Hello. My Name Is Erix. And I’m A Racist.

26 Nov

When I was twelve or thirteen, I told a racist joke.

Maybe there isn’t anything particularly remarkable about that in and of itself. Kids are stupid. Blah, blah, blah. But, in any case, it was a particularly awful joke and this happened in a public place.

And a black person sitting nearby overheard the joke.

It’s almost inconceivable to me now to consider that I just told that joke so carelessly. Without looking around to see if anyone was within earshot. It suggests I didn’t care enough to do that. It suggests the issue of sensitivity didn’t even enter into my mind.

It suggests that I was a stupid kid, yes.

It also suggests that I’m racist.

I’ll come back to that point in a minute.

It was after I told the joke, that we both noticed the black woman sitting nearby.

Here’s what she did. She shook her head in disgust, stood up and walked away. That’s it. She didn’t come up to us to say “how dare you?” She didn’t come over to where we were sitting to call us a couple of “little white motherfuckers.” She simply walked away.

I’m not going to give the joke itself any importance. That is to say, I’m not going to give it any actual value by printing it. Even though I remember it clearly…and word for word.

I’ve never forgotten it. It has stayed with me as vividly as that afternoon in which I told it. It’s something that continues to haunt me, almost twenty-five years later. I remember the moment of telling it…how I laughed…the brief “oops” at realizing someone the joke was targeted at had heard it…and the embarrassed snickers I shared with my friend.

And I am ashamed.

Why, God?

 

But enough about me for now.

Let’s talk about race.

It’s an important discussion to have. It comes up again and again because, inevitably and unfortunately, we live in a racially charged society. We just do. It’s a fact. And to deny that is to either be naively optimistic…or just plain fucking stupid – more likely the latter.

We have to be honest, basically, and admit once and for all that we’re racists. We have to admit that we all have it within ourselves to be that. Maybe we are that one way or another…maybe we can’t escape it. We have to face it because it’s the only way to ever overcome this terrible obstacle to a harmonious society – this cancer so many of us live with. And it’s the fact that a very great many of us are, whether we want to admit it or not, racist.

If you’re white, and you’re reading this, tell me if the following scenarios don’t sound familiar:

 

– you see a mostly empty subway car, with two young black men sitting in it…you step into the more crowded car next to it

– someone asks you if you would ever date a black person and you take a moment to think before you answer

– you meet a black person and you go out of your way to show how not racist you are…by saying awkward things that only point out the fact you’re thinking about race in the first place

 

These three things. They’re all racist.

“But I’m just being careful. What if those kids are up to no good? There must be a reason why that car is empty.”

Or, what if you’re racist?

“Well, I mean… I probably don’t have anything in common with a black person. Maybe if I spent time with them and saw we had things in common and I was attracted to them I would date them, sure.”

Or, maybe you’re racist.

“I have black friends. I like things black people like. See? I’m not racist.”

Yes, you are.

And I’m going to be fair. Because racism works both ways.

The scenario of the two kids in the subway car might not apply. Because two white kids up to no good on a subway is not an urban cliche. But if a black person ever has second thoughts about engaging with a white person, that’s also being racist.

Though, to continue to be fair, the black person has a greater reason to be distrustful. Statistically speaking, at least.

He or she can look back on the history of his people being taken on a ship, manned by whites, from their home so they could work for no pay, in a strange cold land, for no reason…and then the future generations, who grew up in this cold land to which they were brought against their will, continued to be exploited in this manner – while being told by their white patrons that they didn’t belong there, weren’t worthy of whatever comforts they, themselves were helping to provide; and should be grateful to at least have that cot over by the barn to sleep in and those leftovers to eat…

Later, they were told to be grateful for a piece of land and a mule. Oh, by the way, don’t eat in my restaurant or sit on my section of the bus.

This is all old news. We all know this by now, I know. But I’m just trying to point out the difference. Being that: yes, black people can be racist too. But at least they can argue towards a valid reason.

What reason does a white person automatically have to distrust a black person? Apart from what they may have heard on the evening news…a television program engineered to present things in such a way that they grab attention, not necessarily to report facts accurately. Can whites point to a history of aggression and antagonism brought upon them by blacks? Can they really?

Instead, you see and hear fat, rich white men go on the evening news and lament about “black on black crime” as if they have the first damn clue as to what the fuck they’re even talking about. As if they have even an ounce of understanding as to why that happens.

“Statistically, there is more black on black crime. They’re killing each other out there!”

It’s interesting how that sort of blanket statement is used to justify racist attitudes, while also being contradictory towards the very fear that inspires those attitudes in the first place. Because, yes, it is accurate that there is more black on black crime than crime committed by blacks against whites.

But it’s a vicious circle. The reason it happens stems from pent up aggression and frustration within those communities…where they have to be told – both directly and indirectly – that they’re the problem…it is on them to better themselves and “behave accordingly,” and yet opportunities for that betterment continue to be kept at a distance just the same. If you’re told to blame yourself again and again, eventually you do.

And, if you’re pissed off at that white guy in the bar, you’ll think twice about throwing the first punch. Because, in the rules of warfare, it’s smarter to back down when the opposing force has an unfair advantage. So, you’ll think twice, even if he deserves to be punched. Because maybe, just maybe, in the court of public opinion, you know the color of your skin has already dictated you will be labeled the villain?

That’s certainly one reason why that woman didn’t come over to give my friend and I the slaps on the mouth we both deserved. The other reason being she was clearly the better person. And I’m sure when she went home to her family that night, she had one more little nugget to tell her loved ones about how bad white people can be.

Way to represent, Erix!

None of this, of course, is to say it’s okay for one, while not okay for the other.

Because it’s never okay to categorize and judge someone based on their racial background or ethnicity. On the schoolyard, whenever I was looked down upon or bullied by Latinos or Blacks for being “white,” (even though I’m actually of Latin American ancestry) or if a girl thought I was “ugly” or “stupid” because I was white, that wasn’t fair. I’m just a kid. What do I know about the oppression doled out on their people, ages past, by people who happened to look like me?

And, for that matter, what do they know? They’re just kids too, right?

They only know what they hear their parents say. So, obviously, if they live in a household in which resentment is spread around, that resentment is passed on.

Maybe, because I had been “abused” by Blacks and Latinos at school, I felt entitled to lash out by telling a stupid joke. A clichéd joke that pointed out how I was either aesthetically or intellectually superior to them. Whatever. Maybe that’s why. Maybe I was made to be racist because of my mistreatment.

Maybe?

It’s certainly an excuse I’ve heard at one time or another here in Bolivia, where the same sort of racism goes on – except aimed at the indigenous population, which actually outnumbers the white, bourgeois minority. But, sure, I’ve heard people, some of them friends, say – whenever receiving poor service or rude treatment from someone who is indigenous – “See? They FORCE you to be racist!”

Sounds kind of familiar. Sounds a lot like what some people are saying, when commenting on the tragedy that is Ferguson, Missouri… That “you people” are behaving so savagely…what do you expect? Like… See? We’re right. You ARE a lower culture, aren’t you?

And the cycle goes on…and on. Because people just refuse to acknowledge reality. To recognize history…and to face facts.

And the fact is racism exists, as vicious and ugly as it has ever been, and it goes on in the most insidious ways. I’ve just admitted to being racist. And I would urge others to look in the mirror and do the same. To admit that the fact the issue of race even enters your mind as a source of reasoning one way or another is a fact of racism.

We have to stop ignoring it. We have to stop saying that the shooting of Mike Brown and its aftermath have nothing to do with race. It’s an injustice that only happened because Mike Brown was black, the policeman who murdered him was white, and the jury that presided over the case was racist. And now the people in the community are angry and behaving in anger. The point is not whether or not the anger is justified. It’s about understanding why these things are happening.

We have to stop ignoring it.

Does the fact Bill Cosby is black color how the media is presenting that particular circus as well? I think it does. Because Bill Cosby was supposed to be our modern day Sidney Poitier, wasn’t he? The “acceptable” negro. The “credit to his race.” And now he’s the predatory black man lusting after nubile, vulnerable white women…and having his way with them! DW Griffith could have written the screenplay for this cliche-ridden erotic thriller.

Now, mind you, I’m not arguing towards Cosby’s innocence. This isn’t about that. I have no idea whether it’s true or not. The testimony against him is certainly compelling. But I think what I’m saying is, it’s unfortunate that he’s black because it adds fuel to a fire that has burned enough…and things would probably be handled in a different way, were he a white man. There would be less cultural signifiers to latch onto. Less excuses. Less sensationalism.

We have to stop. This must stop. We must cure ourselves of our racism.

Which brings me back to me…

I told a joke. A terrible joke. And it has haunted me to this day. I still think about it…and I get so angry when the thought enters my mind that I did that. I wish so desperately I could take it back. But I can’t. I wish I could somehow make amends. To find that woman, wherever she may be, go up to her and beg her to forgive me…say the words: “I’m so sorry. What can I do? Please let me do something to make up for it…anything. Some form of penance. I’ll let you beat the shit out of me…anything you need.” And if all else fails, I catch myself wishing I could actually travel back in time twenty five years… Go up to that kid that was me and basically, well, just choke him to death. Really just sit there and wring his neck until I see the light go out from his eyes, and I’m satisfied that he’s dead and will never tell another stupid joke again.

That’s how angry at myself I am. That’s how much I genuinely hate myself.

The irony of this is that she has most likely forgotten. It was, after all, a dumb joke told by some dumb kid. There are more pressing matters in her life I’m sure. Right now, she’s probably watching the news about Ferguson and shaking her head at the atrocity. She’s forgotten about that kid. Good. I hope so. I hope my careless actions aren’t tormenting her in any way because she doesn’t deserve that.

But I do.

I’ve come to terms with it. There is nothing I can do to take back what I did. I will never forget it. On my deathbed, which would hopefully be a great many years from now for many reasons – one of which is to prolong this particular torture, I will probably think on it one more time before I close my eyes. This is my own private hell and I deserve to be here.

Because I’ve admitted it to myself. I am a recovering racist.

I think it helps if you look at it as a disease. Like alcoholism. They say the first step is to admit you have a problem, right? Well… There you go. Admitting you’re racist is the first step. And then you can begin to see how it colors the world around you. You can recognize it in others. You can try to help. You can be someone’s racism sponsor…help them get out of that cycle of mistrust and hatred that continues to plague and kill our society.

“They had affirmative action… They have their equal rights… All the kids love their music… One of them even made it into the White House! What more do they want?!”

I think what “they” want is for people to stop saying things like that and stop asking things like “what more do they want?” I think what we all should want is to live in a world where we no longer have to even consider whether a person is black or not. Where the very idea of racial profiling and discrimination is so arcane and alien to us, we may as well be talking about the Salem Witch Trials or the Spanish Inquisition.

And the first step is admission.

The second step? Maybe the only remaining step, really… Let that admission haunt you. Let it kill you in the end. Let the fact you have been racist be a burden for you to carry on your shoulders like the proverbial cross.

Because I ask myself, does the fact Darren Wilson shot and killed an unarmed teenager haunt him? He got away with it in a court of law, but does he look upon that action with any shame…or remorse? Just the very fact he took another life should be enough, shouldn’t it? And, for that matter, is George Zimmerman haunted by what he did?

We could argue these two men are sociopaths. Incapable of feeling empathy or remorse. This is probably very true. And, on top of that, they’re racists.

What an awful cocktail.

So maybe they’re beyond help. Fine. Fuck them.

Fuck them.

 

But maybe there’s a chance for the future. Maybe, if more of us just own up to what we are, we can start fixing it…and passing that on to our younger generations. So they can truly understand how awful we’ve been and continue to be.

And maybe, some years from now, hopefully sooner than later, a deranged police officer will shoot an unarmed teenager in cold blood; and what will happen is this lunatic will be thrown in jail for the rest of his life. And the fact he was white and the kid was black won’t even enter into the equation.

I have to believe a better world is possible. I just have to.

And it’s on all of us to make that world possible however we can.

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