Recovering Racist | Part II
I reckon it is about damn near impossible to fix anything if you ain't got the gall to look at the deal with your eyes wide open and your shoulders squared up. I can't reconcile those folks out there spilling toxic terms, insults, and disrespects right in a man's face, but can't look at themselves in the mirror and give any reliable feedback. Don't let me get started on how brave people are behind a screen and on a keyboard. But, I digress. In the spirit of unraveling the construct of racism, be it a very meager 1%, it must begin with callin' a spade, a spade. I’m a recovering racist. After thinking about it for a long time, I don’t know how better to describe the changes I’ve rendered in my heart and mind.
I use the word "recovering" as it refers to overcoming or overpowering an illness, addiction, trauma, or any other difficulty and returning to a state of health and wellness. It is also important to try my damn best to resonate with those out who react to the term with sensitivity so they can feel less alone in their troubles. It is a doozy trying to balance a conversation with an ardent racist with dignity and respect. But, it must be done. A good many folks have been flat-out taught wrong. I think it is important for folks to know you can recover and will recover. It's critical to acknowledge that these racist beliefs were not something you chose but were explicitly or implicitly taught to you. It takes time, effort, and self-reflection to unlearn that you're not betraying your family or culture if you befriend or fall in love with someone of color. It is not fun to learn how harmful racist proclivities are to the people around you and yourself. Racists live a life of limited perspective, and their views contribute to their own feeling of loneliness and disconnection. They rob themselves of the joy of learning about different cultures and ideologies. Racists tend to be a less productive and generally unkind faction of society. For those sensitive to these topics: it is never too late to change your beliefs and attitudes and challenge the racist ideologies you were taught, or at least try. Get drunk on equality and stumble towards justice. You will see more broadly how racists' frustrations have been deviously derailed to reorient them from the votes cast in the chambers to constantly questioning their neighbors of color. This only breeds an unjust and intentional engraving of an implicit bias through cultural and societal influences.
I was told not to go around "them" in the locker room because of their criminal nature and would steal my stuff.
I was told my romantic outlook was limited to white women.
I was told "they" were lazy.
We normalized racism in the military through an untold amount of racist jokes.
We ostracised women that took a romantic liking to men of color as if they had something wrong with them.
I was not an obvious racist, if you will. I didn’t operate with prejudice and overt bias. I had and maintain many close relationships with people of color. Yet, who knows how often I said something that seriously offended someone in a "none-the-wiser-white-dude" attitude. It was the impolite banter behind folks' backs and in the back of rooms. It was covert stereotyping and racial profiling. It was an “I’m cool with you, but, don’t test me" attitude. I had this mindset going into high school. Throughout my school years, there was virtually zero cultural and/or racial diversity in south-central Kentucky, especially in the county schools. It wasn’t uncommon to see the confederate flag. There were confederate flags in the yards. They were on car bumpers and the back glass of pickup trucks. They were on hats and t-shirts every time you walked through Walmart. Initially, my understanding of the symbolism of the confederacy was a tribal notion that the southern nation must be the opposition to the greater opinions across the rest of the country. I remember feeling the first waves of significant changes begin taking root when my sister took me to church. I learned about Jesus and met quality folks that opened my thought processes. This isn’t an invitation to follow Jesus, I do not have an evangelically oriented agenda. However, faith is part of my story, and learning about how Jesus behaved helped me behave. College was when the gears inside me started to turn. I was on my own.
I was late registering for my 2008 fall semester classes. I needed another class to fill my schedule to be full-time. Thanks to being the world's best procrastinator, my options were limited. I saw the class Racial Justice, and I found it intriguing. I enjoy learning about history and civic issues. But, I wasn't prepared for that class to change my life forever.
Let me tell you about my professor for that Racial Justice class for a second. Dr. Alan Anderson taught at Western Kentucky University’s department of Philosophy and Religion for 27 years. Before that, he taught at the University of Chicago after receiving his Ph.D. in Social Ethics. My father would have disagreed, but Dr. Anderson was no scrub frivolously espousing liberal ideologies. He was a brilliant mind helping share his knowledge. It was during his years in Chicago that Dr. Anderson met this feller named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and they became friends. In 1962, he was invited to join Dr. King at a nonviolent protest to end segregation in Albany, GA. Once he returned to Chicago, he was making moves, coordinating the Council of Community Organizations, and working with Dr. King in the Chicago Freedom Movement of 1965-1967. With George W. Pickering, Dr. Anderson wrote “Confronting the Color Line: The Broken Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in History in 1988. In 2008, Dr. Anderson received the Knox College Alumni Achievement Award. In 2014, he was honored with induction into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
On day one in class, Dr. Anderson spoke about a random junior senator from Illinois named Barak Obama, who was getting national attention because Donald Trump had discredited his birth certificate. I remember my first reaction was no one with that name could be President. Trump could speak to the masses and ask his uneducated white following: Who would believe a black man could get this high in the presidential race without conspiratorial assistance? The lion's share of his constituency rallied behind his blatant lies fueling hate against Obama.
With Dr. Anderson's help, I learned racism isn't natural. During the Scientific Revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries, some so-called "scientists" and "scholars" attempted to use pseudoscience and flawed research to justify racist policies and beliefs. Y'all, it's a bogus social construct. Racism is a wholly unethical belief system that purports certain races are superior to others. If you want to identify racism, it's not difficult; "check the receipts." You and those you elect to represent your values have a track record. I learned the rebel flag symbolizes racism in the most severe and malevolent terms. The rebel flag represents advocating for the intentional slavery of other humans to propagate their commodification of people of color. You can liken it to the Nazi flag. Both causes behind the flags reaped unethical unimaginable suffering and death. The Nazis wanted to extinguish a race, the confederates wanted to keep a race as property and treat people as commodities.
Under the guise of "States' Rights," Confederate State's leaders criminally manipulated their argument to coalesce southern efforts. Their strategy worked, and that is the real danger of propaganda. We have Freedom of Speech, but you aren’t free from being worked over by a narrative that is spun just right. Find media and journalists that provide information, perspective, and data, not influence.
You can't win the game if the other team buys the referee. The game is rigged, and white people rigged it. The USA has a history of slavery, discrimination, segregation, and tick-tock right-the-fuck-now ongoing systemic racism that has led to disparities in education, employment, housing, health care, and equal justice before the law. These distinctions between races result in significantly lower income, wealth, and social mobility for people of color, contributing to the ongoing cycle of poverty and inequality. Take your pick of the litter of the racist policies and practices that have historically held people of color back in the United States and continue to do so today. It would take a longer conversation to delve into how laws like a full-blown legal slave trade and Jim Crow still resonate in today's society, so let's narrow it down to what was happening in the not-so-distant past and what is still ongoing.
Deliberately denying mortgage loans and home insurance to people of color in certain neighborhoods and ushering them into less desirable areas was a tactic to limit people of color's opportunities for property ownership and stall their ability to create generational wealth. Redlining.
Laws and practices that make it harder for people of color to vote, such as voter ID laws, purging voter rolls, and closing polling places in communities of color. Voter Suppression.
The overuse of imprisonment as an uncivil solution to social problems, disproportionately affects communities of color, especially African American men. Mass Incarceration.
The flagrant use of excessive force by police against communities of color, often with little or no accountability. Police Brutality.
The practice of singling out individuals for suspicion of criminal activity based on race, ethnicity, or national origin. Racial Profiling.
Laws and policies that discriminate against immigrants, particularly those from Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Immigration Policies.
Funding disparities between schools in low-income communities of color and those in more affluent white communities. Education Inequality.
Setting polluting industries and hazardous waste sites in communities of color which tragically leads to higher rates of health problems (which compounds into a financial issue), plummeting property values, and environmental degradation. Environmental Injustice.
The routine of denying people of color equal access to job opportunities, career growth, fair pay, and benefits. Employment Discrimination.
Insufficient access to quality healthcare and health services for communities of color morbidly and unjustly guides them to a higher rate of illness and death. Health Inequality.
That ain't the whole lot of the issues, but this list illustrates laws used to implement unjustifiable discrimination and inequality. The United States government has never provided reparations to the descendants of enslaved Africans.
Earlier in the spring of 2008, before that class, I was campaigning for Mike Huckabee, frankly, because he was a "man of God" and an "upstanding Republican." But, the scales fell from my eyes as Dr. Anderson disassembled the construct of my reality and exposed the notions as perverted, only hidden behind a veil of malevolent pomposity. I was fortunate to attend a college where a civil rights giant showed me exactly what was truly happening. There was an inordinate campaign to undermine Obama’s character and integrity as an individual and citizen. The fairly new-to-the-scene junior senator did nothing magical. He was simply a good communicator that led with integrity and poise. The media was bombarded with nonsense like the Obama family is demons that smell like sulfur (see Alex Jones for that bucket of love.) Obama was able to navigate an onslaught of nonsense rhetoric drenched in racist overtones, and still have enough gravitas and resolve to govern the USA in a manner of unity and prudence.
Yet, still today, there are people in America that believe Barak Obama was not an American Citizen and is a practicing Muslim. If you are one of these individuals, I’m going to speak directly to you:
You are living in a false world. This is the same line of thinking asserts the garbage narrative that Obama wasn't born in America. These are not only false truths, these lies are not exclusively evil, they're worse insomuch as they're actively working against the foundations of our shared country and future. Perhaps you were none the wiser of a earnest effort to promote a direct assault to undermine our republic. To see this ideology paraded with pride displaying the shame akin to that of a 3-year-old hand delivering you their steaming shit. If you think what you’re doing contributes to the greater good in the US society: You’re fucking wrong.
I do believe for the vast, vast majority of Americans, we want to drink beer and watch football, or do yoga and hit up a concert, and it ain't much more complicated than living a reasonably stable life, in a reasonable amount of peace, around folks you love and trust. If we're lucky, we'll be able to find some degree of purpose in our labors. Obama was the first black man to enter an American Presidential race. Trump leveraged his media savvy to criminally manipulate and discredit Obama under the pretense that Obama wasn’t an American citizen. Trump was delivering military-grade propaganda dripping wet with racism. I believed a black man could achieve the office of president of the USA on his merits and efforts. I knew he could. To be fair, Trump inadvertently gave Obama a lot of credence with his fantasy lies. It isn't obvious how Trump's criminality is the only thing that offsets his stupidity. There are exactly zero reasons to believe that Obama is not a fellow citizen of yours. Trump lied in 2008. Trump continues to lie now. What do we know? We know "United We Stand." We also know, "Divided We Fall." Our history has seen both scenarios play out before, haven’t we? I am keener to seeing how amazing we are when we combine our efforts and aim at the same goals.
It’s an objective truth that humans don’t like change. What it takes to manifest a new self from your being is seriously so difficult that some people try their whole lives and never meet their better selves. A new self is defined as an entirely new you, or part of you, complete with new beliefs, habits, and knowledge. However, for the new to come, the old must go. It must die. That’s the toughy, yeah? That’s the part of yourself that you have to really wrestle with then abandon forever. Sometimes it’s sad. Like the innocence of youth. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it's ugly, like alcoholism or like a microaggression habit or the construct of racism.
Listen up, racism is a learned behavior. Just like an alcoholic can stop drinking, a racist can stop hating. Racism is a human-made problem. It is not inherent in human nature. Racism requires a human-made solution. The citizens of our society must immediately dismantle the corrupted construct through conscious and intentional efforts. If I can admit my past problems with racism, maybe others can admit this more openly and speak the truth to change and demand our better selves to come front and center to be the neighbors we desire to be. In my previous blog post, "Recovering Racist | Part I" I articulated why Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was someone to admire. The 12-step model that he helped pioneer is something that we can adapt to help make today's issues easier to break apart. Perhaps if he were still around, he could help me refine the steps required. If there was a 12-step program for racists, maybe it could look something like this:
Admit that you have a problem with racism and the harm it causes.
Recognize that you cannot solve the problem alone and seek help from others.
Take responsibility for your past actions and their impact.
Commit to actively working towards disassembling racism in all its forms.
Educate yourself on the history and current realities of racism and its impact on marginalized communities.
Listen and learn from the perspectives of those directly affected by racism.
Take concrete actions to challenge and disrupt racist systems and practices.
Reflect on your own privileges and biases and work to disassemble them actively.
Seek accountability and accept constructive criticism from others.
Continuously educate yourself and actively work towards anti-racism.
Use your privilege and resources to support marginalized communities and movements for justice.
Share your journey and experiences to help others struggling with similar issues.
I visited my father's place during my 2008 fall break at Western Kentucky University. It was a nice day out. I'll never forget that Sunday was like the ideal fall day. It took me a while to muster up the courage to tell him of a change of heart I had after diving into my studies of Racial Justice with Dr. Anderson. Mike Huckabee didn't receive the GOP nomination, and I hadn't been campaigning for the republican nominee John McCain. I can draw back to it like yesterday when I told my father I aimed to vote for Barak Obama. I had planned to time it before leaving so to avoid his rage. He questioned:
"Did you say you was gonna vote for that Monkey-N***** Hussian Obama?!"
I’ll never forget how it felt when I heard that. The hate behind it. For many folks in the south, Obama was/is the devil incarnate. Before that, I remember my father listening to AM talk radio about people of African descent's tribal beats, including hip-hop music as "devil music." I peeked through the crack to look at my father and responded:
"Yes, I did,"
as I closed the door behind me to a spout of incoherent expletives. My father wasn't much for getting behind the reasoning for changes.
Sadly, Dr. Alan Anderson died on September 3, 2018, after 83 years of making America and the world a much better place. I'm forever grateful for his teaching. I'd like to think that Dr. Anderson's life's work and Barak Obama's election doesn't have a 0% association. I know for certain he made my heart a better place.