The first time I realized I was unintentionally racist.

A very kind man taught me something that day.

It was in Salt Lake City, during downtime at orientation for my first driving job. I had recently learned how to play Spades, and was enjoying the game immensely with my classmates, some of whom were black.

During one game, I said something to one of the black men playing with us, and ended the phrase with the word ‘boy’, with attitude in my tone that probably came off as hateful, given the circumstances, but wasn’t intended to be.

He schooled me, in a positive way. He told me point blank what I said was racist, not with anger, just honesty. It stopped me in my tracks. I paused to think, of all the times I had used it in the past, and how in the world I could have not realized the truth of what he was saying to me without him having to say it. Then I offered him a heartfelt apology, which was graciously accepted. I’m still grateful this guy spoke up, when he did and in the way he did.

In hindsight, I realize that the Texan I had been hanging out with during driving school is where I picked that up, and in defense of my own ignorance, I have a clear memory of saying the same thing to him, a white guy. I also know that I have avoided using that word in that context to refer to anybody ever since.

Why is a white woman writing all this down for the world to read? Because it matters. I don’t want to co-opt the conversation on race, and I don’t think my voice matters more than those of the people who deal with stuff like this and far worse every single day of their lives. My goal here is simply to be honest. Honest about what I’ve learned over the years about how ingrained racism is. Honest about how easy it is to believe fervently in equality, and then have something racist fall out of your mouth. Honest about how much societal soul-searching we need in this country before this problem will be solved. I’m hoping that my awkwardness will make others just a little more comfortable confronting their own.

My goal is also to add my voice in support. The unfortunate fact is that in a democracy, it takes a majority opinion to effect change for a minority population. I hope to be a part of making that happen, not out of guilt, or the need to be a savior, or because I think it can’t happen without whites. I want it to happen because it’s right, and I speak about it because it can happen faster if more of us do.

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