Am I Racist? For Sure A Recovering One.

Am I Racist? For Sure A Recovering One.
Am I Racist? For Sure A Recovering One.

Am I Racist? For Sure A Recovering One.

Kristyn Meyer is on a journey to make herself the best human that she can be. These posts are a reflection of that. She welcomes your support via reading and through commissioned affiliate links within her posts! To stay up to date on all of her shenanigans, please subscribe to her email list! (psst…there’s a free gift involved)

So let’s have a lighthearted conversation today, shall we?

Just kidding. When you click on a title about racism, you’re not getting lighthearted information.

I think a lot of people know that my work now is in the racial equity arena. However, what I don’t think a lot of people know is how much work it has taken to get myself to the point where I have been able to even do it. With everything surrounding race these days, I feel like I need to share my story. I’m really proud of the work that I am putting into myself, and I can be brutally honest with others now that I am here. Before I would downplay a lot because I knew I was ignorant on the subject. Even though I was racially incompetent (made up phrase, coined by moi) I wanted not to be.

I wanted not to be

Jokingly I tell people I work with that I grew up in Whiteville, USA. This is jokingly because it is Marcellus, not Whiteville. Marcellus just happens to have a surplus of white people. What I can honestly say is that I grew up with a handful of black people, and I am close enough to any of them to where I would consider them a friend. Every picture of me with classmates is a bunch of white faces, unless you count the ones that reflect a visit from our Mexican pen pals.

Growing up, my parents made it very clear that racism was not acceptable. They were sure to point out when others made racist comments that were not okay. I remember hearing a family member refer to two young biracial children as “Oreos” and say how it was so unfair for those children because they would be teased so badly in their life. I truly had no idea why they would say that. What I couldn’t understand was why they would get teased or what the issue was. But obviously it stuck with me, being that I remember it all these years later.

When I turned 16….

I got my first job as a grocery bagger. It was in a town about 20 minutes from where I went to school. This was a whole new world for me and there were people of all different races and ethnicities (those are two different things by the way, many don’t know that). I couldn’t admit this for many years, but now I can say to everyone – I was so nervous. And anxious. Even a little bit scared.

Honestly, I had very little interaction with people of color before this point and most of all the conversations I had been witness to were revolved around racism. Once I had someone tell me: “It’s not that I don’t like black people, I just don’t like the way they smell.” Yes, I was scratching my head on that one and actually asked my dad why someone would say that. He told me that some people think that black people have a different scent than others, but it wasn’t any different than people of the same color smelling different.

I felt like I didn’t know how to interact with the people I worked with. Typically, I would clam up in conversation with them. I found myself avoiding being paired with them because I was so scared.

You know what I was scared of?

Saying something stupid that would make them think I was racist.

This was wrong, and I knew it. I knew that my response was ridiculous and unacceptable. We are privileged to live in a country with people of many different backgrounds, and it is not something to shy away from. I needed to learn and to immerse myself in knowing more about the people that I shared this world with. It’s not just Kristyn’s world, it’s everyone’s world.

I’m just one tiny fraction of it.

I’m Not Racist Anymore

By this point I find myself in college. I sign up for African American Literature. We study books like Sula by Toni Morrison. There are two black people in the class, one of them the teacher. I find myself having several conversations with the two of them after class, for no other reason than because their skin was different than mine.

You know what’s just as bad as racism? Implicit bias. This is where tons of people fall categorically but don’t realize it, or don’t want to. There’s not just racist and non-racist. Implicit bias is there in the mix. They’re the ones who say they aren’t racist because they have black friends. That’s where I fall, even to this day.

What I was doing at the end of class is just as bad as racism. I wasn’t talking to them because I had a genuine interest in talking to them. No, I was talking to them to portray a visual image to all of those around me that I was a white person who was totally comfortable with black people. Which was a joke in itself, because nothing in me was comfortable. I was being fake.

Am I Racist? For Sure A Recovering One.

The learning continues. I go on to do the Social Work program that is much more diverse than any other environment I have been in. Huge thanks to a classmate of mine in my culture and diversity class. She checks me in a way that needs to happen and it impacts my learning curve drastically. In an open discussion about racial issues, I start talking about how I always used the term “African American” because I think saying “black” is offensive. This woman turns to me and says: “Why is black offensive? I am black and proud of it.”

That one statement makes my head explode. Truly, I was thinking I’d been making progress and doing the right thing, but I was clearly still so stupid about it all. I remember telling my aunt about what happened in class and she said: “Wow, you have lived a sheltered life!” And that was so true. It was never intentional, but when you live in an area that is all white and you don’t really venture out of it, that is what happens.

Am I Racist? For Sure A Recovering One.

The work starts by pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I knew I couldn’t stay in this place forever. Books are there for reading, documentaries are for watching. I had fully open conversations with people of color about misplaced beliefs that were in my head. Searches for jobs in diverse areas were taking place.

Diversity needed to be my new normal. Anti-diversity was my normal for too long. I needed it to be different. Also I needed to push through any preconceived notions and thoughts that I had and move my brain into reality.

I worked in foster care, adoption, community mental health, volunteered at soup kitchens and free clinics. As I immersed myself I learned so much about the realities that people of color face.

People told me stories about the difficult times they have finding housing, jobs, quality medical care, education. I have heard of experiences that they find themselves in while shopping for groceries or going to the bank. A friend of mine popped her head into a bank by her work while on a lunchtime walk. She stopped to see if they had an ATM inside, saw that they didn’t and went about her walk. She heard police sirens a few minutes later and they drove up next to her. The tellers had called the police because they thought that she was staking out the place!

As a result of my work…

I realize the need for drastic change in many different areas when it came to race. Over and over again I realize that adopted children are essentially being “white-washed” into their new families. If a Latino child is adopted into a white family, they are no longer seen as Latino, they are white. This is not reality. A person does not become a different race because they are surrounded by it. If I had grown up in a black family, that doesn’t make me black!

On top of all that, it’s a crime against humanity for culture, race and ethnicity to be ignored or pushed aside. All people are interesting,  good, and have value. Nobody deserves to have their attributes disregarded.

This realization lead me to start Adopt Culture, an organization that helped adopted children retain their birth culture. Unfortunately, due to my actual full time job and mama duties, I was unable to keep this going, but I still feel strongly about it.

That actual full time job that took priority was working in Leadership and Racial Equity. I have been in this role for over five years and work with many organizations to instill racial equity into society and communities. The stories that come out of this work are both encouraging and deflating. It is filled with highs and lows. But at the end of the day, it’s all about disbanding racism and moving to a new society where all people are celebrated for who they are, not pre-judged for what they aren’t.

Oh!

Oh! That girl who couldn’t talk to her coworkers when she was 16? The girl who was afraid to call people black?

Two years ago I had a site visit in Mississippi. I went with a colleague to observe a youth leadership program that we funded. As I sat in the room with everyone working on the project, listening to the work that the kids had done and seeing the project progress, I had a realization.

I was the only white person in the room.

Out of about 20 people, I was the only white person. It had taken me over an hour to realize that. My life had changed in such a dramatic way that I went from being scared to talk to people of color to not even realizing that I was among them. All of the work that I had done, on myself, had gotten me to this point.

Am I Racist? For Sure A Recovering One.

As for implicit bias, I continue to move towards eliminating it within me. However, I think that most all people have some level of it. This doesn’t mean that we should just accept it and move on. What it means is that you continue pushing back on your instincts and your emotions and question yourself. Ask yourself why. It’s so powerful when I do that. When I force myself to really dig in and figure out why that thought popped into my head or why I did that action, I learn more about myself that I had buried deep down.

I know that some people will read this blog and immediately get heated – why? Why does it set you off? When you come to that answer, ask yourself again – why? Why do you feel that way? And then again and again until you get to the root cause of your feelings. It’s freeing, and it opens up a space in your mind and heart to just be honest with yourself.

What I can say about me is – I am a constant, never-ending work in progress. I will never be perfect, but I am so much better than who I was before and I will continue to be an even better version of myself, year after year. That is my promise to myself.

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