programs were designed & put into place largely by white politicians who may or may not have had the best interests of minorities at heart? No one likes discussing this, but since the inception of mass welfare programs the percentage of single parent (almost always single mom) households has risen DRAMATICALLY in both black AND white communities. And along with that we’ve seen many other negative societal outcomes. It’s almost like maybe the nuclear family (however it’s composed) is actually important! But that’s a post for another day. The point is saying things like this doesn’t help anyone. And if black children hear this kind of thing, it just further reinforces to them that they aren’t “meant” to be doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, scientists, engineers, etc. So, please, just stop this nonsense.
- “Police aren’t actually racist & never use excessive force. These thugs just don’t listen & do what they’re told.”
- Really? Then what do you have to say to U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario who was held at gunpoint, pepper sprayed, & put in handcuffs despite obeying police orders? What do you say to Philando Castile who was shot & killed by an officer despite following police orders & having committed no crime? What do you say to Elijah McLain who was choked & given way too much of the sedative ketamine just for “acting weird” while walking outside, both of which almost certainly led to his death? What do you say to the countless black men- many of whom are educated & have professional careers- who have still found themselves in unnecessary traffic stops where threats or intimidation were used? Are they “thugs” too? Even those who have broken the law deserve to be treated like human beings, especially when the offenses are non violent. A traffic stop for anything should not lead to murder, even if the person isn’t 100% an angel the entire time. When white mass murderers can be brought in without being killed but black men are disproportionately killed by police even over much more minor offenses, we need to ask ourselves what is going on here. I know, I know- the cops you know are wonderful people who would never do such things. And for most of them that is probably (hopefully) true. But the fact of the matter is we have to admit that some of the “good ole boys” in our country’s police force aren’t really all that good. Otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing a black man with a knee to the neck for 8 minutes till he died. Furthermore, if all these good cops aren’t standing up against the bad ones, what does that make them? I for one have called out bad practices when I’ve seen them in my own field. There is no reason why police shouldn’t be expected to do the same. (And I am grateful for those who do.)
- “Those statues are our history! I can’t see why anyone wants to tear them down” [referring to the removal of Confederate monuments].
- Now this one is a hard topic for many folks & it’s one that I’ll admit I’ve had a hard time with myself. I love history & because of that of course I hate to see parts of it destroyed. But what I’ve realized with the Confederate monuments is this: No, taking them down or moving them to museums isn’t going to magically end racism- it’s not that easy- BUT if I were a black person, yes, I do think I would find it both strange & hurtful to see all these monuments to people who quite literally fought a war to keep my ancestors enslaved. Have you ever thought about it from that angle? I think at the end of the day these monuments belong in museums or historical parks. That way we can still learn from them but without making it seem like we’re honoring them as heroes. Again, if you’re white & you know you have ancestors who owned slaves or fought in the Civil War, that’s ok. It doesn’t mean that you’re guilty just by association. I for one do not believe that sons should bear the sins of their fathers. But please consider that most of these monuments were not even erected until the late 1800s through the 1950s. Do you really think this wasn’t at least somewhat intended to intimidate black people & remind them of “their place” in society? That alone should give us pause.
- “My granddaughter has a black friend. One isn’t so bad but the trouble is once you’ve got one, the whole lot of them want to invite themselves over.”
- This one was said by a salesman when I was attempting to buy something from him. I’m ashamed to admit that I was too flabbergasted by such a blatantly racist & despicable remark to actually confront him about the subject. I just changed the subject & walked away. Looking back on it though it’s horrifying to realize that he just assumed I would agree with him & that I wouldn’t report him for his obvious racism. The sad thing is that I DIDN’T confront him about it, so in a way he was right. Trust & believe- if this kind of thing happens again, the person at fault will not be left unconfronted.
- “My parents told me I could be friends with black kids but I couldn’t spend the night at their houses & they couldn’t spend the night at mine.”
- Just for the record, this one comes from a friend, NOT my own family. But yes, these attitudes do in fact still exist. I don’t really think there is anything else to say here other than- WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU IF YOU FEEL THIS WAY?
- Let me end this by clarifying a few things. No, I am not some “crazy liberal.” No, I do not feel guilty for being white. None of us chooses our race after all. No, I do not believe in paying reparations. But yes, I do believe in decriminalization of drugs, especially marijuana, partly because drug laws are disproportionately enforced against minorities. Yes, I do believe in reducing the number of traffic stops for minor offenses & asking police to use more of their time building bridges with communities & focusing on serious, violent crime. Most importantly, I believe in understanding that we all have biases. It’s just human nature- biology if you will. It’s probably only natural that many of us feel most comfortable with or are most attracted to people who look like us (“birds of a feather flock together” type thing). But we need to be cognizant of that & most importantly we need to learn not to treat those who are different badly just because of our own internal misgivings or fears. That of course goes for all people of all races. However, as a white person, my voice is probably going to resonate most strongly with other white people, for better or worse. And I for one am saying that we as white people need to do better. I’ve changed my mind about so many things over the years because of living in different areas, talking to different people, reading various books, etc. I’ve learned that my own first impressions of people can be wildly wrong & that quite often, if given the opportunity, people will surprise you in all kinds of wonderful ways. If I can do that by my early 30s, I truly don’t understand how some people who have lived twice as long as I have haven’t figured this stuff out.
- If you know me in real life, you know I hate conflict. I truly do not like arguing with people, hurting anyone’s feelings, or offending people. But the older I get, the less I care about those things, at least when it comes to really important subjects. And this is far too important for me to remain silent. So if this post has offended you- sorry- but I’m not sorry. You probably need to be offended. That’s how I’ve learned about some things- sometimes that’s how we all learn. Furthermore, I know there are plenty of things I’ve said or done, things I believe or don’t believe, that at least some, probably most, of my family would find offensive. And yes, that is hard for me; yes, that keeps me awake at night too sometimes. I hate knowing I’ve disappointed people I love (I’m not talking about drugs or anything at all criminal here, before anyone gets any wild ideas), but I also know that life is way too short to live my life just to please others, even those I love. But believe me, I feel the weight of that judgement too, even if a lot of it is more perceived than real.
- So why did I write all this? Why did I bother putting myself out there to possibly be hated for saying things that make people uncomfortable? Well, as Edmund Burke said many years ago “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” And as the great Martin Luther King, Jr said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” And this, my friends & family, definitely matters. So I will reiterate: if you recognize yourself in this post, I still love you. But I have black friends, neighbors, & coworkers I care about too, & frankly they deserve better. So, dear white people, I’m saying it now loud & clear- we need to do better.