How I Know I’m Still Racist

In roughly mid-2015, I started receiving calls on my cell phone for someone by the name of Rita. These calls (sometimes recorded, sometimes from a real live person) came mostly from higher education institutions. I’ve had my cell phone at the same number since 2007 and never received a call for anyone named Rita before. Now, suddenly, eight years later, I found myself answering these odd calls, often several times per day.

After a few days and a few questions I found out that someone by the name of Rita had recently entered my phone number into a web form requesting more information about higher learning opportunities, one of those forms that feeds the leads list for multiple institutions, everything from accredited universities all the way down to the lowest of bogus online scams. My next realization, I could do nothing to rectify the situation (other than asking each individual institution to take me off their contact list), left me thoroughly annoyed.

The calls continued, dying down for a while around the holidays and the early part of 2016, but have cropped up again in the past several months. I have thought of changing my number, but so far the annoyance of that outweighs the annoyance of the calls themselves, which I’ve mostly figured out how to avoid answering.

I tell you my tale of woe, not for sympathy’s sake, but because, through and odd twist of the Universe’s sense of humor and my growing awareness, I’ve learned something very important from it, something that only dawned on me in the last few weeks (something beyond a cautionary warning to be exceptionally careful about entering correct phone numbers into online forms). What I’ve actually discovered, very surprisingly, has nothing to do with Rita herself (whoever she it) and everything to do with the prejudice still lurking in my own subconscious.

You see, over time, I came to have an image of dear Rita in my mind. What did I know factually about her? Rita wanted to know more about higher education opportunities (under-educated, perhaps?) and Rita had screwed up and “fat fingered” the phone number she’d entered into the form requesting that information (careless? sloppy? non-detail-oriented?) And guess what color I imagined Rita’s skin to be? You guessed it. In my imaginings of Rita, she was a black woman.

So what?, you may say. An image in my mind about a woman I don’t know hurts no one, you might think. But actually, it does. In fact, it points to a very troubling tendency within myself of which I’m, now, newly aware. Because on a conscious level, I can be as anti-racist as I want. I can post and repost all the Black Lives Matter material on my Facebook page and advocate for people of color and vote for candidates supporting systemic change in this country to better the lives of diverse communities all freakin’ day long. But apparently, ask my subconscious to serve up an image of a person I’ve deemed under-educated and prone to careless mistakes, and good ol’ subconscious paints a person of color to stand for those characteristics. Wow! Ouch! Scary!

But while I may feel it’s ouchy and scary for me, the people who really stand to suffer from my latent racist tendencies (as well as similar tendencies in other white people) are, of course, the very people targeted by them. How can it actually hurt them? Well, the door to the subconscious swings both ways you see. If I ask my subconscious to serve up an image of “under-educated, careless woman” and it’s most “optimized search result” is the face of a black woman, that means when I see a real, live black woman (especially one I don’t know personally), I’m also subconsciously ascribing those negative characteristics to her. Until now, I didn’t realize I was doing it, but my subconscious has proven this unequivocally true about me.

Have I ever talked over a black woman, because subconsciously I suspected I knew more than she? In the wake of this discovery, I have to guess that I have. What if I’d ever worked for TSA before realizing this? Would I have assumed the bags packed by black women more likely held prohibited items and required more thorough screening? With a subconscious labeling all black women this way, probably so. What if I’d been an insurance agent? Would I have been one of the many taking part in the recently uncovered practice of charging higher car insurance premiums to people of color (considering I was unconsciously labeling them all as careless)? Would I have passed this bias onto my two white sons who may someday hold jobs that affect the futures of black women in their generation? More than likely, yes, and that’s perhaps the scariest of these what-if scenarios.

This is one tiny piece of information about the racism that still lurks in the recesses of my mind. What other falsehoods continue to abide there? This is not a poor me piece, but a piece about empowerment. Beliefs tucked in the subconscious don’t change overnight, but with mindfulness and determination, we can rewrite them over time. I have work to do on myself. Every time I see an African American woman (again, especially one I don’t know), I need to consciously remind myself that I don’t know her aptitudes, that she may be extremely well educated, intelligent and detail-oriented, or some of these things, or not, but that the color of her skin has NOTHING to do with whether she possesses these characteristics.

If you believe, as I do, that these things don’t happen by accident, you’ll see the divine perfection in the circumstances that led me to stumble upon this information. Of all the possibilities, the person who incorrectly entered my number into that online form had the name Rita, a moniker that could have easily belonged to a woman of several different races. It just makes what I’ve learned from all this that much more undeniable.

I’m pretty sure some people in my social circles (especially quite a few acquaintances I don’t often speak with in person) have written me off as a “Black Lives Matter whacko.” Nothing will stop me from promoting awareness about our country’s shortcomings when it comes to caring for people of all races, even if I can do little to change their minds,. But my own mind, that I can continue to change, and I have every intention of doing so.

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Why I post about Black Lives Matter – It’s not about me.

I have noticed a disturbing trend recently as I’ve been sharing Black Lives Matter posts on my social media. My friends are commenting in distracting ways that attempt to turn my posts around and make them about me. Black Lives Matter is NOT about me, and I don’t post about it to serve myself in any way.

I post about Black Lives Matter (BLM), because I’m convicted about doing all I can to end racism in this country. By conviction, I mean it’s what I feel called to do. I do it for no other reason than that.

However, there seem to be some pervasive beliefs from some of my friends that I post about BLM from a place of anger, hatred or ignorance. In my little microcosm, these people are doing to me (whether intentionally or not) exactly what’s being done to the movement as a whole on the national level, trying to characterize a campaign, that is actually about extending our arms to lift a group of people up onto a level playing field, instead as a movement fueled by anger, hatred, etc. Neither assertion is true, but if any of us trying to further this campaign allow ourselves to be confused or our voices drowned out or silenced by these attempts, then racism wins. And I’m not prepared to let that happen.

So, I’m going to dispel here, several of the specific accusations I’ve seen over the past weeks. Please remember as you read, BLM is not about me, but if you believe that I’m posting with less than genuine motives, then that becomes a distraction from the real issues at hand, and it’s important that we not continue to be distracted from the real life-and-death issues we’re actually facing, as a nation.

So, if you believe that I post about Black Lives Matter, because it’s “cool and hip….”

Wow, sorry to burst your bubble, but posting about Black Lives Matter has never felt “cool.” It’s always felt scary, and not only because it hurts to think that these things are happening and real black people are facing a risk three times as great as a white person every time they step out of their door each day, but also because I know not everyone in my social circles believes the statistics or feels as I do. I have loathed the idea of losing friends over my posts. However, I have determined that my being comfortable is not as important as the lives of my brothers and sisters of color.

If you believe that I post about Black Lives Matter, because I “hate police….”

Again, wow, and not in a good way. Anyone who knows anything about my family and me should really find this one laughable. I stand firmly behind my husband (who works for the City where we live) as he and his cohorts work on the non-profit they’ve established, which seeks to restore funding to the emergency and public safety services in our county here in Oregon.

In case there’s any confusion, “standing behind my husband” often means parenting my children solo. I never wanted to be the wife “counting the hours” that my husband spent away from our family in support of a fantastic cause, because I don’t believe in “score-keeping” like that, but I do wish I had the figure to post here – 52 weeks in a year, all but a handful of Tuesday nights since spring 2012 – you do the math.

The funding he’s pursuing would support our local Sheriff’s Department (among other local public safety infrastructure), all of which I fully support. I’ve met many of the City police officers at City employee events, and while I’m sure they’re human just like me, I support them too. I understand the need for police in this country. Why why why is the work of pointing out dangerous examples of law enforcement officers deemed tantamount to condemning all law enforcement? The thing is, my newsfeed is FULL every day now, of examples of good police officers. If everyone becomes afraid to post about the dangerous ones, then once again, racism wins.

If you believe that I post about Black Lives Matter, because I have some “liberal-media-imposed shame” about my heritage….

This one sort of makes me laugh, but it’s really no laughing matter, because once again, if you believe this about me, it lets you dismiss my message, or worse still, distract from it with comments that once again change the subject away from the real issue, which remains people of color who are losing their lives every day.

I meditate, and that’s an entirely different blog post, but something from which meditation frees those who practice it is shame. Nothing good ever came out of shame. Meditation allows the soul to completely let go of shame and accept and love ourselves unconditionally, flaws and all. It’s one of the many reasons that meditation brings complete and unparalleled peace into the lives of those who follow it. The point is, I don’t experience shame any more. And even if I did, there’s nothing about my heritage or my ancestors that my shame could do anything constructive about.

And there are many proud things in my heritage. I have Scotch-Irish lineage, Native American lineage, and I don’t even know what all else. I’m very proud of my ancestors who fought against oppression in ways far more real than the work I do of spreading the word. I’m also proud of its many varied traditions and cultures. I feel these things in my blood when I hear Celtic music, when I attend small town festivals, and when I sit around the dinner table of my Louisiana cousins. I LOVE my heritage! That this should even come up, should be ridiculous.

However, I do have to own part of the fault for this confusion. I made a poorly-worded comment in reply on one of my posts. I said “Black Lives Matter. I can’t say it enough to redeem my roots.” By “roots” in this case, I was actually referring to a single incident that happened at my high school when I was a student there in 1995. I used the word “roots” to describe the incident, because I was present at the school when it happened. I wasn’t involved with it. I didn’t even know about it until a few weeks ago. It was a poor and confusing use of the word “roots,” and I apologize for it. I let sloppy verbiage open a door to distraction and confusion. I suppose I’m glad it happened, so I could learn from it.

Moving on, if you believe I post about Black Lives Matter, because I watch videos of these horrifying incidents against people of color and become crazed or enraged….

You really know nothing of the peace meditation has brought into my life. Just like shame, rage has left my emotional repertoire. Again, really don’t want this to turn into a post about me, but if you believe I’m posting out of rage, that distracts from the reasons I’m really posting which are, simply and in total, to spread awareness about what’s happening to people of color in this country. Until we face it, and admit it’s a tragic part of our reality, nothing’s going to change.

One last thing, and this is a bit different, but, I have also faced the suggestion that my posts, and I’m paraphrasing here, but nevertheless, “perpetuate the image of an evil that doesn’t actually exist.” I’m not 100% sure how to respond to this, because it baffles me that anyone could look at the statistics, read the news stories, even just the facts in them, and not see a problem with the status quo. I suppose, for this reason, I can’t 100% respond to this suggestion. All I can say I guess, is, if you truly believe in your heart of hearts that this is no big deal in this country, then there’s probably nothing I could do or post to make you believe otherwise.

I would ask that anyone okay with the status quo try to stick to their own timelines with this feeling instead of distracting from my message with comments about it. Yes, it’s social media, and yes, you have every right to your opinion, and every freedom to comment with it, and sure, I cannot stop you if you want to come in and type paragraphs-long rebuttals to my posts.

However, it’s kind of unspoken Facebook etiquette. If you have more than a sentence or so to say about something, it’s more appropriate to share it to your own timeline and mount your soapbox there, rather than hijacking someone else’s post. As I begin to close here, let’s remember, I’m not asking for the conversation to cease. Rather, I don’t want the conversation to be turned around and made to look like something it’s not.

I think that’s about it for now. Don’t know how much a difference this post will make, but I had to at least try to dispel some of the confusion that keeps popping up. I hope it can cut down on some of the distractions and background noise, at least within my little microcosm. Every one of us is important to the direction of our future.