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The "Recovering Racist"

I know we're exhausted from being angry about the Trayvon Martin verdict (knowing we should not stop being angry about it), but my FB friend posted this great writeup that I wanted to share, called I Killed Trayvon Martin. The post outlines how this author was conditioned to be a racist from an early age, and his internal struggle to change - how in elementary school, he knew he had a disdain for black people but couldn't identify why - because he absolutely COULD NOT view himself (and his family and peers) as racist. The cognitive dissonance is astounding, but common; I have seen it.

Of all the speculation of what happened the day that Trayvon Martin was shot dead, one detail of the killer’s story that I do not question is his claim that he was afraid. No doubt he has learned, like me, to be afraid of black men. Florida law says that Zimmerman had a right to stand his ground and defend himself if a “reasonable person” would fear for their life in that situation. No reasonable grown man with a gun would be afraid of a skinny minor, but a racist person like myself would.

But unlike Zimmerman, I take ownership of my fear, my racism. I’m not going to shoot someone because their skin color makes me afraid. I’m going to do the opposite. When I see the “black man in a dark alley” and that childhood fear pops out, I push it down to replace it with a smile and a nod. When people cultivate that fear, innocent children die.


I can relate, in that I (a white lady) also grew up in an environment where I was simultaneously conditioned to be a racist and told we were not actually being racist. That we were truth-tellers, that we were protecting ourselves, that we were the only people who could have an "honest conversation about race." I didn't drink the Koolaid that this guy drank, though. I knew, deep down, that these sentiments were wrong - both factually (to a very significant extent) and morally. I never had any disdain for other races, but I did have a tendency to judge them quickly.

One of the things that struck me, as I read this, was that I, as an elementary schooler, also struggled with trying to reconcile the facts I "knew" about black people (since I didn't actually know any black people until high school) with my strong sense of right and wrong. I "knew" that black men were more dangerous to me than white men, that the black community suffered more crime than white ones, that more black men were in jail than white men by far (obviously these are not facts to be taken at face value, and I know that now).

Yet I also knew that my privilege exceeded my wildest imagination. I knew (thanks to my mother) that you NEVER judge someone based on their appearance, and that you never really understand where people are coming from. As a kid, I smelled bullshit with all these "facts" about the black community - because I knew the story went deeper than that. But I could not figure it out because no one around me would entertain the idea that our perceptions were racist. I existed in a racial fog for years, that I did not understand, because I was at odds with my surroundings but didn't know the "enlightened" answers.

I also want to acknowledge that the "white person's struggle to not be a racist" should not be viewed as a victim's struggle - and the first step to being a Good White Person is acknowledging that we are not victims of racism. There may be individuals who are racist against us, but that is not the same what people of color suffer at the hands of a white-driven society. If I, white person, have an instance of racism against me - it is an instance, and it ends. It is not institutional. My writeup is meant as merely a story, and hopefully an reminder to other white people raised around racists, including myself - to fight the tendencies we picked up as kids, and to remember them as we raise our own children.


I believe that to "recover" from racism, the main things are to recognize your own privilege and acknowledge it, and to recognize your racist thoughts and actions and to squash them. It's likely you were taught wrong, whether indirectly or directly. Racist as a child? Not really your fault, then, but it is your fault if you as an older person (teen or adult) refuse to recognize it, and if you refuse to change. It is most DEFINITELY your responsibility to not pass it on to others, by influencing them to be like you in this way. Time to be an adult.

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