I am a racist. Is that shocking to read? Believe me: it’s even more shocking to write and to think. I was raised to respect all people, not to discriminate, and to see every person as unique and valuable. Nonetheless, I am a racist. I am part of the problem.
In our Humanities seminar the seniors and I read a sermon titled “I, Racist” (warning: adult language is used) in which the lector argues that racism is not about individual acts of discrimination. Metta says, “the system was made for White people, so White people don’t have to think about living in it.” I thought I was exempt from that because I do think about it, frequently. How could I not, with black men being shot and killed now a regular and all-too-frequent headline on every news outlet? But Metta continues to say that “racism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the racist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America.”
And I knew that he was talking to me. My silence makes me complicit. And I know whereof I speak. There is an entire language for what we Jews call “silent collaborators,” referring to European citizens who lived right next door to Concentration Camps, Death Camps, or SS strongholds, knew all that was happening, and out of fear, self-preservation, or some other motivation, said and did nothing. I imagine myself on the side of the road in Charlotte or in Tulsa watching something occur and I wonder if I would have spoken up or interceded to protect an innocent life. And I know that I would neither have said nor done anything; I would have watched it happen. And then I remember the words from my favorite author: “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
In his sermon Metta does not accuse me of being a racist; he explains, instead, the true nature of cultural racism, and invites me to think honestly about my place in it. I cannot change a culture by myself, and I cannot reverse injustice in this world. I can, however, adopt Macbeth’s mantra: “I dare do all that may become a man.” And so I admit that despite that fact that I do not believe I consciously hold any prejudices or discriminate against any person based on race, I am a racist. I challenge you to read Metta’s sermon, discuss this with your family, look at yourself in the mirror, and think about what you are willing to admit about yourself.