In America there are only racists and recovering racists. It is like alcoholism or Catholicism. There is no point at which you are rid of it completely – racist thinking is too much a part of American culture. No one completely escapes it, not even people of colour.
Signs that a White American is a recovering racist (the signs for a person of colour are different):
- Admits to racism, both in one’s self and in American society. Like with alcoholism, the first step to recovery is to break out of denial.
- That means not getting upset at being called the r-word.
- That means giving up the “Anything But Racism” kneejerk reaction.
- That means not downplaying or excusing white racist words and acts, either now or in history.
- That means not blaming the victims of racism for inequality.
- That means calling out racism.
- Takes what people of colour say seriously. Assumes that they are just as capable as white people in making observations and coming to conclusions, that they are just as intelligent, that they can think for themselves and know what is in their own best interest. Recovering racists do not necessarily always agree with people of colour – they think for themselves too! – but neither do they assume that people of colour are children who imagine stuff, whine, need to be talked down to – or saved. Recovering racists do not assume that whites always know best, that they are the moral centre.
- Sees both whites and people of colour as equally imperfectly human: Sees the good and bad in both, puts themselves in the shoes of others. Just as racists demonize and look down on people of colour, noticing all their faults while dismissing their successes, so they also idealize whites, playing up the good things about them while giving a huge pass to the the bad they do. Both demonization and idealization are racist and unrealistic.
- Assumes that the lives, feelings and concerns people of colour are important, just as important as those of white people.
- That means that white people should not always get their way.
- That means seeing Asian, Black, Latino, Native and Muslim Americans as Real Americans.
- That means taking the anger of people of colour seriously rather than trying to police their tone.
- That means not seeing people of colour as a “drain on society” or a “waste” of (white) taxpayer money.
- That means pushing for policies to make society more equal – you know, as if everyone’s life mattered, not just those of rich, white men.
- Accepts people as they are, not as they “should” be, not “in spite of” what makes them different. They see colour, but they also see that different is just different, not “less than”.
- Respects people of colour. Does not tell them what to feel or think or act high-handed. Does not tell them to “Get over it.” Does not put them down for their race, does not call them racial slurs or tell racist jokes. Does not derail their talk of racism.