“I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
Good for you, if you believe that about yourself. But to be perfectly honest, I – Jan Edmiston – have lots of racist bones.
Being called a racist is – apparently – the worst. In the last week (and for the last 100 years or so*) people of every political stripe and skin color have been arguing about what’s racist and who’s racist.
- Are we racist if we are members of the KKK?
- If we are members of the Sons/Daughters of the Confederate Veterans?
- If we live in a gated community that only allows a certain color or heritage of people?
- If we send our children to a private school to avoid sending them to a school where the majority of students are a different skin color?
- If we cross the street to avoid people of another race?
- If have different rules for people who look like us and people who don’t look like us?
- If we don’t go to stores, neighborhoods, houses of faith, restaurants, clubs where we are not the dominant race/ethnicity?
- If we will only accept our children marrying someone of our same skin color?
- If we support political candidates who do not prioritize voting rights or fair housing?
- If we live in the United States of America?
My definition of race has to do with the fact that we Americans live in a system of white privilege and supremacy where white is “normal.” White is the color of most politicians, media stars, business leaders, and wealthy people. Most of us with fair skin do not notice when we are in a restaurant, movie theater, office building or store where everybody is white. We do tend to notice when we are in a place where we are the only white people (and we have been taught to be afraid in that situation.)
The fallout of systemic racism has fallen on every single one of us. We don’t even notice when we are being racist. We make comments that people whose bones are covered in brown or black skin are not as smart, not as law-abiding, not as refined, not as ambitious, not as responsible, not as committed as those whose bones are covered in white skin. I have literally heard these words in the past week:
- “You know blacks don’t stay married.”
- “Why can’t blacks keep a job?”
- “Why are black women so loud?”
I literally heard those words coming out of white people’s mouths. Last. Week. And if you think I heard them because I happen to live in North Carolina – home of the “Send her back” crowd – I drove halfway across the country and back over the last four days and, believe me, there are ignorant people everywhere.
Do I have a racist bone in my body? I have a skeleton full.
And so do you, my pale friends. (And so do you my brown and black and golden friends – although it’s different. That’s for another post.)
My jaw bone has been party to racist comments I’ve made. My spine has been too soft when I should have stood up to the foolish comments of others. My orbital bones have protected eyes that didn’t want to see the truth. My shoulder bones have failed to help carry the burdens of my brown and black siblings. My leg bones have failed to march alongside those who have no choice but to march. Every one of my bones is a racist bone because we live in a culture that is racist. It’s in our veins. It’s in our DNA. It’s under our fingernails. It’s in the air we breathe.
So, what do we do next?
And why not stay racist? Because Jesus. Literally – for the love of God. We are commanded to love our neighbors, to offer hospitality to strangers, and to recognize that the brown and black people languishing at our borders are God’s children just as surely as the white Europeans hoping to become U.S. citizens are God’s children. And every single one of those men, women, and children we are keeping in detention centers used to be fetuses. (But that’s for another post as well.)
When people say that somebody “doesn’t have a racist bone in their body” they not only don’t know what they’re talking about. The claim actually proves that they are in fact racist to their core.
* The word “racist” is a fairly new word. During the centuries of slavery and Jim Crow, treating black and brown people as less than human was considered normal in many parts of the world. The word might be new, but the existence of racism is ancient.