On Being Racist

I voted for Obama. Twice.

For Hillary, too.

I donate money to the ACLU.

I believe that everyone, regardless of skin color, deserves equal opportunity.

But one day, in front of a gas station, I get tense when I see a group of young black men standing around. I check the zipper on my purse. I press the lock button of the car key twice, just to make sure.

I tell myself I’m just being cautious. It’s an easy story to tell myself. Fellow white folks: You’ve probably told it to yourself too. It goes like this:

“I’m not scared because they are black. No, it can’t be that. I’m scared because they are men, and they are young. I’m scared because I’m in a new part of a town. I’m scared because they could overpower me.”

This story can be convincing. I tell it often enough to myself that it starts to seem true.

But then there are the white men standing outside of that other gas station, the one where I always forget to lock my door. They are young, and I am not afraid. They are gathered in a group, drinking from cans in paper bags, and I wonder if they just got off a long shift at work.

Racist. I don’t like to feel the word on my tongue, not when talking about myself. Racist is what those other people are. And yet here I am, justifying my own racism.

My voice is louder than yours, unfairly. My resume gets shuffled to the top of the pile, unfairly. My speeding car sails by unnoticed more often, unfairly. My home loan is more likely to be granted, unfairly. My teacher is more likely to grade my exam favorably, unfairly.

I know all of this, and yet here I am. Here we are, still. Racist. I don’t deserve to ask for your patience, but I do. I still have work to do.

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