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What makes a racist?

By John Tuite
Posted: 08/10/2020
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  - Submitted by  John Tuite -

Racism has now become a major matter for discussion, the subject for articles, books, podcasts, and media treatment.  I used to think I could identify the racists.  They were the ones who spoke the “n-word with ease, spoke of minorities as "those people” and categorized them with universal deficiencies and faults.  Racists were “opposed” to black people.

But I grew up in Chicago “in a white neighborhood”.  I was early aware of where Black people lived and it was called “the slums”.  They weren’t “supposed" to live in my neighborhood.  I was a Catholic, and, as far as I knew, only white people were Catholics.  I went to an elite high school and there was only one Black student in my four years, and he was a friend, but considered an exception.  And my family was poor and immigrant, but we were white.  And that made a difference. That made us superior to black people in our eyes and the eyes of our neighbors.  I grew up racist!  My parents were immigrants from Ireland and didn’t know what to make of this new world.  They didn’t want to “fight over the bottom rung”, so we didn’t use the n-word and we kept our thoughts to ourselves.  But our little world was racist.  I was “trained” to be a racist.

A definition of racism I found calls it a combination of systems, institutions and factors that advantage white people and cause widespread harm to people of color and disadvantages in access and opportunity.  It is grounded in the history of our laws and institutions which were created on a foundation of white supremacy.  I have been part of the systems, belonged to the institutions, and enjoyed those factors for 87 years.  I’ve enjoyed the fruits of racism.

I have two dearest African grandchildren who were adopted from Sierra Leone, now in their early twenties, and trying to cope with their transition from a childhood in a friendly white suburb to an adulthood in a confusing and contentious racist urban world that they have to learn to navigate on their own.  And I have Black friends whom I love who have never confronted me with belonging to the enemy camp.

And I have been running hard all my adult life to keep ahead of this strange reality that has been my racist life.

How about yourself?

- John Tuite -

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