Saumya Arya Haas admits to — and learns to own — her own prejudices.
We never think we’re the problem.
What? How can you ban interracial couples and not recognize or admit that this is a racist action? What reality does this guy live in?
He lives in the same reality the rest of us do: an internal reality.
In our own stories, we are beleaguered heroes with complicated histories. We seldom see ourselves as the aggressor or oppressor. When we act against other people, we aren’t able to see it in the context of a greater social issue. Our actions seem reasonable. We are not acting out of racism or sexism. We have our reasons.
Sometimes, we are simply outraged by injustice. Other times, what we are most ashamed of in ourselves is what we find the most intolerable in others. So the church leader’s racism, and obliviousness (or disingenuousness) hits close to home. We’re all guilty. When someone sets themselves up with such offensive, unlikeable behavior as I am not racist after clearly demonstrating they are, it’s a magical moment: such a luscious scapegoat just begs to be chased out to the wilderness.
Public shaming is powerful, and sometimes necessary. I believe that the ban was lifted due to public pressure, and that makes me feel good about our country. But when we all fall in line behind the scapegoat, yelling and waving, it starts look like we’re letting it lead us: the hypocrite parade.
It seems that nobody is racist or sexist any more. It has fallen out of fashion as an identity label, but it remains popular as part of identity. The actions abound, but we find another way to explain our intent.
When we don’t support someone dealing with sexual or other abuse? It’s about the fact that the victim is this-or-that: shifty, crazy, promiscuous, male, troublesome, never-writes-thank-you-notes, whatever. It’s not about the social systems that systematically denigrate and further abuse abuse survivors. But it is. Our personal is hard to see as political. But it is.
“I’m not racist! My best friend is black” is as ridiculous as: “I’m not sexist! My wife is a woman.” Yet we hear it, all the time. We’re the one saying it.
So, I am going to come clean: I am racist. I am sexist. I am prejudiced.
I admit it. I judge, or have judged, people based on their race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, faith, excessive faith, lack of faith…and so on. I make assumptions. I see color. I have ridiculous expectations of men. I have laughed at racist/sexist/otherwise hurtful jokes. I have had reflexive fear-reactions because of how people look. I have judged, justified, injured. I have looked the other way. I am racist.
My marriage is interracial. My family is mixed-ethnic, inter-faith, multi-linguistic, trans-national. I have lived all over the world. My friends are nationally, ethnically, religiously, economically diverse. People often turn to me when they have questions about those of different faiths or cultures. I’m still racist.
I am a woman and a racial minority. I have been discriminated against and hurt because of my ethnicity and my gender (I am not even going to start on religion). I know how damaging it is, and I do not wish it on anyone. I still have my own prejudices, some of them helped along by my experiences. I’m racist. I’m sexist.
I like to think I’m a good person that tries to help others. I advocate for good cultural manners, pluralism and social equity. I believe that every American should have the same civil rights. I don’t think one person’s belief ought to influence another person’s human rights. But I’m still racist.
I am ashamed of these thoughts and feelings. Some are from my past, others are with me every day. Some are fleeting, some entrenched. I understand that my prejudices do not tell me anything about the group I am prejudiced against. They tell me something about myself. I try to be aware of them so that when they come up I can stop myself from subjecting others to my issues. I’m sure that I fail. I’m sorry for this, and sorry for any pain or harm I cause because of it. I strive to be better.
I engage in interfaith/intergroup and social equity work not only because I have something to teach. I do it because I have something to learn.
We have to own our prejudice if we are going to deal with it. And we have to deal with it. As a society, as communities, as families, but first and most of all, as ourselves. That is where we have the most control over reality. Know what you are. Admit it. Recognize that it says something about you, not about the group of people you view one way or another. Assess it, change it. Don’t beat yourself up or wallow in guilt. Know you are made up of many parts. But call each what it is.
I believe that one of the reasons we lie is because we wish it were the truth. We lie about who we are because we wish we were something else. Our lies reveal us. Look at the things about yourself you wish were true: I’m not racist.
I’m not racist but my actions are: this is what it means to live in a “post-racial world.” Sorry, but I don’t live in that world. We can call ourselves anything we want. We can tell ourselves anything we want. That doesn’t make it true. I try to live as close to reality as I can; I’d rather endure the worst of myself than be a hypocrite. So, there: I’m racist. But I deal with it.
photo: Losttrekker / flickr