What Does the Middle-class White Hetero Bio-male Have to Say About Racism?
Note: This post isn't directly related to feminism in the strict sense, but as I see the causes of feminism and anti-racism as inextricably intertwined, I'm posting it here anyway.
It's International Blog Against Racism Week in Blogland. Being an ally is tricky, most of the time. For instance, I am aware that, as a white guy in North America, talking about racism can easily come off as self-congratulatory--it's hard to talk about experiences in my life that I am proud of, for instance, where I took a stand against racism, without coming off like I want a cookie. And yet, I want to talk about my experiences around racism--and I would like to do so by not only talking about the ways in which I find racism in my self. So, I'll just leave it that I've been part of a racist culture for so long that I will always struggle with my blind spots, and with racism within myself, but I'll put forward something that I'm proud of. Not because I want a cookie, or because I think such actions are as important as what others have to go through on a daily basis, are forced to go through on a daily basis, but because I have to be proud of myself for the ways in which I struggle against the dominant paradigm, even when it costs me, and those I care about.
I am estranged from my stepfather's family, for the most part, and I am estranged from them because I refused to sit around and listen to them make casually racist statements. We were all sitting around the Thanksgiving table (hello, paging Dr. Irony) and my stepfather's brother, who lived next door to my parents, was lamenting that my parents were selling their house. He was worried that 'some mexicans' would move in, and that he'd have to have them as neighbors. Everybody sort of chuckled and knowingly laughed. I asked why somebody's race would matter regarding who moved in next door. He fumbled a bit, as people often do when forced to explain their racism with more than a knowing wink and a laugh, but explained to me that it would drive property values down and the like. I told him he was a racist, and full of it, and I left the table. Later, I blogged about the situation, explaining that I had put up with less overt racism from my family for so long, and that I wasn't going to put up with it any longer. My step-sister-in-law had been reading my blog (though I didn't know that) and was upset that I had included her as a racist. It's interesting how some people don't think anything short of overt racism is racism at all. "Sure, I laugh when people make racist comments, but I don't hate people of color!"
In the end, I didn't change anyone's minds (though I still hold out hope that I made them think twice about at least the most overt kinds of racism), and I managed to piss off my entire step-family (except my stepfather, who has an interesting take on life--though we often disagree, we seek out our commonalities). I don't care so much, really, because if they're not willing to even discuss stuff, I don't have time for them; on the other hand, my mother really suffers the most because she doesn't get to have me around during a lot of family events.
At any rate, I tell this story just to point out that, if you're a white guy out there wondering what you can do, this is the sort of thing I would like to see more of, both in myself and in others.