The other day I shared a story about a time when I, instead of being on the receiving end of racism, was surprised to find myself being the perpetrator. I shared that story because I really believe we all have stories like that, and being honest about them is the only way to move beyond racism.
But what about those people who deny that they ever exhibit any racist behavior? You know the type. They are the first to tell you they have black friends. They are the first to get angry with you because you had to go and make it about race. They are the first to tell you how race doesn’t matter and OH MY GOSH CAN WE PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT RACE?!?!?
Here is something I have learned about these racism deniers: They don’t care about ending racism. I suppose that sounds glaringly obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to me for a long time. See, a lot of these deniers will debate with you about racism. They will get emotional and worked up and it appears that they do care because why else would they spend the time and energy? One day, while finding myself in an argument with someone over the unfairness of not being able to display their white pride, it hit me. Racism deniers certainly do care, but what they care about is being right and justified in their positions.
Once I had this realization, it completely changed the way I talk to people about racism. In short, I don’t talk to the deniers about it anymore. Sure, I will tell them when they have said or done something racist, or I may silently unfriend them on Facebook. This is harder to do when the offender is a family member or close friend, but even in those situations I have learned to say my piece and move on. I don’t want to invest any time in arguing with people who don’t really want to listen or bring about change.
It’s pretty easy to tell if I am dealing with a denier because these are things they won’t say once they’ve been called out:
- I’m so sorry that was offensive. I didn’t realize it.
- Oh, gee, that’s embarrassing. I’m sorry I said it that way.
- Oh, I hadn’t even considered that. Thanks for making me aware of it.
- You’re right. I see how it sounded like that, but that wasn’t my intention. Here’s a better way for me to say it…
When I get responses like that, I know I am dealing with someone who actually cares, not about being right, but about being empathic. Maybe they will never consider themselves an ally in the fight against racism; maybe they will never be brave enough to call out someone else’s racist behavior. But they will listen, and listening matters so much. It’s one of the hundreds of simple ways to help bring about change.