I was and probably still am an ignorant racist. I was born into it simply because I am white and was raised in a small, rural, predominantly white town. Race was not discussed at home or in school. I truly thought racism (and sexism, for that matter) was over. We had come out on the other side and everyone was happy. My fights were for the environment and religious freedom…the freedom to not be a Christian. That was (and still is) intolerable in my hometown.
There is no excuse for ignorant racism. Especially in 2017. You know, you just don't know how.
Many of the white people I know are not racists, overtly, and they may even think they are open minded and love everyone. Well, it's easy to say that, it's hard to act on it, and if you've never been tested, how do you know what you are really made of? How do you know your true inner workings? How do you know where your weaknesses and strengths are? God says faith is stronger and more real after it's been through the forge (or something, I'm not up on my Bible), but basically, to have faith in God that is strong and worked through and hammered out and understood completely by you, your faith must be tested. So, if you grow up white, and live white, how do you know what racism is if you've never seen it? How do you know you are not racist if you've never been called out on it?
My entire time working at a American Indian non-profit was a test of my ignorant, ingrained racism and classism and sexisms. Now, I worked for the Indians, but I worked in the office with white people and one amazing Puerto Rican woman, who had the patience of a saint to walk me through my journey. Without her, I'd be a bigger idiot than I am now with tightly shut eyes.
One of my first months there, we had a staff meeting and it was brought up that a certain topic/phrase (I honestly can't remember) shouldn't be said or discussed. I asked why, and my director and indirect director* both looked uncomfortable. They said because it's wrong. And I kept asking why because I need to understand something in order to change, and I need to understand something in order to not make that mistake or one like it. The more I asked why, the more irritated and mad they got and the more they refused to answer me. Finally, I had to say that I agreed with them, but I didn't understand! Why should I do as they say, if they don’t' even know why? Finally, the only non-white person in the room, my Puerto Rican friend (but not yet, I was still too new) said "Because it's insensitive."
Insensitive. I had never heard that before in my white life. I didn't immediately understand, but I thought about it for years and I still think about it. I ask, "How are my actions insensitive to the struggles of others?" How are my words insensitive to the lives and experiences of those different than me?
I want to treat people like how I want to be treated. I do not think we discuss this enough in school, in Bible studies, in homes. It does not mean "be nice!", it means treat people with respect and be empathetic to their needs, desires, hurts, pains. Wouldn't you love it if everyone you met treated you with respect and empathy? That's what God means when xi made that the most important commandment. Respect yourself and respect others.
God it took me 32 yrs to figure that one out.
*Do you know why I had an indirect director? Because my director was a woman, so the man had to indirectly do her job for her. Not even exaggerating here. She let him because it's easier sometimes to be supported by a man, even if it's wrong and unhealthy. But this is for another day.