Everyone's a Little Bit Racist
“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” Maya Angelou
This quote has been a favorite of mine for a long time. And yet, if people show me that they’re an asshole, I have a tendency not to believe them the first time. I want to see the good in people. I want to believe people are capable of change and growth – because they are. But it isn’t enough for me to want someone to change and grow. They have to want it too – they have to want it more than I want it for them. Change isn’t easy. Sometimes change looks like facing hard, scary truths head on. Truths like, “Oh…hey, maybe I am gay?” Or, “Maybe I do have racist beliefs?” Or, “Maybe I drink too much?” Staring down that hard truth is the first step. Sometimes, people in our lives who love us try to point these hard truths out to us from a place of care of concern. And we may or not be ready or open to hear what they are saying. Because what do we do with this truth when they put it on our laps or when we realize it?
Well, ignoring it is an option. Barreling forward, headstrong, cloaked in denial. But, consider for a moment, the possibilities that open up before you if you are willing to say, “Yeah. Maybe that is true.” And you’re willing to work on it – open to the possibility of digging deep and doing work, hard work, well, that’s the first, terrifying step. That’s where real change can begin.
I haven’t been sleeping well since last Friday. That’s when protests began to take place across the United States. In February, Ahmaud Arbery was killed while jogging. In March, Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by police in her own apartment. In May, a white woman in Central Park called the police on a black man and falsely accused him of threatening her and her dog. And, later that same month, George Floyd allegedly forged a $20 dollar check and died while calling out for his mother as police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost 9-minutes. For too long, incidents such as these have been occurring in the U.S. And Americans have been faced with the truth: “Maybe there is racism?” America, racist? A tough truth to swallow because for it to be true, that must mean that individuals are racist. By the beginning of June 2020, many American’s could no longer deny that yes, we have a problem with racism. Other countries agreed and they too protested. People began having difficult discussions. And, like any difficult discussion, sometimes, people aren’t ready to engage in the dialogue. Some people are open and comfortable with their racism – and sure, that’s dangerous. What I find more frightening is the people who are “low-key racist” - - the kind of people who may not be willing or able to admit this truth which means they can’t and won’t change and evolve their beliefs.
Discussions are taking place, on Facebook, and it isn’t pretty. In a lot of cases, people can’t seem to believe that two different things can be true at once. For example, you can believe that most police officers are good guys AND that we need police reform. You can believe that people can affect change in more than one way – by protesting, by voting, by engaging in difficult conversations.
My best and worse qualities is that I am loyal. Really. I’m loyal to a fault. I want to believe you are someone else or capable of being someone else even when you show me who you are the first time. But sometimes, this isn’t possible. Gloria Steinem said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” On Monday, I was pissed off. Andrea was too and she burst into my office where I was on a work call while on mute. I turned to her and expressed just how pissed off I was and I used very comfortable language to express just how angry I was.
“Maggie! MAGGIE!” My work colleagues shrieked and laughed. “You’re not on mute!”
I got through the call and then cried – embarrassed by my gaffe and angry at these people, family, and maybe a little angry at myself for not believing who people were the first time they showed me. Why is it so hard for people to consider the possibility they may be “a little bit racist”? Years ago, I saw this crazy little musical off Broadway. And they had this outrageous song called, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, with lyrics that went like this:
If we all could Just admit That we are racist A little bit, Even though we all Know that it's wrong, Maybe it would help Us get along!
That song rattled around in my head and that show, Avenue Q, went onto become a hit on Broadway, winning the Tony award for best musical in 2004. Last night, this situation continued to play out with these people. And I was angrier than I’d been in a long while. People don't have to be a little bit racist but they can be aware of implicit biases - everyone has them and can overcome them. In the end, and it is the end, I let those people go. I’m not mad. I’m disappointed and sad for them.
Today, I reached in my dresser and coincidentally pulled out my t-shirt from Hamilton. that says, Rise Up! Then I sat in my office and pulled this random card.
Coming together. And I thought, yes, coming together by coming apart.
I wish you difficult discussions and hard truths realized because then, then we can come together. We can rise up.
When the silence isn't quiet And it feels like it's getting hard to breathe And I know you feel like dying But I promise we'll take the world to its feet And move mountains We'll take it to its feet And move mountains
And I'll rise up I'll rise like the day I'll rise up I'll rise unafraid I'll rise up And…
-Rise Up, Hamilton