Stop saying racists are bad people


September 21, 2018

I had a realization of why it’s so hard for people, especially white people, to deal with the reality of racism. It’s because we have a stock image of who the racist is. It’s that sociopathic redneck waving a Confederate battle flag or Nazi skinned who screams about sending non-white people “back to where they came from!” Wrong. The racist is the person reading this (and writing it). It’s not the Klansman that is the problem. As Pogo Possum once said, “I have seen the enemy and it is us.”


It’s another example of binary thinking. It’s so easy to think of racists as “bad” people and therefore we’re the good people. It gets us off the hook of our own internalized and unchecked racism. So let’s deal with this here and now.

We’re talking about two kind of racists here. The first is our cartoon character white supremacist who actively believes racism is a good thing. I’ve spent 30 years interviewing these people and believe me, they are proud to be identified as racist. Thirty years ago they’d go on Geraldo and Oprah and rant about preserving the white race. Now they are rallying at alt-right gatherings, blathering about “European chauvinism” and “Western supremacy.”

The other type of racist is the rest of us. We honestly believe racism is wrong but we have internalized the basic values of white supremacy. It could be something as a basic idea of what a “real American” looks like. Or it could be the impulse to clutch your purse when a black man is walking by. Research on implicit bias has shown how deeply this unexamined racism runs. It manifests in hiring decisions and picking the candidate who just seems a “better fit,” as well as when police officers pull the trigger because they perceive a “threat” that is subconsciously influenced by the color of someone’s skin.

I need to say this implicit bias also encompasses those who are actively anti-racist in their orientation. I was dropping off my daughter at pre-school. There was an African-American teenage boy in a hoodie on the sidewalk, staring at his phone. “Oh, what’s up with this?” I thought. I walked my daughter quickly past him. Turns out he was waiting for the school bus and I hated myself for the racist impulse, wondering if he picked up on my “white fear.” My wife was watching Cozy play a game on the iPad and noticing how she routinely picked the blonde white girl avatars, leaving the brown and black characters unselected. Research has shown us how early kids pick up on these messages, in homes with black or (in our case) brown parents. The white doll is more valued than the black doll, because black is “bad.”

Whenever white people say, “Well, minorities can be racist, too!” (as if to say it’s OK that I’m racist because they are), I like to tell them, “Yes, but not in the way you think.” Research shows that they value whiteness over their own racial group. They’ve internalized the same white supremacist ideas that whites have. Just look at who the media promotes as “beautiful” in the minority communities. The lighter the skin, the better. Latina beauty magazines still advertise skin lightening creams. Barak Obama got a lot farther then Jesse Jackson in politics and many believed it was because Jackson was “too black.” I would ask my students the question, if love is blind, why do more interracial marriages have a black husband and a white wife than the opposite? Because black men have been taught to value white women just as white men have. It’s all rooted in the white supremacist belief that white is better. Everyone is infected with racism. Malcolm X called it out it 55 years ago and we’re still wrestling with it now.

Every time a white person says, “I’m not a racist, but…” it’s always fun to call them out on their obvious racism. But maybe that should be a moment of self reflection instead of another “us vs. them” binary. You might not have said that, but I know you’ve thought that. Just yesterday a black woman threw some liter out of her car window, and I thought, “Oh, black people.” I’m admitting that. I had a friend who recently told me that he was caught off guard by his impulse to immediately judge a white woman with biracial children. I wanted to tell him I’ve done the exact same thing.

It’s not us and them. Just us. Our county was built on racism. All men were not created equal based on the “Godly” laws of our founding fathers. Our story is rooted in genocide, slavery, and systematic exclusion. Our national anthem was written by an anti-abolitionist slave owner. The state I live in, Oregon, was founded as a “white only” state. You might want to pretend we live in a “post-racial” society (“But y’all had Obama!”), but these sins run right to the marrow of our bones. We can’t talk about “racists” as if they are separate from us. Donald Trump is a racist and so am I.

We are racist. Let’s fix it now.

10 thoughts on “Stop saying racists are bad people

  1. Betty Buckley sings a song on her c.d. called Story Songs. to quote “you have got to whisper in their sweet little ears before they are 6,7,or 8 to hate. hate the people whose eyes are oddly shaped. and the ones whose skin is a different hue. you have to get them by 6,7, or 8 to hate all the people that their relatives hate.” these are not the exact words. however you got the message. and just how do we change that?


  2. I’m not if I agree or not. We live in a world now if you say you’re a racist, you’re bad. But if you say you’re not a racist, then you’ll be judged and told you’re a racist. So either way, you’re labeled a bad person from the start.

    Now, when it comes to being labeled a bad person, the media, social justice warriors, and social media paints a pretty picture showing how “bad” the person is.

    As a Christian, I don’t call, label, or classify myself as a racist. However, I do call myself a sinner. Isaiah 64:6 “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”

    Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” It’s because of the sins of the world, we don’t deserve to be saved. That’s where I’m thankful because even though I am a sinner, Jesus still came to earth to die for the sins of the world.

    So saying racist people are bad is false. All of us are bad because of our sins.


      1. As Christians, we are taught to love one another just as Christ loves the church, John 13:34-35. Organizations like the KKK pr The Westboro Baptist Church have the doctrine wrong.

        We are to walk and act like that because Christ wouldn’t discriminate against one another. That’s why I don’t care what race or gender you are, I’ll show the same level of respect as I would if you were white. It’s about trying to show the world who and what God really is: that’s love.

        Just because I don’t say I’m a racist doesn’t make me any different than the next person. However, where I do grow is reading my bible, praying, and strive to grow everyday in Christ.


  3. I’m not a racist so much as a ‘culturist’–I find that I’m okay with any kind of colour or religion or whatever people as long as they aren’t acting like jerks, but then I think, “Well, I don’t like that culture as much as this other one”–I think this one is ‘bad’ because they eat a lot of meat, say, and I don’t, or this other culture does this or doesn’t do that and I have opinions and feelings about those. It can be more subtle, because then I might think that someone from that culture is likely to do that thing I dislike, so I can be culturist against the culture and yet not racist against the people. To me though the bottom line is still, “Is this person being a jerk in a way that they never change?”, whatever race they are–


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s