8Whenever somebody says “I’m not racist” it’s safe to assume that whoever is speaking is racist. I hope I am an exception to the rule. It’s a sensitive subject; something I’ve learned to handle with more tact. I’m not racist, I just have questions.
A large portion of the people who live in or around Akron are black. I’m white. This means I deal with racists on a regular basis. These are the guys who never encountered anyone from another race until they came to Akron. They might be from the country, or a really insulated suburban community. Unfortunately, this usually means that they’re kind of prejudiced because while there are people like that who aren’t racist, the not-racists don’t tend to randomly bring up how equally valuable people of different ethnicities are. It’s the racists who speak and consequently make everyone around them less intelligent. When that’s the only opinion getting passed around, people tend to conform to it.
Like I said, I’m white, which means racist white people often feel comfortable saying racist things to me like I’m “in on it”. I’m not. You’re a bad person. I was at a gas station with a friend of mine. As we were collecting gas and slim jims we were accosted by a very rundown homeless black man who did not have the same concept of personal space that most people do. We disengaged him and are driving away when my friend says something unprintable.
My response can be boiled down to the following:
This guy isn’t homeless because he’s black, he’s homeless because he’s a poor, uneducated person who comes from a poor, uneducated area. It’s unfortunate that your first encounter with a black person coincided with your first encounter with a crazy homeless guy but trust me, there are white people who do this. Don’t be stupid.
He recanted and we moved on. I don’t hold it against him; he was raised that way. People with seemingly racist tendencies can still be good people.
I don’t know very many people of other races and, as such, I don’t get very many opportunities to learn about people who aren’t similar to myself. Something I’ve noticed about myself is that I tend to talk about race, racial issues and racism itself when I’m around people of other ethnicities. It’s interesting to me. I want to understand racism. The problem is, if I only talk about race when a certain person is around, that person is going to think I‘m always like that and that I have some sort of hang-up about it. So I come off as racist.
But I’m not racist, I just have questions. Are there white people jokes? Please tell me white people jokes. What does ashy mean? Am I ashy? Can I even be ashy? I never use lotion. I’ve been told that black people don’t wash their hair every day. Is that true? I don’t either but, I’ve been told that’s not ok. I don’t lack self-awareness, I’m just curious.
As inane as this curiosity is, I understand the risks involved in focusing on a single aspect of somebodys personality. You can stop treating them like a person.
The situation that comes to mind is that of a my friend of mine in High School. Bryan was Jewish. He was also a really cool guy but the fact that he was Jewish was so novel to some people that his intelligence and demeanor were ignored. As a result, people’s perception of him was largely colored by his heritage. His nickname was “Superjew” but he wasn’t even super-jewish. He didn’t wear a yamaka, he loved bacon. People couldn’t get past it though. And, of course, he’d get nonsense like this: “Oh you’re Jewish. My neighbors are Jewish. They’re cool.” Who cares? He’s not a dog; he doesn’t get excited when you come home and he smells the other Jews you’ve been around. Don’t be stupid.
That must have been pretty rough for Bryan and I’m sorry I took part in it. Even knowing that it was happening, I participated in and perpetuated the trivialization of this guy, my friend. I’ve since learned to control myself. I’m not in high school anymore and I hope my personality reflects that. I don’t define people by their background.
Still, I want to know things that my typical friend group can’t tell me and any deliberate attempt to make a “black friend” would just feel wrong so I miss out on that perspective.
I try to suppress my curiosity but sometimes I come off as racist. I get mixed in with the insulated guys who treat black people like they’re another species. But I’m not racist, I just have questions.