Dear white friends: you’re probably racist

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

If you find yourself justifying why you’re not racist, I have some potentially shocking news for you.

You’re probably racist.

I don’t mean this as an attack. I’m not here to dispute any of the altruistic things you’ve done for other people (regardless of their race).

Rather, I think most white people are at least a little bit racist. I just think most of us don’t want to admit it.

We all need to acknowledge our own racial bias

I don’t believe we can overcome systemic racism if we don’t first accept that we are the problem. I don’t mean we in the collective sense. I mean it as ourselves.

You.

Me.

Your family and friends.

Racism isn’t just a problem “over there.” It’s not concentrated only in the Midwest USA or in small, homogenous towns. It wasn’t “made worse” during Donald Trump’s presidency; more likely, Trump simply allowed existing racist sentiments to surface.

If we aren’t willing to acknowledge our own racial biases, how can we ever expect anything to change? To get better?

Collectively, I often hear people saying that government and corporations need to do better. They need to hire more women, have more Black board members and more people of color in leadership roles.

I think all of this is true. But there’s another truth. And that truth? We have to come to terms with our own biases.

An evolutionary holdover we need to consciously overcome

I think, to some degree, we’re all a little bit tribal. In fact, I’d be surprised if we weren’t.

Tribalism was likely a favorable evolutionary trait: feeling bonded or drawn to people that looked like you, but weren’t related to you, helped produce large, cooperative groups with diverse enough genes. As travel was limited to where we could go on foot, the people we were able to form groups with were ones who were geographically close, in most cases looking or acting much like ourselves.

It also likely helped protect us from violence, as we were able to guard our territory against potential attacks from other groups (a behaviour commonly seen in highly territorial chimpanzees).

This cooperation allowed us to achieve incredible things. We were able to work together for the good of the group, divide labour and childcare and share in our harvests. We were able to protect our land and resources from threat.

But in today’s diverse, multi-cultural cities, the use of these heuristics and our tribal nature is less than ideal.

We’ve long since outgrown forming social groups based on how we look

I live in Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in the world.

If you’re like me, you disdain the evolutionary vestiges that we (culturally) should have long outgrown.

I find it frustrating that my brain likes heuristics. That my first impressions are often judgments, ones that I have to consciously course-correct. That I take only calculated risks, feel the need to build up personal security, and that my biological systems try (very adeptly, I may say) to fool my brain into wanting children.

At the same time, it’s my job as a human being to work to overcome these things. The scientist in me knows my brain and body can’t adapt as quickly as the world around me can. Nowhere close. And as frustrating as it is, I feel like it’s simply my job to maintain awareness of the biases and prejudices I hold. To become knowledgeable about other races, cultures, and identities. To challenge my own beliefs and others, too.

What are your biases? Are you aware of them? I’d love to hear how you’re accepting and working through your own.

Talking about the things people are afraid to talk about. LGBT+, Startup Culture, Diversity.

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Brigitte Dreger

Brigitte Dreger

Talking about the things people are afraid to talk about. LGBT+, Startup Culture, Diversity.

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