Racism is a touchy subject, to say the least. Whether it be on an institutional, systemic or personal level, talking about racism is hard. Telling someone, especially a friend or family member, that something they said or did was racist is scary. It’s made all the more nerve-wracking by the way many white people respond to being called out for racist behavior. Usually, the retort starts with, “But I’m not a racist!”, and ends with tokenizing their black friends.
Using your friends’ skin color to somehow prove that you’re incapable of ever saying or doing anything racist is in and of itself, racist. Beyond that, there’s no room for growth or even a healthy dialogue when white people use the extreme archetype of “A Racist” to distance themselves from their own racist behavior.
When we think of “A Racist”, many of us picture the same thing. The image we produce is probably an old white man with a swastika tattooed on his chest who chews tobacco and calls his black neighbors racial slurs. While that guy is definitely super racist, you don’t have to be him to say or do something racist. When white women touch black women’s hair or call them “exotic”, they mean the best. These white women aren’t awful people; they aren’t who we picture when we think of “A Racist”. If someone were to tell these women that what they’re doing and saying is offensive, they’d likely respond, “But I’m not a racist!”. This defensive behavior doesn’t help anyone.
You don’t have to be “A Racist” to do racist sh*t.
White people can love people of color and can have the best intentions, but that does not mean we should turn the other way when they say or do something racist. It’s important to tell people that what they’re doing is racist so that they don’t continue to do it.
Pro tip: If you’re so afraid of being “A Racist”, then listen when people of color tell you you’re doing something wrong. Don’t make excuses. Don’t distance yourself from your words or actions. Take responsibility. Hold yourself accountable. Learn from your mistakes.