I’ve been wanting to write this post ever since I saw Selma at the beginning of January, but I have been so nervous about exposing some of my most shameful thoughts to the public that I have been putting it off week after week. However, I have a feeling I’m not the only one who has similar feelings, and, ultimately, my message is a positive one. So please bear with me.
I am a 40-year-old gay, white male living in Brooklyn, New York. Politically, I am pretty liberal, leaning towards socialism. I truly believe that all human beings deserve to be treated equally, so it is important you understand that by saying “I’m a little bit racist” I do not mean I feel hatred towards anyone as a people.
I was raised in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio, by my two white, heterosexual parents, who themselves were raised in rural Indiana. The suburb in which I grew up was 99% white. From kindergarten through my senior year in high school I encountered a small handful of fellow students who were not white. I then attended a small, private college in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, where the campus was slightly more diverse but not by much. So it’s pretty clear that my interaction with people of other ethnicities was pretty limited throughout my formative years.
That said, while I was growing up, I never encountered anyone being overtly racist, with the exception of my maternal grandparents who let loose with the n-word every once in a while. My grandmother still refers to Brazil nuts using a highly offensive phrase which always elicits horrified reactions from everyone in the room. (It’s probably why she still says it.) I also specifically remember watching The Cosby Show at their home one summer when I was a child and my grandfather yelling, “Why are you kids watching that n***** show?!” which shocked my brothers and me, and my parents promptly told him, in so many words, that what he said was not cool.
But even with that kind of verbal racism, never ever did anyone in my life tell me that people with a different skin color than me were any different or less human or less deserving of the same quality of life as mine. In fact, even when my grandfather shouted that offensive sentence, we kept watching the show and he didn’t really seem to care. I think he was just trying to get a rise out of the rest of us, albeit in a reprehensible manner.
Now it’s time to explain why I believe I’m a little bit racist. Even now, living 40 years of life and experiencing many parts of the world and knowing and loving people of all colors and from all walks of life, I still have these little thoughts that pop into my brain. It tends to happen when I see a young black man or woman achieve something great. I think, “Good for them! That’s amazing!” And that inner praise is perhaps a little more enthusiastic than it would be for a young person of any other race. Even in my mind it seems a little forced. I think part of this is a result of believing that those young men and women must have had to overcome many more social barriers to achieve their successes than their colleagues. And maybe that’s true. But maybe it isn’t.
I know on the surface this doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. But the reason why I still consider it a little bit racist is because that reaction is actually a bit condescending. It’s similar to that situation of someone looking at a woman in a wheelchair and saying, “Oh, but she has such a beautiful face.” I mean, we all like to be told we’re beautiful, sure. But the implication in that comment is that at least she has that face despite the obvious tragedy of the rest of her life, even though she may actually be a very happy, content person. Or maybe not. Either way, we won’t know unless we start interacting with her as an actual person and not some symbol representing a whole class of people to be pitied from afar.
The reason why I’m admitting all of this is because I was so powerfully moved by the film Selma. While I have a basic historical knowledge of the civil rights movement, I have not done any extensive reading or research into that time period. (You might think that’s because I’m white and have never felt personally motivated to do so, but I’ve never done any extensive reading or research into the gay rights movement either. So really I’m just lazy.) Intellectually, I was fully aware that people were horribly abused and killed while fighting for equal rights for all citizens of the United States, but seeing it so dramatically and powerfully portrayed on screen really opened my eyes.
What I came away with from that film was an overwhelming shock and confusion over how people can be so fucking evil. I mean, yes, I have fully admitted that I have my own issues when it comes to race, but never, ever have I ever or will I ever believe that a person is less than human just because of their skin color. And anyone who does believe that is evil. This is not up for debate. If you think someone is less deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness solely because that person looks different than you, you are evil. And, of course, this is not limited to racism. Whenever someone hurts, abuses, or kills another human being just because they look different, think different, love different, or worship different, such extreme intolerance is pure evil.
Unfortunately, I don’t know how to root out this evil that is still so pervasive in our world. I certainly don’t condone fighting evil with evil; I’m just not wired that way. Maybe the best we can do is share our stories and lead by example as we try to convince others to do the same because, ultimately, it will create a better world for all of us.