Sure I’m a little racist, but am I THAT racist?

Everyone’s a little bit racist, it’s just the way things happen to turn out in this world. But how little is that bit of me that is racist? Is it bigger than I like to think it is? Am I kidding myself that it is as small as I want others to think it is?

This came up when a few weeks ago I saw a childhood friend in New York City post something about her boyfriend who had passed away a year ago. My first thought was maybe he was shot.

Nope. It was cancer and an infection.

This thought came up so quickly and naturally, that it caught me by surprise. I felt ashamed that my immediate and uncensored thought was that he was involved with gangs or crime somehow and was shot. Am I really that racist? It’s a weird and scary realization to come to. What if I’m not as open minded as I think I am? What if I’m really not as good a person as I want to be?

Hi, racism

I know I’m not the best, but I at least thought I was doing pretty well. I hope that I won’t have a thought like this again, and hope to catch myself when I have other racist thoughts (which can be somewhat often in Singapore, but that is a different post).

What should I hope to achieve? What is the best case scenario?

Is it possible to be so unracist that you never have these moments?

Race is such a touchy subject. It is there, but then people want to ignore it. People want to be treated equally, but also want to keep their identity. Maybe the main question is how to strike that balance between having a common human “race” mentality, and still remain rooted in where we are from.

It’s like how when people say that they don’t “see color” and they think they are being less racist, but actually they are being offensive to people “of color.” A few friends posted about the Whiteness Project, and that seems to get at this idea (like this guy) and brings up some interesting perspectives.

Cup of coffee and glass of iced tea

Race at home

I remember sitting in my kitchen with my mom and listening to her talk about this and that. Sometimes, race related things would come out, but I knew she was saying these things out of worry for her children. I never believed that she actually would hate people based on race, and I hope this is true. But just because I’ve never said things like that out loud, doesn’t mean that I haven’t had those thoughts or felt there was some truth hidden in them.

My mom’s been through a lot to get where she is now, and I hope to put down in words her story someday. She immigrated to the USA in the 70s, and it could still be considered an amazingly brave act to move to a country with no knowledge of the language and no job prospects.

Her one bad brush with being robbed when she was a first time mom probably shaped her future experiences with race and New York City. She got sprayed in the face, in broad daylight, by a black woman with some chemical that disoriented her. The woman proceeded to hold my older sister (probably around 2 years old at the time) as a “hostage” in her stroller, while my mom was instructed to withdraw money from the bank. This was the story I was told, and probably missing details because my mom hated talking about it. She would always fold up that day’s page on the Chinese daily almanac calendar.

Defense mechanisms

In some sense, it’s kind of a form of self defense, really. At least that is what I am telling myself now. It is the process of trying to make your expectations match up with real life risks, such as those you might encounter walking alone at night in a city. The trouble is when these are blown out of proportion and extrapolated to cover large groups of people that we get in over our heads.

Black and white photo of my mom, wearing shades, standing in front of fountain

Old photo of my mom

That said, my mom has tried to adapt and be more open minded. I don’t remember if there was a point in time where I stopped taking her comments at face value, and just accepted that she was a little more racist than was comfortable. Now that she has spent more than half of her life in the land of the free, changing her citizenship along the way, I wonder where retirement and grandmothering a mixed-race baby will bring her.

I’m not proud of that moment that I had with my friend and her Facebook post, but I hope that these types of moments are fewer and farther between. Maybe that would mean I’m making progress towards having fewer racist moments.

Sure I’m a little racist, but I’m trying not to be so racist!

  • I know what you mean and I’ve wondered that about myself too. I guess we can’t help what kind of weird notions we’ve internalized due to our upbringing – and it’s just natural to stereotype people and groups of people, to make them easier to understand. I always reference growing up in a white town on my blog, and the flip side of that is that I know very few black or Asian American people in real life (hence why finding other Asian Am bloggers is so great for me). Of course, I met a ton of different people abroad, some became close friends and some were fleeting encounters, but there are none that I’ve really grown up with. And that has definitely shaped me in ways I’ll never really know unless/until I have a more long-term diverse group of friends/acquaintances. I think the key is being able to think objectively about it – I’m sure there are plenty of people who wouldn’t have even realized that assuming someone was involved in gangs/shootings could be racist.

    • I’ve met a few Asian Americans who were adopted into white families, and it would be interesting to hear about their experiences as well. I grew up at the edge of Harlem in New York, so I was around mostly Latino and black people growing up. Then when I got to high school, it was 40% Asian and 50% White, so I had a weird transition then. Right now, my friends are somewhat diverse, though mostly from Europe or Australia and a few from Asia. I hope you do get a chance to have a diverse group of friends! I agree that you have to try to be objective. Thanks for your comment!