by Scot Nakagawa
Okay, I know this subject has been beat to death but I need to go there one more time. Why? Because Paula Deen’s crying, pleading, borderline belligerent I is what I is, and I’m not changing play for forgiveness mirrors the way that too many white people react to accusations of racism. And that reaction is no small thing. It’s one of the obstacles to ending interpersonal racism which, as we know, is the justification for institutional racism and the perpetuation of racial inequality.
So, for white people who want to be good allies, here are five things not to do when accused of racism:
1. Cry. By crying, you make the problem all about you. You know, like you’re such a good and sensitive person that no one was hurt by your racism more than you were. Nice try, but in order to believe that, we first have to minimize the damage that’s done by racism, and that kind of undermines the whole idea that you’re genuinely sorry about anything except how you’re being treated as a result of your racist behavior.
2. Trot out your (insert racial minority group here) friends. This is an all too common way of deflecting the accusation without just admitting to the racist act. And, it’s bound to backfire, because instead of being an excuse, it only demonstrates your racism by reducing your friend to her/his race and worse, into an object, specifically a shield, to protect you from having to admit to racism.
3. Blame your age or upbringing. If your age is the problem, it implicates everyone else in your age group in your act of racism, and that’s not a fair thing to do to them in order to protect you. It also blames your racist act on your mother, your father, your teachers, the social climate in the town you grew up in, and every other person or condition that influenced you except, of course, you, the person who had a choice. As history shows us, not everyone was a racist at any time in our history. In every age, every person had and continues to have the ability to choose against racism.
4. Justify racist acts in certain circumstances as in, it’s okay to turn into a racist if someone is holding a gun to your head. If you manage to hold in your racism when you’re at your best, but react to fear or anger by immediately turning to racism, you’re a racist. In fact, fear and anger are at the very heart of racism.
But, while avoiding the four things listed above will probably keep you out of trouble, they don’t actually address your racism. So, if you’re truly just an accidental racist who sincerely wants to make amends, simply admit to it, take what you have coming to you, learn from it, and do something to make a positive difference.
And that brings me to the 5th thing you ought not do when accused of racism. Dodge. Because what distinguishes the accidental racist from an intentional one is the willingness to simply own up to your accidents and make amends.