In a Word: Racism

I am fortunate enough to have groups of women with whom I can share my thoughts. One such gathering has chosen a list of words.  Each month we discuss what one of the words means to us. What feelings it engenders. What we can learn about ourselves in a context of thought and discussion about that single word. And what we are willing to share. I’ve decided to let you in on my thoughts…

I don’t consider myself a racist. But, does anyone?

When I know I am right, I needn’t consider other possibilities. My thoughts and feelings – and even my visual perceptions – are so colored by the filters of my life and experience that it’s difficult to discern when my own truths veer away from facts.

For instance, I live in an area of my state in which there are few people of color so it’s easy to fall into a mindset that all Asians own restaurants and all blacks are musicians or are actors in our nationally recognized theater. Oh, and some young blacks might be adopted – having been saved from Africa.

Latinos are thought of as landscapers, restaurant owners, or agricultural workers.

Blatant racism, right?

I continually struggle against these stereotypes within myself and my circle. But I can’t negate the influence that results from years of exposure to such thinking. I face this shortcoming full on.

I’ve been trying to read a book Revealing Whiteness: The Unconscious Habits of Racial Privilege by Shannon Sullivan but it is a bit too scholarly for me. I need to look for another book. Perhaps it is most informative to just consider my white privilege from a more personal angle.  Looking from the inside out can gives me insight.

I live within the huge protective circle of a white-haired, upper middle-class, primarily Anglo woman. Yes, that leaves me vulnerable to sexism, agism and probably several isms that I don’t think about. But, I’m privileged.

I can dress well and be taken seriously. I can walk into almost any public business, look desperate, and be allowed the use of the toilet. I am more likely to be brought to the front of the line than to be shuffled to the rear. I have never been suspected or accused of stealing or using drugs. My children were active and injured at intervals but no one at the doctor’s office looked askance.

These are privileges that I would like to assume are afforded all women of my age. I think not, however. Our country has an unbroken history of racism and subjugation of entire groups because of color and language differences. I remember Sundown Towns in my part of the state during my youth.*

Supposedly since the 60’s we have become evenhanded in our treatment of those different than our white forefathers. But in many ways we have not changed as a nation. Prejudices come cloaked in softer language but the yardstick changes dramatically when used to judge those who are visibly different than the white Christian norm.

In this present political climate I am more than ever aware of that.

Because of the vote in November, I am sadly aware that many Americans are so consumed with fear of differences that they are willing to refuse even lip service to the founding precepts of our country in order to protect themselves from something or someone unnamed and unidentified. They are ready to isolate our country and even build walls against the possibility of welcoming diversity.

We as a population seem willing to forget our own personal histories – having all as families (other than full-blooded Native Americans) originated in some other country. And we forget, too, that some immigrants have not come to our country voluntarily. We are willing to believe our narrow Christian heritage when it supports our own beliefs but not when it clearly exhorts us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

I don’t want to be one of those people But I feel that I need constant self-examination. My work is to  remind myself of my shared humanity with all and confront racism in all its guises.


*We lived a mile or so out of town growing up and I clearly remember by father allowing a black man to park his camper on our property because someone gave him a job in a service station but no one would rent him space to live.

As a teenager working at a soda fountain I was chastised by my employer for serving a black family who came in.


  1. Having been at the receiving end of racism and having participated in racism of sorts myself, I agree with you that the antipathy towards the other needs to be studied.


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