This is a post from 2015 that I just feel is timely. I’m also going to post the companion piece. Lela
Hello, my name is Brad and I am a racist.
I must be a racist because the barista at Starbuck’s scribbled “Race Together” on the side of my cup. Apparently I look like a racist. Apparently Lela does not because her cup just had her name scrawled on the side along with the secret code for how she likes her coffee. Her friend Susan, who looks very Alaska Native, was also not blessed with the invitation to have a conversation with a white coffee-dispensing college student about race. My friend PJ — RACIST!
Lela and I are generally opposed to putting our images out on social media. It’s not like the NSA doesn’t know who we are or what we look like, but we don’t want to make it any easier for them. You’ll just have to take my word for it — I’m white. My eyes are blue-green, my hair is sort of honey brown and my skin — well, this time of year, it’s blindingly white. We don’t get a lot of sun in Alaska in the winter and since it rained all last summer, it’s been about 18 months since I’ve tanned. So I think this is the whitest I’ve ever been.
I know — disgraceful! How can I have any understanding of what darker-skinned people feel when my skin is this white? And I was buying coffee with another white guy at a bookstore! Can’t you just smell the white privilege? White men who can read at a 6th grade level and afford designer coffee! Obviously we need to discuss race relations in America with our barista! I mean, she has dreds. She can’t possibly be a racist!
So here’s something to know about the inner workings of my mind. Like most human beings on the planet, I do have some prejudices. I prefer vanilla over chocolate ice cream, for example. I discriminate against flavorless Lower 48 blueberries in favor of tart Alaska blueberries. I like Jeeps better than Subarus which I prefer over Fords. If given a choice, I will choose movies that feature explosions over romantic comedies. I don’t like some people and love to hang out with others. I discriminate all of the time. We all do and that is not necessarily an evil thing. Trust me on this — Alaska blueberries — WAY better than Lower 48 blueberries!!!!
Ah, but is my choice of coffee companions an indication that I discriminate in favor of white people? Could be. I grew up in a rough New York City neighborhood during the bussing era of the 1970s. In the 5th grade, I was stabbed by a Puerto Rican girl for no reason I ever knew and I haven’t really had much use for Puerto Ricans since, but if you are a friendly Puerto Rican and don’t try to stab me, I’ll eventually warm up to you. You know the saying — once stabbed, twice shy, but you can prove to me that I can trust you. And, then I was once beaten up by two drunk (Alaska) Native men, so if you’re a drunk Alaska Native man harassing people in downtown Fairbanks Alaska, you might want to steer clear of me. I’ve learned to growl and threaten to bite rather than get kicked in the ribs again.
See — RACIST! Or maybe the Puerto Rican chick and the Native guys hurt me and I learned the lesson they were trying to teach me.
In high school, I was smitten by a black girl in my history class who would never give me the time of day. My best friend is an Alaskan Eskimo. My wife is part-American Indian. My very beloved daughter actually looks more Indian than her mother. Once I was the only white man on a remote job site and three of my black coworkers announced I could call them the “n-word”. I guess these non-whites have f failed to notice that I’m a bigot, huh?
I’m Irish American and like most American whites, I am uncomfortable with this topic. In fact, I feel like I don’t have a right to have a contrarian opinion on this subject. The only reason I’m posting this is that Lela insisted. It was about 17 years ago that my coworkers honored me by trying to let me into their group. I couldn’t say the “n-word” without blushing and choking. They thought it was funny and tried to get me to practice it, but I never could do it. Finally, they took pity on me and said I didn’t have to. But why was it hard for me to say it? They called each other “nigga” all the time. It appeared to be a term of endearment and camaraderie. I was honored that they gave me permission, but I couldn’t say it. Since then, I’ve asked quite a few white people if they could say “n-word”. I haven’t found any that could. They are absolutely embarrassed by the term.
Why?Because we’ve all been indoctrinated to never have bigoted thoughts about people of color and to never, ever say the n-word. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but I want to just point out that there’s a double standard. White people have been taught to be careful of the sensitivities of non-whites, but non-whites are not necessarily held to the same standard.
Have you ever seen an Indian fella wearing a “Native Pride” hat? You see it a lot here in Alaska. I’ve often wondered what would happen if I wore a “white pride” T-shirt, but I fear getting beat up again, so I’ve never run that experiment. This week in Fairbanks, we’re having the Festival of Native Arts, where Native people get together for Native dancing and eating ethnic foods (muktuk and seal oil, yummo!) and non-Natives are expected to plunk down big money to go watch this, but they aren’t permitted to participate. We’re supposed to respect this exhibit as healthy cultural pride. What if Irish people were to get together for jig dancing or Germans were to get together for beer drinking and glockenspieling and say it’s okay for non-Irish to pay money to watch, but they can’t participate — what would be the reaction?
But what really bugs me is that 17 years ago, I could say “nigga” to a black man and he would call me friend, but today I don’t think those same men would honor me with that privilege because black people today are no longer judging white people by the content of their character, but by the color of our skin. White people are expected to apologize for being white, as if that is anything we can control any more than a black person can control being born black.
Doesn’t that sound a lot like racism to you? It sure sounds a lot like racism to me.
Source: On Being a Racist