On the surface, I don’t think so. I grew up on an isolated farm. The first time I saw a black man was the porter on the train. I remember my little sister saying, “Mom, that man forgot to wash his face.”
I didn’t see another black person until moved to the city and I met the one boy in my junior high school who was a black from the US. I wasn’t a friend of his so I don’t know what prejudice he faced, but I do know he was a member of the “in group.”
Then I went to Mali as a CUSO volunteer. We were a group of twenty Canadians in the capital, Bamako. The neighborhood children ran up to touch us and then looked at their hands to see if the white came off. We often felt the gentle touch of a hand on our hair as we worked with our high school students. We were taken to the front of the line to see the doctor, not because we were white, but because we were respected for having left the safety of our homes to come to work in Mali.
In these limited experiences, I felt no racism except perhaps a reverse one in Mali that worked in my favor.
Recently, I read two novels with an African American female as the protagonist. As I read, I was jolted each time something in the story reminded me of her color. Obviously, I was subconsciously seeing her in mind as white like me.
- Because, as a reader we all tend to identify with the hero or heroine and automatically see them as we see ourselves?
- Because, color isn’t an issue for me and I wasn’t consciously thinking of that as I read?
- Because I am racist and I couldn’t possibly see the heroine as a woman of color?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that a year or two ago these questions likely wouldn’t have entered my head. I’d have read the story, pondered what I liked about it, what I’d learned from it, likely recommended the book to friends, and then picked up the next on my “to read” list.
Trump came on the scene and the media coverage that allowed him to build and grow his attacks on decency obviously impacted my mindset. Even though I’m not American and can’t vote in the election, I’m seeing much too much of him in the media here in Canada and on Facebook. His statements are abhorrent. I feel sick watching him, yet I’m obsessed and can’t turn the computer off.
I cringe when I see the picture of black manikins hanging in trees as Halloween “decorations.” I cry when I see African Americans attacked at his rallies. I fume when I see him stalk Hillary at the debates. And, I am enraged when I learn of his sexual attacks on so many women. His abuses of his position and his power are staggering—almost beyond belief.
The more I watch and read, the more afraid I am of his virulent actions and the actions of some of his followers. How far will this go? I pray he loses the election, but even then, I expect we’ll see an ugly, violent backlash.
Does any of this answer my original question? Am I racist? I don’t think so. What I do know is that somewhere in all of this mess, we all need to find ways to move to genuine goodwill in our treatment of others.