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May 26, 2009

Naming Racist Thoughts

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 5:18 pm

Back in March, as part of the aftermath to RaceFail, debunkingwhite mods made a Debunking White Goes Back to the Basics post in which they asked more experienced members to list their top three pieces of key advice for new anti-racist allies.

I’ve found the comments on this post invaluable ever since. Many of them mention things I already knew but helped by bringing them back to the forefront of my consciousness; some comments clarified nebulous ideas that I was aware of but hadn’t been able to quite lock onto; and a few provided brand new insights and things to contemplate. A couple of the comments stuck out for me especially – and one of those was muddyslush‘s comment on acknowledging racist thoughts.

2. Acknowledging that you/I are racist is immeasurably helpful. Then it’s not so terrifying to have someone point out that something you’ve said or done is racist. It’s just factual. During the day as part of my mindfulness practice I keep track of racist thoughts. I just notice them come and name it, “racist thought.”

Intellectually, I get that our entire culture from the foundations up is steeped in hegemonic racism, so it shouldn’t be remotely startling to see it everywhere – including constantly inside my own brain. As Paul Kivel insightfully points out in Uprooting Racism, looking for the ways that racist oppression influences a given situation is akin to describing the economics that impact it. The question isn’t whether or not economics factors are there. They are. The question is in what way are they present?

But emotionally, I’m still pretty hung up on the inculcated classist belief that Racists (BOOGA! BOOGA!) are Bad *cough*uneducatedpoorruralSouthern*cough* People Who Wear Sheets and Burn Crosses – and that I’m not like that, so I’m not a racist!

One of the most powerful things about getting in the habit of acknowledging my racist thoughts has been that, since they are usually fleeting and nigh-unconscious, expecting them and actively naming them allows me to capture, examine, unpack and work on actually eliminating them. Rather than being so startled and then wracked with guilt and shame by their presence that I hastily stuff them back under the rug while telling myself they never happened because I’m a Good White Person!

This morning I was lying half-asleep in bed and, for some dreamstate reason, the first thoughts to float into my mind were about Latin@ communities being smaller in Northern states. Bfp had written recently about how there being fewer queer Latinas in Michigan than in, say, California affects her life…and I realized something. When I think about US racial demographics, I immediately think about immigration and, what’s more, I unconsciously think about white, Black, and Asian immigration as having a chronological trajectory, but Latin@ immigration as having a geographical trajectory. The implication being that when non-Latin@ people immigrate or have immigrated to the United States, that’s a natural and organic historical process of populations changing over time; but when people from Latin America do the same thing, it’s a palpable physical incursion into “my” space.

That’s a racist thought.

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