Non-Racist Me, Meet Racist Me

Where do I start? This blog is actually so difficult for me to write, that I’m stumped on the very first sentence. How I do let you – whether you’re a friend, a stranger, a family member – see this part of me that I don’t want to admit exists to myself, much less broadcast it to the world? I have kept this revelation about myself to myself for years, figuring it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t speak into the truth of who I believe I am so it should easily be shoved into a box in the dark corners of my mind to simply collect dust and until the end of time.

But, I keep catching glimpses of it. Anytime I felt I was soul-searching on a topic, I would see a peek of it in the dark, its corner catching the light . It would wink at me, reminding me that it’s a part of me, no matter how much I try to ignore it. So, much like the craze to get rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy in our lives, I’ve decided to take it out of hiding, open it up, share it, and then hopefully, destroy it.

But before I can destroy it, let’s talk about perception versus reality. I think that’s what I’m really writing about here. My perception of myself versus the reality of me. I share it in hopes that it’ll give you ability to face those realities of yourself that you try to hide in dark corners, not with fear or shame, but with hope and courage.

My perception of me is that I’m not a racist person. I celebrate diversity and the more diversity around me, the more joy it brings me. I’m the person who walks around Lake George and each time I see a person who doesn’t look like me, I give a secret shout of joy and say to myself “thank you for making our community even richer just by being here.” I intentionally make connections with my many neighbors from other countries so that I can learn from them and so that they’ll feel welcomed into our community. I teach my daughter and her friends about how to be accepting of school mates who seem so different from them but are truly more like them than they can imagine. I come from a majority-minority family and celebrate each one of them with a grateful heart.

But, a trip to Disneyworld taught me that I still have old tendencies, habits and thoughts developed long ago that I thought had been overcome. My happy place gave me a not-so-happy revelation about myself.

One of the things I love about Disney, is that it draws people from all over the world. You can be walking anywhere and hear several different languages. You see families made up of all kinds of combinations. It truly brings me joy. But when I saw American people of color at Disney, a dark secret was revealed in me. I would see a family of color and my heart would get so happy. I’d think to myself, “Well, how wonderful! I’m so glad you’re here at Disney enjoying all this. I bet you saved up for years and you finally made it! Yay you!!!” WAIT! WHAT WAS THAT?? Did you catch that?

The lens that I was viewing people of color was a tainted lens of love. It was a lens that said “I love you, but I think you must have it hard. I think you must be struggling with poverty, or abuse, or addiction. You must be loved by me and accepted by me because it’s my job to make you feel welcome in my world.” Even as I type this, I’m shaking with rage and shame at this belief. That somehow, through my years of loving and accepting all, I was doing it out of pity? Sympathy? I had taken all people of color and put them in a neat little box that said they all had the same story, the same struggles and for God knows why, I felt like they all needed me to be accepting of them!

This was horrible, this reality. I didn’t like it. It couldn’t be true because it went against everything I perceived myself to be. So, I threw it a heavy box, wrapped it in miles of duct tape and tossed it into the dark recesses. I thought if I buried it deeply enough, it wouldn’t be a part of me. It COULDN’T be a part of me.

But it would still come. Maybe on a Sunday morning when a new family would come to church. Or maybe, as I looked at someone walking down the sidewalk or shopping in the grocery store. And I would try to bury those boxed-up thoughts even deeper. I was so scared (no, truth is I AM so scared) that people would call me a hypocrite, a liar, a fraud.

So where is my happy ending? It lies here – in the truth. I’m not a perfect non-racist. I’m a white privileged person trying to fight off racial tendencies that have been passed down to me from generation to generation. I’m trying to fight through half-truths (and downright lies) that have been fed to me from the media, my education, even my own family. I’m trying to work my way through my own clouded lens to see the truth that is out there.