Dr. Kathy Obear

You’re not racist…or are you?

– Posted in: Creating change

When I was growing up, “racist” to me meant the KKK, white supremacy, white nationalists – those types of terms. So, I came to believe that I was a “good” white since I wasn’t one of those people. After all, “racist” meant you were a horrible person, evil. How many of you reading this can relate?

The book I wish I had…

On reflecting, I think I wrote my book, “…But I’m NOT Racist! Tools for Well-Meaning Whites,” for my younger self. This is the book I wish I had read and the support I wish I had decades ago.

I'm not racistWhy? It wouldn’t have taken me this long to get as far as I have. To be absolutely clear, I’ve got a long way to go as a white change agent. But – I could have gotten to this point a lot sooner.

And if you tried to talk to me back then – or to a lot of whites today – I think we would argue that, no, we are good allies. Back then I had no idea of how much damage I was causing or how my racist attitudes and behaviors were negatively impacting people of color.

Perpetuating racist dynamics

When we’re in a meeting or we’re attending a program or trying to talk about issues involving institutional racism – how we show up as whites can actually perpetuate racist dynamics. Ultimately, this gets in the way of developing more effective strategies.

For me, I still kept believing that I was smarter and more competent than people of color – I unconsciously believed the racist messages I learned growing up. That’s how the book title came to be – because it’s for well-intentioned whites who are scared of being called racist.

Like me, they may keep saying, “I’m NOT racist!” I know I said that so many times. Instead of always trying to defend ourselves, we need to be focusing on the impact of our behavior. Be willing to admit, “Yeah, I’ve got some racial bias and prejudices, and sometimes I react out of them.”

We need to stay engaged…

It is critical that we stay engaged in those triggering moments and be honest with ourselves and others – instead of shutting down, pulling away, and getting defensive out of fear of being labeled racist …that’s what we need to do better.

Honestly, I remember some of the first times I was asked to take a look at racism and my whiteness. I didn’t know what people were talking about. I’d keep saying things along the lines of, “As a woman and as a lesbian, I get oppressed and I’m a good white person.”

I was putting my energy into my marginalized identities. When I reflect on this, I can definitely appreciate that many whites today who have one or more marginalized identities – around sexuality, gender identity, class, disability status, religion, immigration status – and the list goes on and on.

A lot of us are living in real fear as we watch our basic human rights be dismantled and threatened daily. Some whites might say, “How can I invest time and energy into dismantling racism when our essence is being attacked and we’re bombarded by a barrage of hate and violence in our marginalized group identities?”

I believe we live in a web of intersecting connections. If one group’s rights are being attacked – if they’re being dehumanized – it impacts all of us. Our survival depends on us working together to ensure fairness, safety, and equity for everyone.

This requires that we step up as whites to partner with people of color to recognize and dismantle the dynamics of racism wherever they manifest. And at the same time, we must all work in partnership to also address issues of other marginalized groups. We are all connected.

I'm not racistThere is so much more to talk about when it comes to this issue, so be sure to stay tuned for my upcoming posts.

To grab your free copy of my book, “But I’m NOT Racist! Tools for Well-Meaning Whites”, click here.

I want to hear from you! Can you relate to what I’m saying? Share your comments below.

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