Lies We Believe About Ourselves and Others
Day 3: But I’m Not Racist
A note to the reader: I apologize for the delay on this last week. Things have been unbelievably busy. Thanks for sticking with me!
I scoffed and stared blankly at my computer screen. This couldn’t be right.
I didn’t just have friends who were people of color, the majority of my friends were people of color. I grew up as one of very few White students in my elementary school. I was educated in issues of multiculturalism and racial prejudice. I had never looked at someone of a different background than me and thought I was worth more than them. So these results didn’t make any sense. I had just participated in a study that utilized the Chicago Face Database. On one side of the screen were Black and White faces. On the other were positive and negative words. The computer instructed you which face should pair with which word (positive or negative) for the round. It measured your reaction times. Associations that are easier to pair together come more quickly, thus take less time to trigger.
My results came back saying that I had prejudice towards Black faces. It was easier for me to associate negative concepts with Black faces than White ones. It was harder for me to associate positive concepts with Black faces. Like I said, something was clearly the matter. The test wasn’t a measure of racial prejudice; it was a measure of reaction time. Dexterity. Reading and processing. Where was the statistical validity? Who authenticated this study?
Something happens when we’re told, on online, by friends or family at the dinner table, by tests in classrooms, that we’re racist. Everything shuts down. We get defensive. Angry. Hurt. We’re good people. The last thing we are is racist. I was right there.
There are things we do that are outwardly racist. We use words we know are harmful and pretend that an “a” softens the “er” blow. We shoot unarmed Black men and create words like crack to put them in prison longer. We paint our faces black and call politicians monkeys.
But there are things we do that are implicit racist too. They’re quiet. Tiny little thoughts, the first ones that pop into our heads before the dominant one takes over. The Police Officer’s Dilemma shows how this can be so dangerous for Black men.
We can do very little to change our implicit biases. We can improve them through the media we consume, the voices we give credence to, and the people we surround ourselves with. But the trouble with implicitly is that it’s a part of us.
How we respond is what matters. If our words hurt others, if we’re told something about our behavior is problematic, our first reaction shouldn’t be for ourselves. It shouldn’t be to protest and cry and talk about our Black friends. It should be to immediately stop what we’re doing and listen to the concerns of the people who care enough to educate us.
I’m a racist. Not a proud one, but one. The sooner I accepted that, the better ally I became. It’s okay if you’re an implicit racist; it’s not okay if you refuse to listen to critiques of your behavior.
I’m a racist and maybe you’re one too. What now?
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