When I moved to Canada, some 14 years ago, it was the first time I heard racism as a word. Growing up in Israel, I had plenty of black friends and never thought of them as even remotely different, so I was pleased that I could check racism off as a non-issue for me.
Then I met an Arab student and was stunned that he wasn’t throwing rocks at me and my family. So, you know, probably not a non-issue after all. As a spent more time in Canada, something else started happening. I could feel it, but I couldn’t quite work out what it was. I would feel guarded if a black man walked by, watch my stuff more closely, even cross the street. It wasn’t even conscious. I definitely didn’t think I was being racist. I was being pragmatic.
Fast forward to today, I’ve attended a #blacklivesmatter protest, I’ve spent literally hours trying to undo the racist knot in the minds of even people close to me, and looking out for institutional racism has become almost second nature to me.
As I think about how to move forward though, I think back to that 13 year old girl. That girl who believed that the only solution to the conflict in the middle east was the elimination of all Arabs (I grew into my sense of irony). That girl, who was changed one day, by the realization that she was a work in progress.
So now, as I try to be a better ally, I realize that it starts with taking a page out of 13 year-old-me’s notebook and calling myself out.
I’m a racist, still. It’s probably mostly in the stuff I don’t notice. Crap I see today as pragmatic that in yet another dozen years will seem completely idiotic. I learn every day of things I thought nothing of that are hurtful to people of colour.
We are born into a world that infects us with this condition and lever lets up, but all it takes is for us to be brave enough to seek out the treatment. It might involve invasive surgery into your psyche, daily doses of brain food, and external help, but it can be beaten.
All of that though, has to start with an honest conversation about who we are.
My name is Tali, and I am a racist, but I am trying really hard to be a bit less so every day.
If you have some time, this article walks you through the evolution of racism and its place in history through the lens of a diagnosis and it’s a terrific read.
If you’d like to learn about the history of the N word and how it has come to carry the meaning it does, this is an excellent (and heartbreaking) essay to read. It helps to know why words matter.
If you’re interested in becoming active in combating white supremacy, check out some information about what the community is seeking in their allies. This is a decent place to start, but there is lots out there. Then find a local group, and ask them specifically what they’d like from you.