Editorial: The truth is I am racist, and I should feel uncomfortable
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By Hans Utz, contributor
The truth is I am a racist.
I am going to let that sit there for a minute and be uncomfortable about it.
I want to be angry, to performatively rend my clothes, to rage and weep at the injustices my Black friends face every day. I want to virtue signal and condemn insufficiently woke people. I want to convince everyone everywhere of how I am an ally and how I’m “one of the good ones”.
But that’s all bullshit. That’s smokescreen. That isn’t helpful.
The truth is I get angry when I see the news or the social media posts. That’s like 1% of my time. Most of the time I’m in a white bubble where I don’t have to think about it, and I so don’t.
I don’t mean to be this way. I wish I could wave a magic wand to fix things.
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But that’s also bullshit. If *my* kids were being killed, I’d have burned down civilization by now. So why is this different?
The truth is I am a racist.
It does not matter that I do not mean to be. It does not matter that the overriding weight of my culture teaches me, seduces me, defaults me to be this way. It doesn’t matter that I don’t do “the bad things”, like kneeling on a man’s neck until he is dead with a smirk on my face. I have never cornered a man with my car and then shot him dead with a shotgun while one of my buddies filmed it. But my silence apologizes for and makes space for that behavior whether or not I mean it to. I am complicit.
In recent weeks in Decatur we have several examples of young white men behaving extremely poorly, using privilege to intimidate a Black man, or using their voice to record a grotesque video that threatens all Black people.
That the men on the porch were not thinking about race is precisely why it was racist – only two white men could possibly engage in an activity that utterly oblivious to the racial overtones.
That the young man in the video meant to mock racists, rather than emulate them, is precisely why it was also racist. Only a white person would fail to understand how the poison of that language causes damage whenever a white person wields it, regardless of intent.
But I am in no position to condemn these white families for the actions of these young men. It is inescapably true that but for the grace of God that could have been my family.
I have not always had the hard conversations with my kids. I worry that they won’t understand how a white woman’s false hysteria in calling the cops on a peaceful Black man in Central Park is exactly equivalent to threatening his life. It is in fact nothing short of attempted murder. But I want my kids to trust police officers, and I want my kids to be comfortable.
The price of that is that they will also grow up to be racist. I could try to teach them the platitudes I was taught: I don’t see color. Everyone is equal.
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But that is teaching them to look away. That is teaching them that avoiding their discomfort is more important than respecting the life of a Black person. That galls me more than my discomfort. That realization sickens me, and I’m sickened because I recognize how complicit I am in it.
Enough. The truth is I am a racist.
The truth is I am determined to be anti-racist. I will mess up, because I don’t know how to do it and I am learning. I will be ok with messing up, because trying to be better is better than quietly continuing to be racist.
I invite you to join me. It is far past time we live with a little discomfort. The following list is just the tip of the iceberg of what is out there to help on your journey, but it is a great place to start.
If you are wondering how to have the conversation with your kids, here are a couple of great resources:
If you are interested in learning more, or engaging with your discomfort, here are some great places to start:
And if you think nothing was ever handed to you on a platter and this whole concept of white privilege makes you deeply angry, I understand that also. I was too. I invite you to explore it:
Hans Utz has lived in and around Atlanta for 25 years and formerly served as the Deputy COO of the City of Atlanta. He writes about local and national politics for Decaturish. He and his family currently reside in Decatur.
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