Guest Column: Anti-Racism is a Goal
By Bruce Roller, executive director of United Church Outreach Ministry (UCOM) in Wyoming, Mich. Reprinted with permission.
Yes, I am a racist.
This is evidenced by the fact that I can’t even let that statement stand alone. I need to give a little definition so that you don’t think of me as being a “bad“ person. I am not mean. I don’t treat people badly or hurt anyone on purpose. My intentions however have nothing to do with my racism.
I was born and bred into racism. This is not just because I was born in the 1950s and raised in Kentucky by a racist father (who would never see himself as racist). Like too many people today, he saw no racism — nothing inherently wrong in perceiving people of color as less than white people. No, my racism is due, as was my wonderful father’s, to lifelong conditioning as a white person in this country. It is compounded by my complicity of enjoying my white privilege in every aspect of my life.
My racism manifests in myriad ways. It shows up most prominently perhaps by my not recognizing my whiteness. When I think of myself in relation to my few black friends, I don’t think of myself as their “white“ friend. This is because I have never had to think of myself as defined in any way by my skin color. This is definitely not the case of any person of color in this country. It shows in my taking for granted that I am going to be accepted as a leader. Many people of color don’t have the experience that makes them confident of this. I am highly unlikely to be shot and killed by a police officer. While my parents were teaching me to have respect for the police, a good many Black parents had to teach their children how to protect themselves from the police. My mother didn’t have to worry every time I went out the door whether I would come back again or whether I would be killed by those who were charged with protecting and serving. You get the idea.
With nearly 70 years of inculcation in white body supremacy, it would take more than a miracle for me not to be racist. There is nothing that I can do to change the way that I was brainwashed into finding myself somehow worthy of privilege that has been granted me solely by the color of my skin. So what do I do about that?
There is no middle ground between racist and anti-racist. There is no such thing as simply not racist. “Not racist” people might be very nice, might smile a lot, might be indulgent toward people of color, but in the midst of all of that, “not racist“ people have a vested interest in maintaining the power granted them by the color of their skin.
My only choice is to strive to be anti-racist. This might mean that I confront myself, my friends and family, my coworkers, donors, volunteers, and maybe even people that are just engaging with me in casual conversation when I identify racism in any of us. My only hope is to cultivate more authentic and trusting cross-racial relationships. My only chance is to utilize every opportunity to encourage people of color to occupy their rightful place in their vision of the world.
I don’t have the answer to racism. At this point I’m only beginning to see myself and to let others around me sensitize me to my own racism. I don’t write about racism in this blog as an expert. I write as someone who looks to intelligent, loving, sane people whom I am inviting to hold me accountable.
My anti-racism work begins in me and continues every day of my life for as long as I live. For a long time, I will be racist with one statement and boldly antiracist with the next. Antiracism is not a “one and done.” For white people antiracism is a lifelong struggle to undermine racist systems, including the ones that favor me — religion, education, employment, the criminal justice system, the economy and society as a whole in this country.
God, give me wisdom and strength to change what I can — beginning with myself.
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