I have a confession to make: I am a racist.
This is a blog post that has been in my mind for about 13 months. To make this confession public, though, is painful. But what better day to call myself out than on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
To be clear, I don’t really think that I am a racist. At least, not intentionally. Thirteen months ago, though, I was forced to accept something about myself that I didn’t want to accept. I have latent racism. Before that, though, some context.
I was born in central Missouri (Columbia), and I moved with my family to central Wyoming (Lander) when I was seven years old. I lived there until I was 21 (with the final year and a half spent also in west Idaho for college), and then I was in Denver for two years, back to Wyoming (Casper) for seven years, then a tiny town in west Montana (Victor) for eight years, and I have been back in Wyoming (Cheyenne) for almost half a year now.
All my life, I have been in areas that are probably 90%+ white people. In Lander, the Native American population was significant, and my time in Idaho included spending time with a lot of Mexicans. (There were times at my McDonald’s job there that I was the only native English-speaking person working in the store.) But there is no doubt that in the vast majority of settings I find myself, I am surrounded by people with a similar skin tone as myself.
I have never thought of myself as being racist. I had nothing wrong with the occasional African-American or Asian-American (or other non-white American) I encountered in any of the places I lived. I’ve traveled the world some (Australia, Canada, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia), and I have never felt particularly uncomfortable in any of the non-white majority places that I have found myself outside the United States. However, a trip to my homeland in March 2017 caused me to acknowledge my latent racism.
In early March 2017, I was headed to the Kansas City area to attend some ministry-related meetings. Other than a quick drive across Missouri in 2011, I had not been back to the state of my birth since I was 9 years old (1988). So, I decided to fly into St. Louis, drive across the state for my meetings, and spend some time visiting some of the places that were buried deep in my memory. This is where my latent racism manifested itself.
To be clear, I had no ill thoughts or wished nothing negative on any of the non-white people that I encountered. However, frequently on my Missouri adventure, most notably (but not exclusively) in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, I found myself in places that were 95% African-American. I was often one of the few white people around. I found myself internally obsessed with this. I was extremely uncomfortable. I wasn’t scared at all . . . other than I was fearful of doing or saying anything that might make me seem racist. I went out of my way to be overly friendly towards the African-Americans I talked to. I remember walking down an aisle in a store, about to cross to the other side to find what I was looking for, but then noticing an African-American walking towards me on the side that I was already on. To not seem like I was trying to avoid this person, I purposefully remained on the same side until he passed. I didn’t want anyone to think I was one of those bigoted white guys.
That is all I have to report. As previously mentioned, I had no ill wishes or thoughts about anyone. Just extreme internal discomfort like I had never experienced before. To some of you, this may not sound like a big deal. But to me, it exposed something about myself that I don’t like. I do, indeed, have latent racism. And if this is the case, what other latent bigotry am I guilty of? Am I a misogynist? Am I prejudiced against people in other social classes? Do I truly love others as I love myself? In my interactions with others, do I have the same attitude of Christ Jesus?
And if I have such latent prejudices, what does that tell me about society? Am I an anomaly? Or do other people have similar prejudices? Is our entire system set up in favor of certain types of people against other types of people? Sadly, I think this is the case.
Don’t get me wrong. I think society has vastly improved from where it once was. African-Americans can hold much more prominent social roles than they were able to hold in previous eras. We even recently elected a black POTUS. Who would have imagined this would have happened in the 1860s? Or the 1960s? We have indeed come a long way from where America once was.
But we still have a long way to go. If such latent prejudice was exposed in me, I must believe that many other people have these latent prejudices, too. I think the first step is acknowledging them. We need to become aware and ashamed of the ways we think differently about or become uncomfortable around people different than ourselves. We need to acknowledge and expose our prejudices, both as individuals and as societies, and then we can work on moving past them.
And what we should be striving for isn’t a “colorblind society” as some have called for. Rather, we should strive to live in a world that celebrates diversity and recognizes the great worth and value that comes when people who are different than one another bring their differences to the table for the greater good of society. We have so much to offer each other. Let’s rejoice in our diversities and use them to enrich each other and society.
There is probably more that I can say about this, but I will leave it at that for this morning.