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The Racist in My Head (for IBARW)

The Scene: An uptown urban street.
The Time: 7:30 p.m. on a hot summer's evening - last night, in fact.
What Happened: A tallish, chunky middle-aged white woman (yours truly) was trudging home from the Metro when a group of half a dozen young African American men appeared across the street, being loud and boisterous. And the Racist in My Head sat up and squawked "Uh oh! Are we in trouble?"

Yes, that is what I thought. Closely followed by "I can't believe I'm doing this during IBARW."

Then I used a crutch I've developed for myself: I imagined what those young guys would look like if they were white. And with that, I then saw that they hadn't noticed me at all, and they hadn't noticed the smaller, cuter, younger woman waiting at the crosswalk for the light, either. They were clearly friends, they were joking with each other and joshing each other, and they were casually but neatly dressed. In fact, they were all dressed about the same: dark slacks and clean white T-shirts. So maybe they had just come from working on some sort of summer job, perhaps even volunteer work. Whatever it was they had been doing, it had made them feel good about themselves, and they were in high spirits.

That's all. Why the hell hadn't I seen that at first?

I still need a lot of work, obviously, before I'm the decent person I aspire to be. Because I'm clearly not colorblind, and my prejudices are still hampering my judgment.

So let's hear it for IBARW, which reminds me how far I have to go and gives me opportunities to educate myself toward that goal.

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
ipperne
Aug. 7th, 2007 06:05 pm (UTC)
Oh, humans come in different colors? How enlightening^^

But that's not what I wanted to say, no, are you sure that it was your "inner racist" that reacted? I mean, it's only natural to to get those thoughts as a woman(and this has nothing to do with genderstuff, it's because of all the nasty stuff that's always in the news) when a group of of loud young men appears, because the noise and their behaviour towards each other which is often a little wild.
chomiji
Aug. 7th, 2007 06:51 pm (UTC)

Well, what worries me is that once I tried considering their behavior within my own cultural context, I could read themn as non-threatening. But why did I have to put on "white glasses" to see that? My original reaction was biased toward seeing them as a threat because they were African American. Yes, sadly, men can be threatening to women. But it's not good that race came into the equation too.

ipperne
Aug. 7th, 2007 07:59 pm (UTC)
Maybe, now this is a wild guess because I don't know anything about how your life is, it's because you didn't grow up with afro american people around you? Then all it takes is a little adaption and then you have it^^ I'm guessing on this because I can see it where I live. I live in a multi-cultural neighborhood and when people come to visit me form outside or hear about it they all go "aren't you scared to walk alone at night then?" or "don't you have much crime around your home then?" and they all get a no, because I've grown up with all these different cultures and colors and learned that way that they are just like me, with a nicer tan^^ but they can't see it because they have grown up in a "all-danish-neighborhood"... is that something you can recognize?
chomiji
Aug. 7th, 2007 09:48 pm (UTC)

I think Moira (below) has tagged part of it ... I always had at least a few people of other races in my school and neighborhood, but now we live closer to town, literally on the border of the District of Columbia (the National Capital district), and there's a higher crime rate, so my reactions are much more reflexive and less measured.

The good part about living close to town is that you can walk to the Metro and to shops and restaurants. But you do have to be more conscious of your surroundings. Still, I have noticed my reactions to groups of African American or Hispanic teens are more extreme than my reactions to groups of all-white or mixed groups of teens, so I am angry with myself.

ipperne
Aug. 7th, 2007 10:02 pm (UTC)
Told you it was a wild guess^^ but then you got a glimpse of my world of differenses
theloomofmoira
Aug. 7th, 2007 09:35 pm (UTC)
well I already blogged about being colorblind
it wasn't really because you saw them as "black", it's because you saw them as "other", and only when you removed the "other" filter that you connected with them :)
chomiji
Aug. 7th, 2007 09:50 pm (UTC)
Re: well I already blogged about being colorblind

I think you're right, for at least part of my reaction ... see also my remarks to ipperne (above).

(And I did make you an icon - did you see?)

theloomofmoira
Aug. 8th, 2007 02:07 am (UTC)
Re: well I already blogged about being colorblind
oooh, I hadn't seen yet. I'll go see now!
(Deleted comment)
chomiji
Aug. 8th, 2007 02:12 pm (UTC)
Re: ::points at icon::

Thanks for coming by!

fickle_goddess
Aug. 9th, 2007 08:15 pm (UTC)
I loved this post. But you know what? It made me try to see the guys as white. And I wouldn't have felt any safer. White is just as dangerous as black where gangrape or assault is concerned. East Asian, sad to say, might have calmed me a little bit. South Asian, maybe but not if it was in Sri Lanka. It's just the general idea that it's not safe to be around a group of boisterous young men that might decide picking on you is more fun than talking to each other, regardless of race. East Asian only seems safer because I have a harder time seeing them as openly boisterous to the point that they look like they're working themselves up into a gang frame of mind, where hate crimes are okay. South Asians aren't okay because I know Sri Lankan guys get raised to think of women as naturally subservient and I am so NOT a good South Asian girl that I'd be fair prey in their eyes as a punishment for being around on my own, let alone the hair.

I think it's more of a girl-reaction on my part than a cultural one but before you posted this, I didn't think about the fact that I'd have reason to be scared of white guys as a South Asian chick on my own and thus a target for racism.
fickle_goddess
Aug. 9th, 2007 08:20 pm (UTC)
Uh. The hair is because my hair is currently very short with red streaks in it, since it's growing out from having been a red mohawk. I just realized that I might need to clarify that a little. ^^;;
chomiji
Aug. 10th, 2007 02:15 am (UTC)

I think part of my reason for feeling calmer once I tried seeing them as white is that I'm pretty confident in my ability to read people when I'm not having a knee-jerk freakout. Also, I'm old enough to have the weight of seniority but young enough not be thought frail on that account, and I can look pretty intimidating. So once I felt OK about their mood, I was say, 95% certain of my safety. There was just no attitude going on there - they were acting like big puppies, not like macho dudes. And it was still quite light out. But 20 years ago, I probably would have felt more like you do.

(BTW, I will be offline for about the next 10 days.)

blackcatbone
Aug. 10th, 2007 01:23 am (UTC)
I have to admit, I'd have probably thought the same thing about a group of white guys. In fact, I'm generally wary of any group of people 'being loud and boisterous'. I think if I'm racist, it's towards humanity as a whole. I just don't have much faith in it. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but people can be unpredictable, so I don't really trust them when I meet them in the street. I'm also kind of aware of how sheltered I've been growing up and how dangerous it can be in cities.
chomiji
Aug. 10th, 2007 02:23 am (UTC)

The thing is, there are groups of teens hanging out in our area as a matter of course, and I'm used to them. But at first, I didn't read these guys as "kids from the neighborhood." And yet they probably were. There are definitely guys from the neighborhoods farther south and east that are trouble, but these weren't them. Once I cut out the irrational automatic reflex, and started really looking and "reading" them, I could see that. It's hard to quantify it - some of it's just several decades of people-watching, and I can't be more specific. But I'm annoyed that I couldn't apply those lessons from the start.

b3nitora
Aug. 17th, 2007 08:43 am (UTC)
I can honestly say that I could very well be the most un-prejudice person on the planet. Nothing could ever make ones: religion; race; sexuality; ANYTHING!; make a difference in how I view them. I see everybody as people and theres nothing in the world that could make us any less or any more then just that. Some people just dont see the ludicrousness in what they are doing until it is done to them. For instance, let's say Bin Laden is finally captured and he devulges the big secret as to why he hate Americans so much. And the answer is 'Open-toed heels, The Backstreet Boys and Rosie O' Donnel. How rediculous would that sound? Its the same as any, how could you hate a whole race, country, religion...whatever based on something so singular. And to clear the air, Ohioans dont hate Michigianians like they hate us (we get flicked off) we just think their team sucks...and it does.
So anyway, if that was me in your position I wouldve waved and said 'hi'. its what I do to everybody I come across...could be the cities fault, could be how I was raised but whatever it was Im glad I got it. I just cant concieve why someone would want to be prejudice...or why someone would wish that everybody in the world look and thought, liked and acted the same...how boring of a world that would be. How depressing. I say this all the time and I mean it "variety is the spice of life" and I like it spicy.
chomiji
Aug. 22nd, 2007 04:21 pm (UTC)

You give me hope for the future, b3n-chan!!

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