Yes, Black People Can Be Racist
I am racist
Even though I am Black.
Even though I have Black friends.
Even though I have experienced racism.
Even though I protest against racism.
Even though I support Black-owned businesses.
Even though I say #BlackLivesMatter.
I am racist
I don’t say this proudly, or lightly. I am not a racist, but I am still racist. My racism is not a reflection of my heart or intentions. My racism is a product of the environment in which I was raised.
Racism is most visible between Black and White people, but it also occurs between Black people. There were, and still are, levels of privilege within the Black population: between “field negroes” and “house negroes;” between light-skinned and dark-skinned; between rich Blacks and poor Blacks; between those who have had access to quality education and those who haven’t.
None of us is immune to racist ideology and the trap of marginally benefiting from systems of oppression — even if we, too, are oppressed.
I am racist
I am racist because growing up, most of the police I saw were White, and most of the mugshots on TV were Black.
Because I didn’t witness a Black Disney princess, or prince, until I was 20 years old.
Because most of the movies I saw that centered on Black narratives depicted them as slaves.
Because I learned about the White people who helped end slavery, but not the ones who burned down Black Wall Street and terrorized many other Black communities decades after slavery had been abolished.
Because George Washington Carver was the only Black inventor I could name until well into my twenties.
Because I heard people I looked up to talk negatively about Black people.
Because “bad” neighborhoods tended to have predominately Black residents.
Because I was told my Black hair was “kinky” or “frizzy” and looked better straight.
Because I was told that I “talk like a White person.”
Because in the Bible stories I read and cartoons I watched, Jesus was always White and the Devil was frequently depicted as dark or black.
I am racist because I was conditioned to see Black people as culturally deviant, to hate the parts of myself that are Black, and to hold other Black people to an unequal standard compared to Whites.
I am racist
My racism has come out when I’ve condemned “Black-on-Black crime” in response to Black people seeking justice, but never “White-on-White” in response to White people.
It’s come out when I’ve referred to “the Black community” as if Black people are a monolith made up of individuals who all know each other and have the same challenges and perspectives.
It’s come out when I’ve judged other Black people’s struggles as purely a reflection of their own lacking character, without considering how social and systemic conditions may have impacted their personal opportunities and development.
It’s come out when I’ve allowed my Blackness to cast me as an authority on Black issues — even those that aren’t reflected in my personal experience.
It’s come out when I’ve failed to consider that the opportunities, assistance, and sheer luck that I benefited from by living in a diverse, urban location are not equitably distributed in other parts of the country.
It’s come out when I’ve used Black celebrities as examples to argue that race is not a limiting factor anymore, discounting the significance of the obstacles they had to overcome to achieve success, along with the systemic barriers that exclude most Black people from the opportunities that helped them get there.
It’s come out when I’ve arrogantly preached solutions for fixing racial disparities that make sense to me without making the effort to learn from and support those who are in closest proximity to problems I have not had to face.
It’s come out when I have used the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter to signal that I am on the right side of history, yet I have not felt the urgency to take actions that can help ensure we live in a world where that statement rings true—not just in theory, but in practice and policy.
I am racist
I don’t want to be racist, but it is an unavoidable consequence of growing up in a country founded on and sustained by racism.
I am racist because I am American.
I am racist, not because I am hateful, but because my beliefs, actions, and inactions — whether intentional or not — have been shaped by and continue to sustain a power structure that oppresses Black and non-white people.
I am racist — not the noun, but the adjective. Racism is not a permanent part of my identity, but something that I can change. Through learning and reflection, I am less racist than I was, but still not as anti-racist as I need to be to help create new systems that are founded on and held accountable by racially equitable principles and practices.
You are racist
Your racism is likely not a reflection of your heart or intentions. Your upbringing may have been much different from mine, but if we grew up in the same country, then we undeniably share experiences of racist conditioning. The damaging beliefs and behaviors you’ve developed as a product of your own environment are not your fault; however, recognizing and reforming them is your responsibility.
We are all learning and unlearning.
We are all at different points in our anti-racist journey.
We all have grievances to atone for, but the greatest one by far is to continue living in denial. Admitting is the first step to recovery.
Now, let’s get to work.
Resources for people seeking to dismantle systemic oppression
- How to Be Anti-Racist
- The New Jim Crow
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race
- Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority
- Race for Profit
- The Case for Reparations