Many are writing that Zimmerman could not have been a racist because he, among other things, once tutored minority children. Oh, and 20% of the residents of his gated community are black (Here is one. Another here. One more here.)
I am a white woman. I have a black daughter and a black son. I am a racist.
If the old “I once had a black man into my home” argument does not work for me, a mother of two black children, it certainly does not work in defense of Zimmerman.
Here is the cold, hard truth, the secret that pains me daily: I was told throughout my childhood by my father to “cross the street when a black man approached” (his exact words). I was told that Asians were dirty and bad. I was admonished when my father realized my prom date’s parents were from the Philippines (my father refused to pay for the pictures; my mother bought them in secret) and told that if I brought my black dear friend home from college, I would not be allowed in.
These attitudes plagued me then. I knew somewhere deep in my soul that they were wrong. They made me uncomfortable and I have spent my adulthood combatting them. I ache, though, for no matter how hard I have fought against them, no matter how much I love my black children, they still exist within the recesses of my mind. There are still times when I see a black man approaching, even while out with my son, and hear that tape telling me to cross the street. I have to shake the tapes off, be bigger than them. Now, an adult who never ever wants my son to face a white person crossing the street as they approach, I usually over-compensate. I smile hugely and greet the person approaching. I work to picture my son’s face and his future. I remind myself that the rantings of one blatant racist do not control me now.
Except in very real ways they do. These thoughts that creep in are the by-products of living in a racist society and, for many of us (though some through greater subtlety than in my home), being raised by a racist parent. We have all grown up and continue to exist in a culture that casually tosses racism into our every day experiences. Whether our exposure is limited to television shows that cast every bad guy in dark skin or news reports that focus heavily on crimes committed by black men (that same father committed his own crimes and was either not caught, or when he was, it simply never made the news), or we openly use racist language, racism permeates us.
It even influences the most benevolent of beings, those to whom we look for guidance. We have been manipulated, altered, and ruined by the greatest PR campaign ever created and having “a black man into our home” is simply not enough to rid ourselves of this propaganda.
It takes a lifetime of work to erase the tapes. On a small scale, it requires that we turn off the television (even those seemingly harmless commercials are often racist — like the skeezy loan commercials featuring black families and the luxury car commercials featuring white people). We might wish to delete from our Facebook and Twitter feeds all those people who defend Zimmerman because of all the black men who shot white people and are free (trust me, if a black man shot a white person and is free, it is because he is on the run, not because he was acquitted), who post Paula Deen’s recipes because her comments don’t negate the quality of her recipes (that “her” recipes come out of black history is a story for another venue). We must will ourselves to make different choices than the ones our culture presents us (crossing the street, locking our car doors as a black man approaches).
On a larger scale, it requires that we begin by admitting that we have a problem.
We are racists.
(If your response to that statement is that I am “playing the race card”, guess what — you are a racist.)
We are racists, even those of us who co-exist daily with people of all races, and we have a lot of work to do.
Yesterday, my deep-set racism prevented me from standing up to and, if needed, deleting the aforementioned people from my Facebook feed. Because I loved them once, I don’t want to hurt their feelings. That’s racism. Racism dictates that it is okay to separate the person from what they say and do regarding race (a la Zimmerman; a la Deen). Today, I will stand up. I will delete.
Yesterday, I demonstrated my racism by assuming that I did not need to join organizations like NAACP or to march peacefully. Racism dictates a hands-off approach as long as we do not perceive ourselves to be part of the problem. Today, I will join (thanks to my friend, D, who inspired this). I will march.
I am a racist because I worried there might be riots after the Zimmerman verdict. I am a racist because I have used the pain inherent in parenting a black son in these times as an excuse for remaining relatively silent after the verdict.
I am a racist because I am the beneficiary of white privilege.
I am a racist because sometimes I think I am not and that it is the rest of the white people, not me, a mother of two black children, who need to do the work.
I am a racist and because of me, because of people like me, Zimmerman is a free man and a young boy who put up his hoodie to avoid the rain is dead.