In Search of the Real Racists

Dominique Matti
Aug 31, 2017 · 4 min read
Photo: Femi Matti

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“Remember that time you called me a nigger?”

I type it, and then quickly take it back. My cursor blinks, the text block blank, my hands positioned tensely on the home keys.

“Remember that time you called me the N-word and got mad that I got mad about it?”

I erase it again.

He couldn’t remember. A person who remembered wouldn’t post a status like the one I contemplate commenting on, right? It says he disavows white supremacy. It says it’s unfortunate that it’s even necessary for him to say it. I check the comments.

“Anyone who knows you knows you don’t support white supremacists. Anyone who assumes you’re culpable based on your skin color is actually the racist.”

Spoken with the conviction of someone who’s never experienced racism.

This always happens when race relations take center stage in America (through police shootings or torch-wielding mobs). I sit back and watch as the white folks on my feed perform mental gymnastics to answer an identifying question:

“Who are the real racists?”

Opinions differ according to scope and scenario, but general consensus decrees that the real racists are one of the following:

  • People who openly declare that they hate marginalized races, or
  • People who call out racist people who don’t want to believe that they’re racist.

The white people posing the question are never the real racists. Racists are bad and they are good. White supremacists are niche and they are normal. And yet.

“Remember that time you called me a nigger? It was casual. We were in bed. You said it with a smile. You even laughed a little.”

That’s how racism is most often delivered — by hand. Not by fire or nightstick or the bumper of a car, but by friends. Lovers. Co-workers. Classmates. Bank tellers. Doctors. Judges. A woman at the grocery store who feels entitled enough to your bodies to stroke your breastfeeding baby’s cheek. A teacher who suggests you plagiarized based on your “unlikely” eloquence. A friend mimicking Black-voice to test your allegiances. A real estate agent who says the neighborhood gets “sketchy” three blocks up (where the Black people are). But none of them believe the word “racist” applies to them. Any racism they willingly admit to is a temporary condition, a fluke in their otherwise goodness, like lying without being a liar, something to be swept under the rug.

Despite the the countless studies insisting grim realities for Black Americans—from job prospects, to housing discrimination, to unethical health care practices—a February poll suggests that only 49 percent of white Americans believe Black people face a lot of discrimination. In a March poll, only 39 percent believed that prejudice was a “very serious” problem in America.

This comes in stark contrast to the influx of those decrying racism on social media. It implies that the majority of white Americans don’t perceive racism to be a complex combination of systemic oppression and interpersonal prejudices — but rather an indication of whether or not a person feels they are “good” or “nice” to minorities. To them, being called racist is a value judgement, one that’s most appropriate for the accused and a few chosen character witnesses to assess.

When so many white Americans struggle to discern what racism is at all, I struggle to imagine their capacity to sincerely condemn white supremacy. I question their commitment. How can they eradicate something they can’t recognize in their own reflections? This firm denial of blatant complicity is evidence enough to me of an investment in white supremacy that they’re unwilling to relinquish. Until those of them disavowing archetypal bigots condemn their own implicit bias and support of the systems in place, I can only consider them insidious allies to one another.

Because they’re inextricably linked. They exist in service to each other. While the right hand of white supremacy fights with fire, the left sentences Black people to death by 1,000 paper cuts. Death by disbelief. Death by denial. Death by deflection. They create conditions in which extremists thrive, like the moisture to the alt-right’s toxic mold. White America insists it keeps a clean home, when a 400-year infestation says otherwise. And until they’re willing to reconcile their own participation, white supremacy is here to stay.

Dominique Matti

Written by

Writer/ Editor/ Cool Mom / /

Scaling the Gate
Scaling the Gate

About this Collection

Scaling the Gate

The question is never not there, a steady hum under the elements of my life. My work. Marriage. Mothering. Friendships. Family. Who could I be, unburdened by the weight of oppression? What would life look like if my potential weren’t sectioned off by society’s limitations? This series will explore what it means to live in close proximity to a better life, to look at full freedom from the other side of the fence. To scale the gate and fight to knock it down.

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