I’m a recovering racist

White and nonblack people: I have spent years doing anti-racist work, reading and signal boosting voices of color (especially black voices), and reprogramming my brain from the racist messages society has taught me.

And still, when a white friend mentioned some young nonblack people feeling discomfort around an older black man, I immediately leapt to forgive the actions of those nonblack folks by checking to see if the person in question had harmed them. Even thinking back on the situation, I find myself making excuses for why I did this: “I live in a predominantly white town, so, knowing an older black male with an interest relative to my friend’s experience, it’s logical that I clarified that it wasn’t him. If it had been him, the discomfort my friend described could have been similar to discomfort I and others I know feel around that person, which might have to deal with misogyny, so it makes sense”. My friend mentioned the age and race of the person to indicate that he believed the group of young nonblack people was being discriminatory. The instinct I have to find out why their actions weren’t problematic is, in itself, problematic.

So how can I claim to be involved in anti-racist work? Because I’m trying. Because reprogramming myself doesn’t happen overnight. I can be honest with myself – I’m still racist. The excuses I made for myself are racist. The instinct to support the nonblack people’s intentions and even to begin to think of blaming the black man for their discomfort is racist. I’m a recovering racist. I hope this acknowledgement will help me be less racist in the future. I hope white people read this and learn more about themselves and the anti-racist work they have to do.

This acknowledgement that I’m racist is not enough. Still, I forgive myself for it. Because without forgiving myself I would be swimming in shame. I’d rather swim out of shame by changing my actions. Maybe next time I’ll catch my instincts a little sooner. If I continue trying, maybe they won’t happen at all.

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