Woah… there are a lot of negative comments on here. I think that may actually be a kind of compliment: you said something that made people think. But I hope it doesn’t make you think twice about writing — your work is good!
I really like what I think is your point: being a person of colour doesn’t make you absolved from participating in racism. It reminds me of Hassan Minhaj’s video talking especially to Asian Americans about how they, sometimes, participate in the oppression of black people.
As a gay man, I totally get that simply being gay doesn’t mean that I can’t be heterosexist. I totally could be. Lots of queer people (myself included) contribute (maybe often unintentionally) to our own oppression. I get that.
I hear this and agree:
“I am racist, not because I am hateful, but because my beliefs, actions, and inactions — whether intentional or not — have been shaped by and continue to sustain a power structure that oppresses Black and non-white people.”
But I wonder about this:
I am racist because I am American.
I’m not American (or, at least, not a United Statesian), so I promise I don’t object to it at a visceral level or because of some kind of national pride.
But I wonder if it conflicts with a later point you make:
I am racist — not the noun, but the adjective. Racism is not a permanent part of my identity, but something that I can change.
I guess I wonder: if being American makes you racist, and if you can’t change being American… can you change being racist? Said differently, if being American is a permanent part of your identity, and being American makes you racist, wouldn’t being racist be a permanent part of your identity too? Regardless of how much work you did?
I am certainly not objecting to what I think is the point of the article. I think you’re saying that, In the United States, racism is kind of baked in to everything, including your experiences growing up. That system and environment, which is racist, created you, so it’s no wonder you ended up (as you say) with a set of beliefs that also perpetuate racism.
Our environments shape us, absolutely. So I get how growing up in a racist environment makes us, sort of by default, have a bunch of racist attitudes and beliefs.
But I wonder if that’s the same thing as our national category being the equivalent to racism? If we think of the most anti-racist people we can think of (say, Maya Angelou, or Martin Luther King, or maybe James Baldwin) would we consider them racist because they are American?
I guess my worry is this: if our citizenship, by definition, makes us something like racist (or sexist or heterosexist), can we change? And I worry that, as we try to convince a bunch of people around the world (including lots of these people making these comments lol) to see the oppression that black people and others face and then to change them, saying that one group (like Americans) is racist sort of by definition may discourage people from putting in the work that I think you’re actually advocating for.
I promise that’s a real question, not a criticism (or a lesson — fuck, what do I know?). But what is it that makes us racist (the adjective, in your words)? Is it prejudicial attitudes and behaviour? Certainly, our environment creates those attitudes and behaviours, and our nationality is connected to our environment. But is it those categories that make us racist? Or do they just tend to create racist people until those people do the work?
I’d love to hear what you think!
It was a great article, thank you so much for sharing.