It was during my undergraduate years that I realized I was a racist—I, an avowed liberal, raised to judge humans based on merit and worth, rather than skin color or sex or religious beliefs.
If you’d told me I was a racist, I would have scoffed. Racism, as I understood it, was the idea that non-whites were inferior. This horrid notion and all its trappings—lynching and slavery, Jim Crow and Simon Legree, segregation and the Klan—had nothing to do with me or my worldview.
It’s a different era now, and while a few die-hard idiots still cling to their unadulterated racist ideals, most people have moved beyond. White parents these days (mostly) raise their kids to be tolerant, or at least they try to. The separate drinking fountains of the Civil Rights era, prevalent just a generation or two ago, would be unthinkable today.
Good. We’re beyond that, more or less.
The racism that exists now is subtle, so subtle that lots of people with racist ideas truly have no concept of it. I was one of them, myself.
Are you a white person? If so, answer me this: were you thinking about race the last time you had a job interview? Did you look like the people on the hiring committee? Did race play a factor at all? Were you nervous because of it, worried that you had to try extra hard to prove yourself worthy?
Or this: When you walk into a store, do the clerks give you an extra glance or follow you around to make sure you don’t steal anything, because of your white skin color?
Here, let’s get really subtle. Let’s say you’re trying to point out a gentleman in a crowded room. Do you say “That’s him, the black fella over there”? Okay, fine. But would be as likely to say “That’s him, the white fella over there”? Or would you only stop to mention race if it were different from your own skin?
Being white is a luxury that most white people truly don’t appreciate. When people judge us, they judge us simply by what we do and think and say. They don’t stop to judge us against the context of race.
I can’t stop benefiting from white privilege. I can be aware of my own privilege, and to try as hard as I can to fight against my own unintended racism, but I can’t change society.
We’ve got a new president, though. Maybe he can do it.
Seriously. Maybe having a black president will make people think about race. At the very least, I hope that President Obama can assuage some fears amongst the white folks who still harbor old-school racist sentiments. Not every black guy is in jail or dealing drugs, see? But I hope that having a black president will inspire some deeper thinking amongst the white people who—like me, once upon a time—never stopped to think about the incessant, insidious advantages if being white in America.
Failing that, maybe Obama could just stop global warming. That would also be acceptable.
Worked at the bookstore today. Working all the time is interfering with my writing projects (my effing book revisions are due December 1st), and as for things domestic—well, I need to do laundry in a serious way, but I don’t have the time to get to the laundromat. This sucks. And even if I did have the time I’d probably be too tired.
I had kinda hoped that securing a master’s degree would relieve me from the need to work every bleeding hour of my life. I was wrong.
It is, however, enjoyable. To my delight and surprise, I am realizing how much I know about popular literature. It is true that I am a public librarian, but my readers’ advisory skills are called upon infrequently. My interactions with the public usually involve answering reference questions, and helping folks with their computers, and directing people to the bathroom.
And, yes, it so happens that I write a lot of professional articles on reading and readers, and I’m on the brink of publishing a reference book on pleasure reading, but I’ve always privately thought I was a bit of a fraud. I tend to fake it a lot, and hope no one notices.
(If, um, you’re an editor of mine, um… That was a joke! Ha, ha!)
This bookstore thing is kind of a power trip, actually. People are asking for my opinions, and then, based on how I direct them, they are forking over perfectly good money to take my advice. Yowza.
They sometimes ask for my advice at the library, but it’s not quite the same. “If you don’t like you, you can bring it back,” I’ll joke. (This punchline no longer strikes me as even remotely funny, as I’ve used it a few gazillion times, but it always gets a laugh. Feel free to steal it, my fellow librarians.)
Enough from me. I’m exhausted. I’m going to fall asleep right after I pick out my clothes for tomorrow. The choices in my closet are pretty meager, as nearly nothing is clean, meaning that my garments will be either black, or… black. Strange, considering that I deliberately wore black on the day following the last presidential election, to signify my sorrow. Should Mr. Obama swing by the library tomorrow (and I don’t see why he wouldn’t), I hope he’ll understand that I am giddy and hopeful about his presidency, despite the somber apparel.