Wetbacks was the name used by my favorite uncle to describe Mexicans regardless of their immigration status.
My grandfather, whom I adored, referred to Arabs as camel jockeys.
Racism is a learned way of thinking and is not endemic to the culture or a person. It is taught to us by those we love and trust to know better. If, however, no one explains racism and the effects it has on both those who remain its target and those that are wielding this oppressive tool things can get very confusing.
I am reminded of a brilliant special (Freedom Riders) I saw on PBS regarding the bus riders determined to break legally sanctioned racism by riding public buses together through the South.
Several times during the course of this incredible film there were closeups of young innocent white faces spewing aggresive and upsetting epithets and then justifying this behavior. Witnessing this most troubling and disturbing display of hatred left me clear about racism in a different way and allowed me to understand what racism is and is not.
Many of us are taught to believe that white folks enjoy being racist.
That it is an integral part of white culture with the only option being : avoid “whitey” in any and all possible situations. Once, I offered to house my nephew for the Summer with myself and my white partner only to be told by an adult,” No thanks, he likes to stick with his own.” I was beyond shocked and tried to figure out where did this thinking come from because this individual was only a year younger than me.
Witnessing the unconscionable ignorance within my own family and the young white shrieking faces in the movie, the roots of racism became obvious to me.
Racism is taught.
While this fear based identity and familially sanctioned bigotry kept many of us alive, it did very little to provide spaces for individuals to seek out and experience healthy, productive and respectful relationships.
In short, interaction that is stereotypical and fear laden limits our capacities as both human beings and the opportunity to grow as persons.
Racism is learned.
No one is born wanting and needing to hate and limit another. During the 60’s and the height of the Civil Rights Movement, there were several whites who did more than bemoan the fact that racism limited us all and should be done away with. There was also a focus in the great film Freedom Riders on white folks who went beyond yapping about what needed doing and instead did something brave by putting their lives in danger and risking death.
This ability to stand alone and do the right thing because it is the right thing to do is also taught.
Behavior is a natural offshoot of thinking. When thinking is constantly and lovingly challenged, racism can be effectively lessened and possibly eliminated. This funky warped thinking affects us all and keeps us all scared.
As a person who dates white males and has for quite some time, there is always an adjustment period.
A brief window when my detective skills are at their most profound, my deflector shields at their most potent and my heart most guarded along with a mind at the ready for some bullshit.
At some point in every relationship (platonic or not) I have had to make the decision to either see the person in front of me as an individual or lump them with the collective mind-numbing, clueless and non-thinking masses. Although I wish I could say I have a perfect record in this department, this has not been the case.
When we directly confront those that we love about their thinking and subsequent behavior, it is always scary and uncomfortable.
However, when the discomfort is endured, change and the chance for love and real intimacy (closeness) is the outcome.
All of us have the choice at any moment to either truthfully examine our own racism and the implications it has for those that we love and care about or pretend things don’t exist and that if we smile and nod and be nice, things will all work themselves out.