Confessions of a Recovering Racist

As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been a racist for most of my life.

I don’t mean that I’ve been evil. I’ve never worn a KKK hood. I’ve never insulted Jewish or Asian people. I’ve never actually hated anyone simply because of their skin color. What I have done, though, is be more prone to cover my wallet when I walk past a black or Latino man on the sidewalk late at night. Or not be bothered when I read a report stating that whites control about 90 percent of the wealth in the U.S.

Merriam-Webster defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” Using that metric? Sad as I am to say it, I’ve been a textbook case. And I think a lot more of us are racist than care to admit it.

In the six months that Donald Trump has been president, racism is one of the numerous forms of hatred that have been thrust into the national consciousness. And this particular brand of hate came to a horrible climax in Charlottesville, Va., recently. Like many, I’m sure, I was angry and frustrated in the aftermath of that weekend. I cried when I watched the VICE News documentary on it, which portrayed the events from the white nationalists’ perspective. I felt so fucking helpless! It was a dark day in U.S. history, to be sure.

But then I thought to myself, The people in our country need to change. And what’s the first step in change? Identifying the problem. Hence, this blog post. I can’t control what other people do, but I can control my own thoughts and actions. And as a writer, I express myself best through words. So this piece is an exploration of racism in me—a way of identifying the problem in myself. So let’s get to it.

Yep, I’m racist. (Matter of fact, I think there’s at least some racism in all of us.) I wonder, though, if I even had a choice whether or not to be that way. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s in a small town in rural Mississippi. The sense that I got from…hell, everybody, was that whites were superior to other races. In my town (as in many others, I’m sure), that was just the accepted mindset. Also in my town, mind you, “other races” meant black. And it didn’t help matters that older white people (mainly men, of course) subconsciously reminded us on a regular basis about whites’ superiority. As a child, I was conditioned by my peers to think that way. Though I can’t recall any specific instances of that kind of talk, here’s a sample script of regular occurrences from my childhood:

OLD WHITE MAN #1: (reading the newspaper) Aw, look here. Another n*gger done robbed a convenience store.
OLD WHITE MAN #2: Aw hell, why’re you surprised? That’s what those monkeys do.

To an 8-year-old, that kind of talk can make a mighty big impression. And the thing is, those Racist Old White Men were usually respected, God-fearing, upstanding members of our community. They were talking that way because their daddies had, and their granddaddies…that was what they knew. As a child, I sort of knew that way of thinking was wrong, but I didn’t understand why it was wrong. So I just accepted it.

I remember that in about the second through fourth grades, my best friend was a tall, skinny black kid named Andrew. At the time, I didn’t think to myself, Hey, your best friend is black! It wasn’t an issue. I just liked Andrew because we shared a love for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and because he was fun to play with at recess. His race wasn’t a factor.

By high school, though, the social circles were becoming pretty segregated; I went to the public high school in my town, which was about 60/40 black/white. Though there were exceptions, the whites hung with other whites, and blacks with blacks. Same deal when I went to college at Southern Miss.

Over the two decades or so after I graduated college, I lived in some vastly different parts of the country: New York, South Florida, and Los Angeles, where I now live with my wife Kari. And all during those 25-odd years, my mindset regarding race was pretty much the same: though I didn’t hate anybody, I believed in my soul that white people were just superior.

I was wrong.

I moved to L.A. in late 2014 to be with my girlfriend (now my wife) Kari. And I think it was that move that really started changing my racist attitude—for a couple of reasons: one, L.A. is such a melting pot (of race, ethnicity, gender preference, etc., etc.) that I was immediately exposed to pretty much every kind of person in existence. Think of it as Acceptance Boot Camp. We live in Koreatown, which is majority Asian—so I’ve been exposed to entirely new cultures pretty much 24/7.

And the other reason for my attitude change: my dear, sweet wife. Kari is what I’ll call a Moral Giant. (And I don’t say that as a joke.) She has such a kind, accepting, loving soul; I’m learning from her that all people—regardless of race, gender, physical capability, financial status, or anything else—deserve love. And as time goes by, I’m learning to love them.

Which brings us to now. President Trump has brought out the hate in a lot of people—namely, his voter base, who apparently misunderstood the “Make America Great Again” slogan. It’s not “Make America Hate Again,” assholes.

The president seems to want to revert our society back 50 or 100 years. Guess what, Mr. Trump: That ain’t gonna happen. It can’t. This is the 21st century. Times have changed. Society has changed. What was accepted in the 1970s is not acceptable any more. And just because you’re afraid of having your comfortable racist bubble burst by allowing less fortunate people to have some equality, does not mean you get to hold them down. That shit just ain’t gonna fly.

I’m not sure how much I’ve accomplished here, but at least I’ve spoken my feelings. I know I’ve been racist, but I want to better myself. I want to love everyone. I haven’t quite been able to, maybe because I was conditioned to not have that ability. But starting today, I choose to love people not for the color of their skin, but for the content of their character. I hope Dr. King would be proud.