What do you do when you discover you’re racist?

What do you do when you discover you’re racist?

I have gone around and around in my head on the different ways to start this blog post. There were lots of beginnings and just as many deletions before I finally decided on beginning with the above question. I’ll be honest with you, I would rather not start there. I would rather not write this at all, but if I’m not willing, how can I expect anyone else to be. If we don’t go here, if we won’t do the work, honestly there really is no hope for change. Not the real change we so desperately need.

You see, I thought I was doing pretty well with undoing and disrupting the subtle and not so subtle messages of bigotry and prejudice all around me. I read everything I could get my hands on about the Underground Railroad, the Holocaust, and the Civil War when I was in elementary and high school. As an adult I have frequently felt, if not seen, the eyes roll and imagined the unspoken words of “there she goes again” when I challenged or pointed out racist, sexist, and homophobic behavior. While I often wanted to do more, I still was inwardly pleased with the personal work of challenging myself and others I was doing.

A couple of weeks ago I took an *implicit bias test on race. Yes, I knew and understood all of us have implicit bias, it’s impossible not to. I failed. OK, I know you can’t actually fail this test, but that is what it felt like. My results said, “You have a strong preference for white people”. I was so ashamed. I have an African American son-in-law and 2 multiple race grandchildren, how could I be this awful person? I felt like an imposter, a complete fraud. It took over 24 hours before I would even discuss the results with my closest friends.

I believed I was somehow exempt, or at least had overcome any bias I may have had based on race. I mean I knew I had to stay on alert, that those biases could creep back in if I wasn’t vigilant, but I was ever so vigilant. I had done the work. I was doing the work. I learned it doesn’t matter how much work we do, we are all products of the world we live in, and yes, we live in a racist world. No one is exempt, not me, not any of us.

Vigils are important. Marching is important. Demonstrating is important. Writing letters and making phone calls is important. All those things are important, but if we don’t acknowledge our own bias, commit to shifting it, and then actually take regular action to do so, the rest really won’t matter because unconscious bias will just tear it all down.

What do you do when you discover you are racist? You own it and you work to change it. Each and every day.

Here is the link to the test I took. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html I encourage you to take it, as well as some of the others they offer. Trust me, it’s not easy, but it’s important.

I will note I have taken the test a second time (as is recommended on the website) and gotten significantly different results. This time the test said, “No automatic preference for black or white people”. Of course I am happier with those results, but the recommendation is also to take it a third time if your results are significantly different. I haven’t done that yet. That is telling as well.

*“Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.” – The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity

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