I’m not racist,
but I used to be.
I’m not racist, but unfortunately I am racially and culturally ignorant. Recognizing the difference means I try to keep my ears more open and my mouth more shut.
I grew up in a predominantly white town. Any given year, there were (I think) fewer than ten kids belonging to racial minorities in the whole high school.
Except for the Mexican students. We had quite few Mexican students, but they didn’t seem like regular students. They kept to themselves. Looking back I guess the real separation was based solely on language and culture. We all tend to find comfort and community in what seems familiar.
I was an ESL aid for a few semesters. I never thought I was racist. I chose to be an aid in that class, but…
There was a but.
I was different.
This was the first experience in my life where I was the minority. It felt weird at first.
I was there to help with language related homework, but soon many of my peers were patiently helping me with my Spanish homework. Over time friendships grew and I always looked forward to that class. It was fun. It was comfortable. I liked the way the language barrier kept me present in conversation. I had to focus harder to communicate in simpler ways, and that somehow made the connections more sweet.
One day we were having a party in class and I was blown away by everyone’s efforts to make me feel included. I told the group how thankful I was to be so warmly included, and I’ll never forget what Cesar said back to me,
“Of course we want to include you. We all know what it feels like to be the different one.”
I’m so glad he said that to me. He humanized both of us in that moment. Now that I’m thinking about it, that might be the single most important thing anyone said to me in high school.
After that party I felt like they were my friends, but there was an invisible line I didn’t know how to cross. Most of these students ate lunch down the hall from me. Sometimes they’d walk by me and smile, and I’d smile and wave back.
They never invited me to eat with them.
I never asked if I could join them.
I never asked them to join me.
What I failed to realize is that outside of that one classroom where I was the minority, I was not the minority.
I should have offered my friends the same warmth and inclusion that they offered me, but I didn’t. At the time, I didn’t know how. I didn’t know that my non-action was an action. "They kept to themselves" because I didn't invite them into my other social circles.
There are countless ways I can muddle this story with my own insecurities and social anxieties, but I know deep down that I should have done better.
A few years ago, a younger sibling described her parallel experience to me. We were both overwhelmed with guilt for going along with the social rules we were familiar with rather than acting unabashedly from a place of love and humanness.
Acknowledging our shortcomings is the gift that will allow us to behave more responsibly moving forward.
I am still probably racist.
Not consciously, and definitely from a place of ignorance rather than aggression, but I am guilty. Ignorance is not an excuse, or something to brag about. There is so much about culture, religion, and politics that I simply don’t know. Pretending to know would be a lie, and when you live in a lie you have to hustle harder to defend that lie.
I choose love. I choose to learn. I choose openness. I choose compassion.
Change in this country and on Earth, will not happen if we all refuse to own our ugly moments. The thing about ignorance is that by definition, you don’t know something. So as you learn, acknowledge your history of ignorance. Your past does not define you. The present moment does.
So choose to learn daily. Choose to connect better with yourself in order to connect with the people around you. Choose to forgive your past as you move forward.
Think of those moments where you've felt different, and choose not to make anyone else feel that way.
Choose inclusion. We are all human, and deserving of love.
Thank you for reading! Identify? Like my message? Please share. :)
Make good choices :)