I am a racist.
I am racist.
Note the nuanced difference between the two statements. Racist, in the first, as a noun. Racist, in the second, an adjective. The first acts upon those racist inclinations. The second simply possesses the qualities of racism.
A subtle, perhaps meaningless distinction.
At last night’s 3rd installment of the Real City Matters series, this one called, Can’t We All Just Get Along? How do we talk about—or fail to talk about—race, class, and geography in a sprawling and diverse megacity? And how can we learn to talk about those things better?, panelist Linda Gibbs responded to the question from forum moderator, Desmond Cole, on why we have such a hard time discussing racism. “We’re afraid of our own racism.”
Racist? Who me?! Come on. Rob Ford’s a racist! I’m not a racist.
And the denial spreads.
Toronto is not a racist place. Sure, there are racist individuals living here who occasionally let fly with their disgusting behaviour (Go Back to China! Just Go Back Home!). But they’re anomalies, exceptions proving the rule. Diversity, Our Strength, remember?
And then we find ourselves living in a city that’s more and more delineated along the lines of poverty, opportunity, class with one inextricable link running through them all. Race.
I wouldn’t dare speak for all white people but I’m going out on a limb to offer a broad generalization here. Few of us, of my vintage and from where I grew up, could claim not to be racist. We learned life through a very narrow lens. Our history, as they say, was written by the victors.
So, you know, black people, they can dance, am I right? They’re fantastic athletes but aren’t so good at learning. The Indians (our Indians), if only they could handle their liquor better. The Asians, on the other hand, industrious and driven to succeed. Maybe they could just take a little more time and figure out how to drive better. Oh, and stop eating cats.
It would take a person far more single-minded and strong-willed than I am not to have internalized that prevailing social prejudice. That’s not where the problem lies however. The problem lies in our inability to accept the fact we’ve internalized such racism, to ignore it, to pretend it doesn’t exist.
The racist is guided by those internalized values. Someone acknowledging their internalized racism is always on guard to make sure their opinions or attitudes don’t reflect that racism. Racism doesn’t stand up to ‘political correctness’. A racist does.
A racist would say something like, Yeah well, Toronto might have some race problems, but it’s not Ferguson, Missouri.
Say that to a black person living in Toronto. Tell them Toronto’s not as bad as Ferguson, Missouri. Say that and watch their reaction.
It is not lost on me that, after nearly 5 years of obsessively watching and writing about municipal politics in Toronto that I’ve planted my flag firmly in the transit file. It’s safe. It’s theoretical. It’s about a thing not people. A thing moving people.
Sure, there’s a hint of social justice to it. I’ve wrapped myself in that warm blanket. Getting reliable, fast transit to those neighbourhoods and communities that are under-served and dependent on it. I can argue it as a piece of the opportunity puzzle. Hey! I’m doing my part in making the city a fairer, more equitable place to live.
What more do these people want?
And there’s the thing. That’s what you’d call ‘privilege’. I get to sit here and concentrate on the one aspect of life in the city that, I don’t know, interests me, catches my fancy, affects me, more or less, when I choose to take transit. It isn’t necessarily white privilege but it certainly has to do with income, class, geography which is very much reflected by my whiteness.
To imagine otherwise, to think I am where I am, I am who I am, through no connection at all to the colour of my skin is, aside from pure fantasy, simply racist. It’s to pretend race no longer factors into whose voices get heard up on the stage of public discourse, who gets what job, which apartment, who gets stopped by the police for no other reason than where they happen to be. It’s awarding myself a meritless merit badge for a job well done.
It absolves me of any responsibility for the direction this city is going in. If neither racism nor privilege are a thing, then there’s a more acceptable rationalization for our growing income gap, our increasingly segregated communities, our ease accepting the divisions throughout the city.
Claiming racism is a cop out. There just has to be a better explanation. There has to be or otherwise, I might have to re-think my whole way of looking at the world.
— confessingly submitted by Cityslikr