Monday, July 29, 2019

I am a racist

I wrote this Letter to the Editor in response to Charles M. Blow's opinion "Denying Racism Supports It" that was published in the New York Times on July 22, 2019. The New York Times did not use my submission. You can find the original article here:

I am a racist.

I don’t deliberately advocate racism or discrimination. I try to support legislation and civic and personal activities which reduce racism and discrimination. I abhor people who display overt racist behavior. But although I am deeply ashamed and embarrassed to admit it, I am a racist.

Please let me tell you a story.

When I was 6 years old, I was attacked by Humphrey, my best friend’s German shepherd. Although the wound was not life threatening, it was a single deep puncture in the shoulder that required several stitches; it left a physical scar that can still be seen today, 55 years later. The attack also installed a fear of dogs, a traumatic emotional scar that took nearly a decade to heal.

More importantly, the attack revealed a dark emotional scar that I’m still trying to heal.

After the attack I was encouraged to take it easy for several weeks. In particular, I was discouraged from taking part in games during recess at our neighborhood elementary school. So, rather than play kickball, I walked quietly around the edge of the playground watching my friends.

I was not alone.

I was accompanied by another boy who was also discouraged from playing with the other kids. He was black. He was the only black kid attending our school. As I recall, we enjoyed each other’s company and walked and talked together every day during my convalescence. And I didn’t think anything of it. I wasn’t uncomfortable hanging out with a black kid. Indeed, as I recall, I was aware he was black, and understood that was why he was outside the circle of my friends, but I didn’t have any negative feelings towards him. I liked him and was grateful he befriended me and saved me from feeling lonely. But, when my period of convalescence was over, I went back to my circle of friends and never looked back. I abandoned him. Even at 6 years old, I was already a racist.

Now I know that at that age I did not have the maturity or courage to make a stand for my new friend and bring him with me when I rejoined my regular playmates or to stay with him on the edge of the playground. Frankly I don’t remember whether it even occurred to me.

I do know that I have spent the last 55 years being ashamed that I treated by friend so badly. I know in my heart, I did it because I was a racist.

I am a creature of the culture in which I was raised. I feel genuine shame and embarrassment when I find prejudices in myself, but even though I try to be better, I continue to find them. Although difficulty is no excuse, it is difficult to stop being a racist. I am still a racist. But hopefully I will be better, someday.

As Samuel Beckett says, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

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