Are you racist? Even if you are, chances are your answer would be no. No one really wants to consider themselves a racist. It sounds terrible! It brings to mind images of burning crosses and white-capped men. White planters wielding a whip. Jews in internment caps.
Unless, of course, that’s all fake news. But, what if I asked you to prove that you’re not racist? What would you say? What would you do?
A European Ease
Prior to moving to America, most of my White friends were Europeans. Race was always an easy topic with them. I talked about slavery with the British, the Holocaust with the Germans, Arawak-genocide with the Spanish, and White colourism with the Italians.
When it comes to race, one of the things I have always enjoyed most about my European friends is that they make no excuses for their ancestors. There is no “but” following their declarations that slavery was a terrible idea and that racism is alive and well.
An American Observation
To be fair, it never crossed my mind whether or not someone was racist prior to the 2016 elections. I was always baffled by what I felt to be an unreasonable African-American paranoia. I did not for a second believe racism did not exist, but it was not a constant fear I walked around with. It was not a question constantly posed.
Over the past few years, however, I have noticed an interesting pattern. When a White American crosses paths with me, I can sense it immediately. During the conversation, they are searching for that opening moment to let me know, I am not racist—even though, too often, they really are.
The first time I was acutely conscious of this, I had travelled up to Pennsylvania in August of 2015 to visit a friend of mine. This was my first big trip after coming to the United States and I was excited to see what rural Pennsylvania had to offer.
My parents were worried. I couldn’t understand why. “There are literally 800 people in that town,” my Mom told me. “I checked the population on Wikipedia. You’ll probably be the only Black person there.”
“I don’t get why that’s an issue,” I replied, but I was soon to find out. I truly was the only Black person in town, and everywhere I went, I attracted unwanted attention.
One night, my friend suggested we go to a local bar to play pool. When we walked in, the bar was half empty as it was a work-night. There was some honky-tonky music playing from a jukebox, while men sat talking with cowboy hats atop their heads.
I had barely taken a seat when suddenly Snoop Dogg’s Drop It Like It’s Hot began to play. I looked up from the drink menu in obvious surprise. A group of men across from me dipped their cowboy hats politely, as if to say, You’re welcome. We mean you no harm in this here parts, ma’am.
My friend burst out laughing beside me. “You know that’s because of you, right!” He handed me a $20 bill. “Here. Go play something you actually listen to.”
I went to the jukebox and selected a handful of songs by my favourite rock band. When I returned to the bar, the guy sitting on my left said, “You like Chevelle? I have literally never met anyone else who knew them!”
The second time, I had taken a trip up to Illinois with my husband in March of 2016. He had wanted to visit a White friend he had not seen in some time. I told him to go alone as I wanted to stay home and write, but he insisted I come along. For the rest of my life will I regret accompanying him.
The second we arrived at the apartment complex, I felt unsafe. I may be from the Third World, but I don’t do ghettos. I wasn’t raised in one and prefer to keep my distance. Inside, we found that not only was his friend high as a kite in the garbage-infested apartment, but so was a strange White woman who had a baby with her.
A torturous hour later, after I told my husband in no uncertain terms I wanted to leave, the also White girlfriend showed up. She was drunk and immediately began to throw a fit at coming home to find people at her place. I motioned to my husband again that I wanted to leave. He assured me that we would soon, but sat right where he was as the girlfriend proceeded to trash her own place.
Then, suddenly, she sat beside me and began to apologise. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long night. It’s cool. I’m cool. I just want you to know I am not racist at all. Right, baby?” She eyed her boyfriend. “You tell her. In fact―in fact, I have a friend that looks just like you. Even the same shade, right baby?”
I turned to my husband and told him again that I wanted to leave. He once more told me we would leave in a moment, but did not budge. I had had enough. I started to grab my things and headed straight for the door. I managed to hold my tongue until we got to the car and then I let him have it.
I could not believe that he had actually sat there, saying nothing and doing nothing and expecting me to do the same. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t done a single thing in my defence; that I was the one who had to get up and walk away from a house of three White junkies and a baby.
It’s been three years, and I am still mad about it. I’m taking that one to the grave. This was also the most butchered and ironic attempt I have ever had the displeasure of enduring. I would rather relive that honky-tonky bar scene a thousand times than this, even once. Also, I will bet my life on it: that b!tch was racist.
The third time I was distinctly aware of being convinced by a White American that they were not racist was while waiting at the Seattle airport after my trip to Alaska. Tristan had already left for Vegas and I had another few hours to go before my plane arrived.
While I waited, I decided to hunt for a charging port. Finally, I found one, which put me right beside a White guy who was nose-deep in a book. The cover looked interesting, so being me, I asked him about it. He said he had only just started the book and didn’t know what to make of it just yet.
The subject changed to small talk, and when he asked where I was from, I told him Jamaica. He took the opportunity to bewail the current state of racial relations in America and the immigration policies of the new administration. Though I enjoyed the conversation that followed about race and race relations, it was obvious to me that he had felt the need to let me know in his own way, I’m not a part of the problem. I wish things were different. We’re not all monsters.
After the airport conversation, I became more aware of this happening in everyday conversations everywhere I went. The guy at the airport handled it well, but believe it or not, White millennial men, in my experience, are often the most likely to get it wrong.
Here’s why. Naturally, being Black in America, I must have been raised in the projects, so they often attempt to bond with me over sharing every Atlanta White boy’s story of, “I used to sell weed, you know, but… I’m past that now”. This is usually promptly followed by telling me about rappers I have never heard of. I don’t listen to rap.
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Today we went property hunting (aka trespassing 😂) in the rural outskirts of Atlanta. What do you guys think? Beautiful or nah? 🤔 Swipe all the way to the end for a quick video. The next door neighbour assured me he had lots of guns to kill my snakes 👀 and assured me I was welcome in the neighbourhood as a person of colour should I ever move out there. Haha, it's sad that he had to say it so bluntly. Even told me his son was married to a Black woman some 15 years now. But, I definitely needed to hear it! 😆 . . . #nature #naturephotography #photography #bridge #roadtrip #landscapephotography #landscape #instadaily #instanature #naturelovers #adventure #nofilter #nofilterneeded
Despite how routine this has all become at this point, the incident that stands out since Alaska was only a few weeks ago. I was going to look at property in rural Georgia and invited one of my White friends to go with me as a friendly face that might delay the lynching. He agreed and we made a road trip out of it.
When we arrived, we began to explore the property, crossing an old bridge over a river and discussing the potential plans I had for the land. While we talked, I heard a shouting and saw an old White guy leaning on the fence at the neighbouring lot.
“I can’t hear you over the river!” I shouted back at him, but he couldn’t hear me either.
I turned and started to walk towards him. “Be careful,” my friend said beside me.
At first, I thought he meant I should watch my step and didn’t think anything of it. I typically have sure feet. The guy continued to shout in my direction, but even as I drew closer, the roar of the river continued to drown him out. I was only about fifteen feet away at this point, so I broke into a run. My friend damn near had a heart attack when I took off towards the White guy.
Luckily, the man was friendly. He showed me where the property lines began and ended and told me what tasks I should add to my due diligence before purchasing. When he had finished advising me, he looked to my friend and said, “Is this your husband?”
I laughed. “No. He’s just a friend.”
“Mhm,” he said, mischievously. “That’s what you say, now!” He threw his hands up as if in defeat or surrender. “I’m not saying anything you know. I’m all for it. My son is married to a…a…a…”
I watched him struggle to find a word he believed I would believe was politically correct before just settling on “Black woman”. He then told me they had been happily married for about fifteen years. “She’s yay high!” he said, laughing as he put his hand about waist high.
It was such a random addition to a conversation about property lines and zoning laws that it was blatantly obvious to me why he had felt the need to say it. He then followed it up with, “You’d like it out here. Us neighbours, we watch out for each other. You wouldn’t have anything to worry about.”
And, you know what the worst part is? After passing dozens of Confederate Flags as we drove through Rockdale County and then Newton County, I needed to hear it.
My American friends believe that racism and racial tension will never get any better in this country. But, I am forever the naive Jamaican who forgets White ‘Muricans with Guns can be dangerous and runs towards one in Middle of Nowhere, Georgia, USA, because I can’t hear him over a roaring river. In case you’re wondering, he told me has 35 guns!
Is it surprising then that I have hope for America, yet? Jamaica may be light years ahead in quelling the racial tension, but we didn’t get there without hard work and forgiveness on both sides.
In the meantime, it’s sad to say, but sometimes even the clumsiest attempts at saying, I’m not one of them goes a long way for me. Because. Well. Sometimes, I do wonder. Just don’t tell me about your one Black friend who looks just like me—even the same shade, right baby?
Update 2/16/2019 @ 12:45PM: One reader missed the point of this, so I’ll add it here. The reason everyone’s race is pointed out in the article is because, you know, this is a post about racism and race relations. 🤷♀️
About the Author
Alexis Chateau is a Jamaican entrepreneur, avid traveller and author of mystery, paranormal, and crime fiction novels. Her interest in Black history and social constructs was shaped by her liberal arts studies and deepened after becoming an expatriate in Georgia, USA. To see her West Indian characters in action, read her historical novel, The Moreau Witches.
Praise for The Moreau Witches from the National Library of Jamaica
This book catapulted me into reading so many others, looking for that good feeling I got from reading yours. It was so well written! I absolutely love it. You are a genius.
—Monique Fergie-Scott, National Library of Jamaica
35 thoughts on “Convince Me You’re Not Racist”
Thank you for sharing your lived experiences. We all (in this country) have unconscious bias. It’s in our dna. A few of us are working to truly unpack and learn about it. Love your writing. Glad I found you, even though it was after you write this.
Hi Ruth! Biases are an instinctual part of human DNA. It’s how we make quick decisions. However, humans have evolved past relying on only their base instincts and those who continue to do so are doing not just others, but also themselves, a serious disservice!
Thanks for reading! ☺️
IMHO anyone who has to say “I’m not a racist” usually is one … those that aren’t don’t need to say it and wouldn’t see any difference anyway 🙂
I think most people feel that way, but aside from the crazy drunk lady, no one else said it outright. People found more subtle ways to acknowledge that there was racial tension and that they were at the very least trying to stand on the good side of equation.
Personally, I prefer that to the people in their lumiscent bubbles who will look you dead in the eye and tell you racism doesn’t exist because they’ve never seen it and they are “colour blind anyway”. Those are the people I’m suspicious of, having lived in the redneck south for almost 4 years now.
wow I can’t even imagine that … sounds like it could be time to move?
As difficult as it is for you, I wonder about young black men. It horrifies me that they can be minding their own business and still wind up dead because of the colour of their skin. I read a blog by a young black (I think he follows your blog),American man. The treatment he receives at times horrifies me. Life can be challenging for young men at the best of times, but then throw in the possibility that they might be shot for simply showing up in a different area or being misunderstood. These are challenging times unfortunately, governed by ignorance and fear but sometimes things need to go backwards, in order to make a big leap forwards. That is my hope anyway.
I do believe that African-American men are often perceived as dangerous and therefore receive a lot of backlash. However, at the end of the day, they are still swinging a penis and are American citizens.
Being of colour, not a citizen, and a female is a dangerous cocktail in a red state in America. If I so much as get a speeding ticket, I could be swiftly deported. If I say the wrong thing, my visa renewal could be revoked. I could die in detention for all I know, under the current immigration policies. I don’t think it’s a fair comparison.
Thank you for explaining that. Yes being an immigrant adds a whole new dimension .
Wait, you actually appreciate those, “I’m not racist nods?” I’ve always tried to avoid them, because I was afraid that explicitly stating that I try not to be racist (I don’t pretend to be immune to prejudice) would feel forced, and – paradoxically – make me look worse.
If it’s subtle, yes. I mean, think about it. Our first convo started with you joining on a conversation about immigration, how bad it was, and how you wished it was better for people of colour in America. I don’t think it’s always an intentional nod, but a nod nonetheless, because it tells the other person where you stand on polarizing issues. 🙂
As for “Miss I’m not Racist, Right Baby?”, nothing will convince me she wasn’t racist. Zero subtleties there. That was a very forced and insincere attempt that certainly made her look worse.
Oh yea, I’d forgotten about that conversation! Fortunately it’s very easy to tell where I stand on polarizing issues, due to my frequent use of anger that’s barely disguised as sarcasm. I try not to use much sarcasm on the internet though…
Yea, that crazy drunk lady was trying way to hard to not be racist – I find it hard to believe her. I’m guessing she unloaded that comment on you because she was aware of harboring racist tendencies that conflicted with her self-image, so she was seeking reassurance from you rather than doing the hard work of accepting and improving her attitudes. Though, based on your description of her, that woman had a lot to work on…
That’s all for your Sunday Psychoanalysis Session with The Jaguar 😛
Haha, I remember it well. I would say the situation is true for guys like the Seattle airport guy. Maybe he would have had the same conversation with anyone else, just to make it clear where he stood. But, the fact remains that he chose to have that conversation with me.
Crazy drunk lady and her high boyfriend need to stay far away from me. It would take a miracle for me to set foot in Illinois ever again. I call it the redneck state of the north. I have never seen so many Confederate flag as I did driving through that state. I saw more there than in Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky. That says an awful lot.
And, every house I visited, people were watching Fox News. Gods help us all.
Lots of the Midwest is the redneck state of the North. As soon as you get outside of Cleveland in Ohio you see Confederate flags and Trump stickers everywhere, even though we used to brag about our Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape to Canada. Funny, I’ve not heard a single person bring up the Underground Railroad since 2015. I guess we’re trying to forget certain aspects of our past…
I have heard that Ohio is the true redneck state of the north, but I’ve never been so I’ll take your word for it.
I guess people choose to hang on to whatever memory is most convenient at the time.
a wonderful write and it had me chuckling.
yes americans have been very harsh and cruel to those not americans. the Irish, Jewish, Polish, Africans, Chinese, Japanese and even when they become american, they still feel the brunt of the hate. i feel we all are racist. some show it more than others. maybe it is just a natural trait in humans to be such??
i find it funny when people talk about people, they will most always throw race/ethnic in describing the person they are talking about. does it really matter to the story to say…i saw a (add whichever race/ethnic type here) man fall down at the store today. of course in your blog it is important.
my ex-wife, who is a japanese/american, mother was one of the most racist people i have ever met. she totally disapproved of me being her sil. and always had negative opinions of other races/ethnic people. many older japanese hated the okinawans and vice versa. yet okinawa was taken over by japan.
my current gf is chinese/american and yes i have heard all the snide remarks by people that i have “yellow fever.”
yes, it is going to take a lot of understanding and forgiveness by all humans to stop racism. maybe as we keep blending humans we will see it happen. i just dont see it happening as it is a human fault.
this was one of you.r best writes. thanks
Thanks, Buddy! I’m glad you enjoyed this one. It’s been a while since we had a conversation about these things.
When it comes to racism though, I think it’s important to differentiate between our evolutionary tendencies to judge, and actual systematic hate coupled with beliefs of racial inferiority/superiority. I believe that’s important, because once we lump in everyday pre-judgements and get too comfortable with saying, “We’re all a little racist”, it normalizes it and then less people feel the need to make a conscious effort to change.
I do agree with you that Americans seem to throw race in as a description in totally unnecessary narratives. I have been wondering about that since I moved here. I first noticed it in the news and the media. I remember going as far as to pull up Jamaicans newspapers to show friends here how even when the person described was Asian (as evidenced by a picture), race was never mentioned unless it was incidental to the article. We didn’t even bother saying they were Jamaican. That was implied.
I do agree with you also that Whites are not the only racists. There are many Blacks who choose to fight fire with fire, and there are many Asians who view themselves as superior. A lot of my in-laws voted for He Who Shall Not Be Named and legitimately asked me why I didn’t believe he was a superb candidate (at the time) for presidency. Needless to say, I’ve never been back to Illinois. Twice was enough for me. I will also say that the Indian mother of one of my exes was the most racist woman I ever met. I don’t think I ever had racism issues with any other mother-in-law, or any White mother-in-law for that matter.
One reader commented to say that cultures should be preserved separately. But, like you, I prefer the blend. People will always have a lot to say about it and that’s perfectly fine by me. Maybe I have White fever 😂 To each their own. My family has always had a legacy of dating and marrying our racial/ethnic opposites.
Thanks again for reading and sharing your thoughts!
Thank you 🙂
Really interesting post. As a white girl in the UK, I can’t say I’ve experienced anything like this and I’m sure it’s such a weird feeling when people are trying to convince you that they aren’t racist. Especially with the guy at the airport! Like you say, I’m sure everyone would say they aren’t racist if asked, whether they are or not. And I guess people’s actions show their true beliefs, not their words and that’s the same with racism as it is with everything else. As they say, actions speak louder than words!
I think all what you wrote about can be similar to being gay for example. I’m not gay myself, but my sister is and you do notice people feel the need to say ‘I’m not against it or anything’ or something along those lines. And in a way it’s almost like I didn’t think you were until you had to draw attention to the fact that you COULD have been.
Differences between people will always be judged in some way or another. But no one is the same and it’s about time people stopped fearing differences no matter what they are, at the end of the day we’re all human, as cliche as that sounds.
Once again, really interesting post & I’ll be sure to look out for more posts!
Thank you, Jazmin! I’m glad you took the time to read it and leave a thoughtful comment. I have often compared Black struggle to the LGBTQ struggle at present, pissing off a lot of people in the process, of course. However, the parallel you just drew is precisely why I do it. Would you believe though that one way a White American has reassured me she wasn’t racist was by telling me she was LGBTQ?
A lot of Blacks do feel as though you are now suspicious once you feel the need to say you’re not racist. My parents, for instance, hate when people do it.
For me, I don’t mind. In the first three incidents, it was neither here nor there to me. However, in the instance where I was considering moving into a neighbourhood flying racist and White Supremacy signals, it was good to know.
I also think you can sense some level of authenticity in how it’s done. Bar guys were racially ignorant and stereotyped me. Drunk girl was racist and crazy. I’m convinced on that one. Alaska guy seemed authentic. The White guy in Middle of Nowhere, GA also seems authentic, albeit clumsy. Bless his heart for trying. This dude was like 60/70 years old and pandering to the perceived concerns of a Black female immigrant.
Interesting, that melting pot concept. I cannot agree that this view is shared to any great extent, or that it would be anything to celebrate. I believe the good things in any culture should remain in force and should not be watered down or altered — particularly by anything that is manifestly inferior. I also believe that there is much in the traditional British culture worthy of being preserved
Loved your post as usual! 😊
Well, that’s precisely what the KKK believe, which is why they hate Mixed people and interracial couples even more than Blacks. That’s the kind of thought pattern that led to segregation, to prevent African-Americans from assimilating into White society.
I prefer the melting pot. I prefer blending. That is what Jamaica does best and it works well. Anything else to me is highly suspicious.
You demonstrate, here, the human failing of a tendency towards extremes, simultaneously with advocating amalgamation. The ‘things have to be black or white, with no middle course’ syndrome, which is ironic when used to espouse a blend. Individuality within reason is to be prized. Not all customs and habits need to be shared. Some are divergent, and with mutual respect can happily remain so.
I’m merely sharing what has worked in Jamaica. Not hypothetically, but actually. If that makes us extremists, then so let it be. I will always favour the blend and the mutual exchange over Brexit And separationist ideology, which apparently, is much less extreme. Enjoy the rest of the weekend! 🙂
There is racism and racism. Do I look down on other races in principle? No. Am I proud of my own white heritage? Yes. Do I feel comfortable with a group of white Americans with certain habits and convictions not my own? No. Do I feel in the least uncomfortable with a group of black people who speak and act as I do? No. Do I automatically expect them to? No, and therein lies the racist slant. I do have expectations of differences.
You, too, are a racist in that you are inevitably focussed on and sensitive to it. Is the only thing that makes you uncomfortable in some white company is that they may or do display racist or apologetic tendencies? Unlikely. There are other things that can trigger discomfort, and they are mainly social/cultural differences. Perceptions of these can be exaggerated when there is a race difference as well.
Thank you for an article compelling me to honestly consider, while writing it, my own attitude to the subject.
I disagree with your conclusion, but you’re welcome to your opinions. The point of the article was to provoke thought, not consensus. 🙂
Which is why I provided an honest opinion rather than tamely regurgitating the politically correct versions.
Indeed, but the irony is that attempting to advise a person of colour on how to react to racism when you are not a person of colour, or saying it is racist of them to notice racism towards them, is at best …ironic. I don’t believe any person not of colour has the right to advise on a situation they don’t understand firsthand.
No irony. We are in a country where racism is rife in the other direction. Whites are discriminated against. Any valid criticism of behaviour by them, is, if the perpetrator happens to be of another colour, deemed as racist. The subject is constantly harped upon to the extent of scratching a wound instead of allowing it to heal naturally. I have also been at the receiving end of discrimination against English speakers by the Afrikaans during Apartheid. That is now treated as a matter of the past, as is proper. There is still, however, a degree of natural separation between the groups, based purely on cultural differences.
I also allied myself with Black causes during Apartheid.
I believe all of this has given me enough background to have valid opinions on the subject.
And I hope you have enjoyed and are enjoying your own differently-timed weekend!
I grew up with the kids of what we in the UK call “The Windrush Generation” – immigrants from Commonwealth countries who were invited over in the 50s and 60s to live and work in the immediate post-war years. My hometown at the time a melting pot of first and second generation immigrants from Jamaica, India and Pakistan.
I never learnt to fear people of different colours. I didn’t then and I don’t now. These people were my friends. We played hide n seek together and later when we were a bit older, football together too.
Racism is not alien to me though. What is alien is the concept that people with a different skin tone to me are to be feared. And that seems to be the problem in the US from an outsider’s perspective – the fear, the idea that black people are more dangerous because they are black. I wouldn’t even say that’s something that tends to feature among racists here in the UK. There doesn’t seem to be fear so much as belief in the inferiority of other cultures and colours.
The concern tends to be of a culture supplanting the “native” culture which is quite ridiculous (it’s definitely the case that bigots fear Muslims and it was probably the case with black immigrantstoo at one point). Our language, cuisine, architecture, art, literature and virtually everything else is and has always been one big melting pot.
I agree with you wholeheartedly on that one. Your story is very similar to that of my other British friends.
I think the problem lies in the fact that America was the only first world country who didn’t have the good sense at the time to outsource slavery. It happened right on its soil. That’s a much tougher stain to get rid of, especially in a White-majority setting.