all white people are socialized to be racist from birth, this doesnt excuse racism – it means you have to be aware of your privilege
I grew up in a very racially diverse family. Four of my cousins are Lebanese, two are Filipino, three are Black, and my step family is first nations (comprised of maybe 30 Moose-Cree/Algonquins)*. Add to that, that I was ‘raised’ between the ages of 4 & 7 by a Portuguese family, and you would think that I had a fairly well rounded and culturally diverse childhood.
But the truth is that dispite all the diversity in my family, those of us who are white are flaming racists. I was – I’m working on recovery, 20+ years of small town thinking is hard to wipe out. It requires a hard restart and complete system wipe. And sometimes I find it difficult to not think all encompassing thoughts about a group of people. But then I wonder, how must I appear to them on the surface. I have the traditional Nova Scotian accent, I am pasty like a white girl ‘should’ be (read: as I like to be, because I am also a reformed goth), and sometimes words come out of my mouth like the person of privilege I am. It seems stupid to have to say this but – everyone we interact with is a person, just like you, just like me. Of course so many people forget this even just on the surface not even racially based (interacting with waiters, cashiers, etc), that in some ways it needs to be repeated.
My first memory of racism was when I stayed with my grandfather in Ontario, his wife is Moose-Cree. I remember my grandfather reading the newspaper every morning and having something foul to say about everyone. First it was a black man who was recently being released from prison who had been wrongly charged. If you can imagine he had nothing too kind to say. And then he started berating the first nations (for those of my readers located in the old word, or south of the border in USA; first nations is what we call native americans or previously mislabeled ‘indians’. Try calling a FN person ‘indian’ in Canada I promise you nothing good will come of it) – what really had me confused and thinking this behaviour was acceptable was that my step-grandmother didnt argue, or tell him to stop, or even disagree. Quite frankly I have no idea what she thinks of other first nations people, I lost contact with her after my grandfather passed away, but this lack of action on her part really solidified bigotry in my mind. Of course now as an adult, after living my own life and experiencing bigotry against me, I know that we don’t always speak up when we are trampled on. Especially if we are being trampled on by the people we love and who claim to love us unconditionally. I can’t judge my step-grandmother, because I genuinely don’t know what she was thinking in those moments. I wish that I had never seen/heard my grandfather say those things, I am sure she wishes the same… I spent the next 5 years saying “indian” and saying nothing pleasant around the word/idea. I still get waves of guilt and shame that I ever reduced an entire nation into a slur.
This was all compounded by the fact that the town I grew up in is the height off all hick-ery. There were no people of ethnic diversity around when my classmates would use slurs, so they had no concern over offending people. I heard a story about one of my old classmates who had been drunk at a college party and used a racial slur… he earned himself a very well deserve broken collar bone. Around my family members ofcourse I said nothing offensive, because they were my family and therefor exempt from “other”isms, sometimes blood really is thicker than water.
I feel a lot of shame in myself for my previous actions. I am not looking for pity, or empathy. But I am looking to be an ally not an enemy. And the only way someone can be a friend is when another person on the other end reaches out at the same time.