I, like many others, believe that racism is inherent and that we all harbor racist beliefs—to a degree. Yes, you read that right. I am saying that I am racist.
Am I comfortable saying that about myself? Absolutely not.
Do I fear the ramifications of my acknowledging my own biases? Yes, absolutely.
Am I going to put this out there any way? Hell yes.
Why, you ask? Because I would be doing a great disservice to myself and to others by refusing to acknowledge that aspect of who I am.
By definition, racism is the belief that one’s own race is superior to another. Racism is also further defined as the belief that some characteristics or abilities are specific to a certain race and, in turn, determine the superiority or inferiority of that race. These beliefs can often lead to discrimination and prejudice against people whose racial identities differ than our own.
When I acknowledge that I am racist, I am not referring to the perpetuation of the stereotypical vile and hate-filled bigotry that we often see attached to the term. I am referring to the fact that I lack the knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a member of a different racial group, and that can sometimes lead to my making snap judgments about others before actually knowing who they are and what they have to offer the world.
I am acknowledging that I lack the knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a member of my own racial group as well. I was not raised within the Asian community. I was raised in a Caucasian community with the understanding that I was different and the more I embraced assimilation, the easier it would be to exist as an outsider within that world. When I am surrounded by other Asians, I feel lost and completely out of my element. I don’t know how to exist in that world to which I belong only by virtue of physical attributes.
Do I choose to avoid situations in which I feel uncomfortable due to my race? Absolutely not. Because it is through those moments of discomfort and insecurity that I end up learning the most about others and myself.
I am not going to lie. When I engage in conversations about race with people—especially whose racial identities are not reflective of my own—I often feel very insecure and somewhat overwhelmed. Not because I don’t want to be surrounded by people who don’t look like me, or because I don’t want to be a part of those conversations. I feel uncomfortable because I don’t know what it is like to live in their skin. I can be supportive of their lived experiences and the battles they face on a daily basis because of the way the world views them, and I can stand in solidarity with them, but I will never be able to fully understand what it is like to exist in the world with a racial identity different than my own. While I cannot walk in the shoes of others—nor would it necessarily be appropriate for me to attempt to do so—I can and do make a concerted effort to seek out opportunities to learn and grow in my knowledge of the issues. This includes learning about the historical trauma deeply rooted within their race that may affect the way they have been taught to interact with the world.
Conversations around race would be a lot more effective if we would stop being so defensive and so focused on finding reasons as to why we aren’t racist and start acknowledging and owning the truths about why we are. Too many people avoid true introspection because of the fear of what they may learn about themselves. It takes a lot of strength and courage to acknowledge our shortcomings—to walk into the darkest parts of ourselves with eyes wide open. What we often fail to realize is that—it is within those places of darkness that we will find some of the most important and enlightening opportunities from which to learn.
The thing about acknowledging your own racist beliefs and personal biases is that you can also make the choice to not allow yourself to remain stuck there. Do you acknowledge the racism inherent within you, own it, and do the work to educate yourself and grow in your understanding and knowledge of the issues in an attempt to rise above? Or, do you refuse to open yourself up to the possibility that you may be racist and knowingly (or unknowingly) continue to perpetuate those racist beliefs?
You, alone, have the power to make that choice.
Educating yourself in an effort to rise above the racism inherent within you means just that—you seek out the opportunities to learn and grow. While engaging in conversations about race with people of color is extremely important, you also need to be willing to do your own work and not rely on people of color to educate you about their race. Because, honestly, it can be hard enough to exist in this world as people of color, that trying to educate other people about your race can be a greater burden than many of us can bear. And, while truly learning about race and privilege is not possible without a willingness to be vulnerable, it is often the people of color who are attacked for trying to educate others or sharing about their lived experiences. If you are able to lower your defenses long enough to truly listen to the messages of people of color, though oftentimes somewhat difficult to hear, you will discover that a majority of us share about our experiences to educate others—not to attack.
It is not easy to acknowledge the unfavorable aspects of who we are. And, our responses to messages about racism, privilege, entitlement, and fragility are often reflective of our own insecurities. Conversations about race and privilege are often wrought with “us vs. them” mentalities—which often lead to heightened defensiveness and messages falling on deaf ears.
These conversations would be much more effective if we are willing and open to acknowledging that, as humans, we are deeply flawed and we all have work to do—starting with ourselves. We need to be willing to truly listen to the messages that are being shared and think introspectively about how we unconsciously perpetuate racist beliefs and our personal biases and what we need to do to break the cycle. We need to attempt to see the world through diverse lenses and engage in meaningful conversations about how we can work together to more peacefully and productively coexist.
The fight against racism starts with you. It starts with me, too. And, I will forever be a deeply flawed work in progress with an infinite amount to learn in this regard.
How about you? Are you willing to do the work?