Racist Jokes are Racism Too

The events of the last few days weigh heavily on me, and apparently writing is my emotional outlet. So this is where I need to process, and that’s what I will do.

My heart is breaking for all the people across the United States that feel like they system is set up against them. Because it is. It’s not some grand conspiracy that includes cell phone towers, the New World Order or lizard people. It’s really very simple. Racism is passed down from family member to family member like a disease. And for so long everyone acted like racism was an active thing. Like a lynching or a hate-inspired beating was the only way you could be racist. For a long time, that was unacceptable, but that’s no longer the case. Now, it’s much more insidious than that. Police have decades of experience at obfuscating the truth, and it’s the advent of cell phone video that has allowed the truth to be known.

“I have a black friend.” is a refrain so common as a way to say ‘I’m not racist’ that it’s a joke. It’s been a joke for a decade, and I still hear it said. There is a part of it that is profound. The person knows someone of another race. They break the mold. They are not the stereotype that the person expects. And the people who hold theses beliefs see evidence they’re wrong right in front of them, but reject it. They are more willing to accept those beliefs they were raised with than the evidence, a literal friend. And that is profound and sad to me. But it is also informative. As a new parent, it’s critical to know that someone’s upbringing guides their experiences through life, even when faced with evidence to the contrary.

The events of the past weekend have me reflecting on my childhood. I can say unequivocally that I made a lot of inappropriate jokes as a high school-er and college student. I look back on those moments with a degree of shame. I know that I said those things in jest, trying to be inflammatory or illicit a reaction from my friends. I know that even saying that is a form of permissiveness that I would be unlikely to forgive now. And I know I would never want my daughter to say those same things.

Another moment from my childhood that bubbled into my mind is a birthday party. Like most birthday parties around the years 2000-2002, it was a Halo party that included a lot of Blood Gulch (a map on Halo) and probably pizza and soda. At some point during that party, someone decided to make a fort that would be a Ku Klux Klan fort. It included pillows, blankets, and a ping pong table, and if not for the KKK designation, it would have been a great fort. I’ll be honest, a lot of the details are fuzzy, but I know that of about 10 kids (5-6th grade), only myself and one other person refused to join the KKK fort. I remember the feeling of refusing to join, sitting on the couch feeling left out. This is not intended to be some sort of convoluted humble brag. It’s a self-conscious look back on my upbringing and the event’s I experienced as a child that seemed so benign at the time. This was hardly the only experience with what I viewed as benign racism as young person. Xbox Live was rife with racism and inflammatory language. As a kid it’s easy to go with the behavior being modeled.

Knowing what I know now, those ‘benignly racist’ moments were anything but. I am thankful that my parents modeled the behavior that allowed me to sit there on the couch and refuse to join the KKK fort that night, when all the peer pressure in the world said join. But that is clearly not enough. It’s not enough just to not be terrible. We, as middle class white people, need to be more. We need to be anti-racist, as so many instagram and social media posts are saying right now. Confronting benign racism isn’t easy, but it’s the only way forward to equality.

My wife and I just watched a great webinar on raising children to understand race dynamics from EmbraceRace.org. Link to webinar. The most important take away that I had from the webinar was that if you want your child to behave a particular way, model it. If you want them to stand up to racism, model it. I am proud of the behavior that was modeled for me in my life that allowed me to sit on the couch and not join the KKK fort, but I want to take it one step further. Racist jokes are the target, because that was OK for me growing up. Even in the basement of houses where no person of color hear the words spoken, it was damaging. The same as using the word ‘gay’ as a slang for the negative. It wasn’t until college that I realized how ignorant it sounded and changed my behavior.

So my hope for my daughter is that I can bring her up not only avoiding doing harm, but being the kind of ally needed in the struggle for equality. Because while there are claims of equality, anyone with a critical eye knows that’s not true. The people in the street know it’s not true. The police profiling minorities know it’s not true.

Do you know it’s not true? I’d be happy to discuss with you in a civil setting. The only way forward is together, but together won’t include everyone. Will you be a part?

Published by writerlarkin

Neuroscience and Research Project Manager background; deep passion for all things fantasy and writing and mythology!

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