The 5 Stages of White Privilege Awareness — STAGE ONE

I am NOT a racist! AKA DENIAL

Nancy Myers Rust

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When I was 19 I went on a Spring Break trip to Los Angeles. There were 50 of us and we spent our days working throughout the city at various nonprofits and community centers and our evenings discussing issues of race and justice. On the first night of the trip, while we ate pizza and decompressed from the day, we listened to a welcome talk given by a white man who worked at the neighborhood center where we would be sleeping each night. His opening line to us was this:

“You are all racists. Every. last. one of you.”

Not one for easing into things, that guy. Consistent with the demographics of the small private Christian college I attended, the overwhelming majority of our group was white. I was sitting near the back and I remember thinking, “Excuse me??? Who are you calling racist? My high school boyfriend was totally Korean. How could I be a racist if I dated someone who wasn’t white? No way.”

I’d like to say that despite my discomfort I listened with an open mind and thus began a lifelong quest of inner examination and contemplation surrounding race and my own whiteness. But I didn’t. I completely tuned him out, full of my own righteous indignation.

It might have helped if our speaker had defined his terms. And maybe he did. I wouldn’t know because I stopped listening. Understanding the terms is important. I didn’t like being called a racist. Nobody does. But the problem stems largely, I think, from the definition; the designations we make for what racism is and isn’t. So let’s start there. Racism, as defined by Merriam Webster, is:

  • (a) the poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race and/or
  • (b) the belief that some races of people are better than others.

When I considered whether or not I was racist, I was looking atthat first part of the definition. Racist? Not a chance! I have never treated someone poorly or, heaven forbid, resorted to violence against someone because of their race. I wouldn’t dream of it. Taking stock of that first definition left me feeling like my conscience was clear and ready to defy anyone who would challenge me on it. My dukes were up.

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Nancy Myers Rust

Writing about life & the intersections of culture, race, gender and faith. @NancyRust, http://www.nancyrust.com/