I was recently asked what I thought about all the ruckus over the Confederate flag. The individual doing the asking is an older white male that I’ve come to know as a nice guy but…completely clueless about institutionalized racism and white privilege. You see, his asking me what I thought wasn’t really out of curiosity, it was his way of trying to justify marginalizing the race issue in America. You might find this hard to believe but some people actually think that this country wasn’t founded on racism, genocide or theft, regardless of historical fact.
I’ve learned since childhood that many of my white friends have no idea that their seemingly innocent questions and attitudes about race are steeped in good old fashioned American racism. Many feel comfortable asking me what my thoughts are about any number of racially charged stories that pop up in the media, as if I am a first hand source of non white information they can use to see if they’re racist or not. I got news for you white folks, whether you realize it or not, you cannot see the privilege of whiteness you were born and bred into much like a fish cannot fathom the water it lives and breathes in. Sure, you weren’t responsible for what your ancestors did but are you still perpetuating white myths towards other races? Do you see yourself as superior to other people because it’s your God given right to do so? Or do you shy away from anything that is “too uncomfortable” for you to admit to simply because from your perspective, you’ve never been the targets of institutionalized or nuanced racism therefore you cannot believe it’s real? Personally, I find it amusing whenever I hear statements like “Well I’m not a racist because I’m married to a (insert race here) man/woman therefore how can I be a racist?” Just because you fell in love with someone doesn’t mean you were shaped by certain attitudes during your formative years.
Back to the guy who asked me what I thought about the Confederate flag, my answer was simple. It’s not the flag stupid, it’s the people waving it that are the problem. Anything can be used to symbolize hate so how does attacking a symbol change the willingness to indoctrinate other people into systems of hate? Children aren’t born racists, they learn it from their immediate environment and if no one corrects them, they will continue to live in ignorance. Hate groups are social clubs for people seeking to validate their racism through group activities like organized cross burning field trips and if you join, you might receive a complementary white hooded robe or swastika. Sometimes these groups plan other social events like White Pride Parades or, for the really serious, build segregated compounds, I mean communities for themselves. I and every other person of color in this country has known or felt the impact of racism in America. Just because you’re not wearing a sheet or burning crosses in your neighbor’s backyard doesn’t mean you aren’t perpetuating racism on some level.If you’re not sure you aren’t offending anyone, here are some signs that you might be more offensive than you think:
1. Have you ever asked anyone why their people do this or that? (Example: Why don’t Indians just become Americans like everybody else?)
2. Do you scoff whenever a person of color points out that something you said or did was racially inappropriate?
3. Have you ever asked a person of mixed heritage who they identify with the most?
4. You see nothing wrong with making fun of different races simply because “they’re not like us.”
5. You think that because we have a black president (he’s mixed by the way), racism is no longer an issue in America.
6. You complain that your neighborhood “ain’t like it used to be” because different races have moved in.
7. You think that just because you have a non white friend, they’re ok with what you say about their race or other races.
8. You think people of color should believe and think the way you do.
9. You have a problem with brown people from other countries coming here even though you’re an immigrant yourself.
10. You justify or intellectualize your xenophobia with statements like, “Well I’m not a racist but…”
11. You tell people you’re not completely white because you have “high cheekbones” or unusually curly hair.
12. You think brown folks will accept you more if you tell them your great great grandfather or grandmother was an Indian (but won’t tell anybody you had a relative that was owned by other relatives.)
Personally, I laugh whenever people say to me “What are you?” I tell them that I am 100% sure that their assumptions will be incorrect because I am a mixed blood but the very fact that someone feels the need to ask tells me that they need to categorize who I am. If that’s the case, I let them keep guessing. Maybe someday they’ll figure out we’re all human after all.