One day, while driving my son to school, I saw a black man walking a perfectly matched set of brown and white basset hounds, and I did a double take. Now, perfectly matched basset hounds aren't very usual in my neck of the woods, but it was the black man holding the leash that surprised me, because black men don't have basset hounds. They have something big and tough and scary, or course.
Photo with thanks My Destiny Kennel, www.mydestiny.hu
It's shocking when I encounter that insidious racist voice inside of me; the one I don't like to admit exists. I really don't think I'm bigoted. I really think I judge people on their merits, not their color, but every now and then I realize that it isn't so easy. Bigotry is something that slips in quietly and appears in random thoughts seemingly out of the blue.
I was raised in a white suburb by white parents who considered themselves liberal and anti-racist. They did not have any friends of color, but they encouraged me to friend or date anyone of any color that I happened to like.
There were only a handful of black kids in my elementary school, and if we had any racially motivated incidents I never knew about them; as far as I could tell, everyone was treated mostly the same.
I say mostly, because we were very aware that the black kids were black, and I can guarantee they noticed that we were white, but we sat next to each other and worked on group projects together and talked and played on the playground.
I never heard the N word, but that doesn't mean it wasn't dropped, only that I wasn't around when it did. I remember in third grade we found the country Niger on the class globe, and everyone was shocked and scared and carried the globe to the teacher, who assured us that it was pronounced differently and it was ok to have it on the globe.
I would have to say that as far as isolated white girls go, I really felt I wasn't prejudiced.
As I got older, I met more people of many different races and had both deep and superficial relationships with people of color, but my predominant social circle was white.
I didn't intentionally seek out white people over other groups, but I lived in a white neighborhood, went to a white church, and worked in an office that was 90% white. I didn't meet many people who were not white. If you were to ask me, I would tell you that I was stridently anti-racist.
But there is a quiet form of racism that is planted in Americans by society and nurtured in isolation. It is this little voice that pops into your head at unexpected moments with racist thoughts that you didn't know were there; an assumption of stupid stereotypes that you didn't realize were part of your internal dialog.
Things like black people like expensive sneakers or don't like country music. Black people can all sing. Or, in my case, black men don't have basset hounds.
I don't know if white people can ever totally eradicate the subtle racist and stereotypical assumptions we have, but what we can do is recognize them when they come up and admit how stupid they are. Maybe then they will pop up with decreasing frequency, and eventually go away entirely. Maybe eventually my internal dialog will match my view of myself as the non-bigoted person I strive to be.
More from living