I’m a racist.
And you are too.
That emotionally-charged, assault-weapon-deadly word.
I’m here to reclaim the word racist.
You know like how queer and bitch were reclaimed?
Yeah, just like that.
I am a racist.
And while I’m not proud to be one, I acknowledge that I am. And that, for me, makes a huge difference.
What is a racist?
The commonly-held belief (at least on the Internet; I’ve never met anyone who actually holds this belief) is that racism = prejudice + power. And look, I’m not here to bash that definition. It certainly has its usefulness and appeal. It is why it has been said that “black people can’t be racist”.
But as a (reluctantly) self-identifying ‘black person’, I disagree with that definition, based on my own personal experience, and the many and varied experiences I’ve had with other racist black people such as myself.
The definition of racism that I, and most of the other people I’ve ever met, use is more along the lines of “thinking that one group of people is superior in some way to other groups of people”. And in action, this translates to “treating members of one group of people differently than another group, based solely on the fact that they are members of that group.”
Whenever I refer to ‘racist’ from now on in this article, this definition is what I’ll be referring to.
But, if my definition of “racism” gives you a headache, or if the word carries too much emotionally baggage, or if using that word makes it impossible for you to take seriously what I’m saying, please feel free to substitute it with any other word you prefer.
Why I’m A Racist
I’m a racist because I’m a living, breathing human being, who was born between the years 0000-2016 on planet Earth.
No other explanation necessary.
The world is racist.
Yes, I said “is”.
Racism (see definition above) is not a thing of the past.
It is a part of our inheritance…our birthright if you will…as humans inhabiting this planet at this particular moment in time.
We are coming from far – so far that when I think the kind of planet that future generations will get to live on, it gives me warm fuzzy feelings on the inside. But that place doesn’t exist yet.
Starting in the 1500s and lasting for over four centuries, Africans traded fellow human beings as slaves for weapons and goods. Less than 100 years ago, Europeans nearly decimated themselves, then tried again 30 years later. Israel and Palestine are still fighting over some randomly-drawn lives in the sand.
Our tribes of the past have morphed into the races of the present.
The world IS racist.
Therefore, as a by-product of growing up in and assimilating into the culture of a racist world, I ended up – unsurprisingly – racist.
It’s that simple.
But this seems to be the furthest thing from ‘simple’ for a whole lot of people to admit.
I think – for many people – “racist” is probably the worse thing you can call them. And, based on my observation, it’s not their actions that are usually the problem. It’s just the word.
A ‘racist’ is someone who wears white hoods and does unspeakable things. A ‘racist’ is someone of lower intelligence and lower reasoning. A ‘racist’ is a “bad person”, so I couldn’t possibly be a racist! (So the common understanding goes.)
The newest form of racism is to be racist towards people who you think are racist. (Life is all good and well when you are on a high horse looking down on someone deemed less “enlightened” than you.)
But my quest to reclaim the word ‘racist’ isn’t based on useless self-indulgence – or is it???????????? – but rather on what is, I hope, a valuable idea.
It’s the same thing with the word “racist”. If a racist is an “idiot” and you’re not an “idiot” then you couldn’t possibly be racist…right?
Like me, you’re definitely a racist.
Let me show you what my racism looks like.
My Racist Journey
It all started when I was a little girl.
I don’t remember how old exactly, but I must have been very young. Mr. Bean would play on local television, and I loved Mr. Bean.
But Mr. Bean is – of course – an imbecile. And at that young age, my racist brain simply thought that Mr. Bean was representative of all “white people”. So, I came to the logical conclusion that all white people were also imbeciles.
I know this anecdote may seem funny, but I’m not exaggerating in the slightest, and I’m being 100% serious that I held this belief at one point in time. This is why people say that ‘representation matters.’
Our societies and lives are still pretty segregated, even in places that boast of ‘cultural diversity’ like Jamaica. And living with racist brains in a racist world, if you see one single characterization of a group of people, then your brain will simply come to believe that this is a representation of all such people.
I soon overcame this barrier and jumped to my next racist milestone: internalizing the message of White supremacy.
You would think that growing up in a country where the majority of people look like me would have influenced this belief, and you would probably be right.
But I still wasn’t able to avoid that ever-present fog of Eurocentrism that permeates my post-colonial home.
At around 11 or 12, in the heights of my tween insecurities, I hated my features. I wished that my nose and hair were straighter. I wished my lips weren’t so big and I wished that my skin was…maybe not white, but whit-er.
Of course, every adolescent experiences insecurities, but I think you’d have to work really hard to find a black woman who didn’t, at some point in time in her life, hate the way she looked specifically because she looked black.
And that’s why black beauty is so big now. Although I don’t personally identify with the hashtag #blackgirlmagic, it lies in big, bold beautiful opposition to the messages we internalized as girls.
Speaking of over-compensation, that was the next step of my racist journey.
In 4th form (my fourth year of secondary education), I studied Caribbean history. And after reading about the transatlantic slave trade, I developed a hatred for The UK that rivalled all else.
Great Britain? What’s so “great” about it????
The Queen? F*ck that b*tch!
English people were evil, greedy, cruel charlatans who only dealt in death and disaster.
Of course, now I can look back at history from a much wider perspective, and appreciate the unique pain and trauma that must have led to the whole mess in the first place. (If you haven’t been following, it’s called “life on Earth”, and we’re all subject to it.)
I’d love to say I’ve completely overcome my racism of the past, but the truth is that, I still fight racism in my everyday life. It may have different expressions, but this idea that I am better than whatever “group” of people, still pops up and I still have to fight it.
But I’ve become comfortable identifying as a racist. It’s the reality, whether tasteful or not.
And, most importantly, it’s okay.
It’s okay that we’re all racist. It’s understandable; expected, even.
But while racist ideology might be understandable, it’s still racist. It’s the same ideology that have people fearing ‘Mexican rapists’ and that would have some try and close their borders to people fleeing a bloody war.
It’s the ideology of separation.
It’s the ideology of tribalism.
It’s the ideology of racism.
It’s the only ideology that could keep us blind to the suffering of others, whichever others, and make us unable to extend our natural compassion and empathy to human beings that need nothing more from us than love, understanding and help.
I, racist, stand up and acknowledge my racism. Will you join me?
I see where we’re coming from, and where we’re going. And it’s beautiful.
Do you have a racism story? I would love to hear it? Like seriously, I would. Leave a comment below and share it with me please!