If you had asked me years ago, I would have said I wasn’t racist at all. I would list my bona fides with pride. My best friend in high school was black. I went to a school where whites were equal in number to minorities. I dated a black guy, one of the few ex-boyfriends I’m still friends with. I was 6 credits shy of having a second minor in black studies in undergrad. I have never called the cops on a black person.
But what I didn’t realize is that because I thought I knew so much already and couldn’t possibly be racist, it often meant that I wasn’t really listening when black people were trying to tell me about their lived experiences.
White privilege was one of the hardest things for me to grasp. How could I have white privilege when for many years, my family income was on par with the average black family (and so were our assets?) I eventually came to understand that even though I didn’t have economic privilege, I still had other kinds of privilege related to my skin color. I’ve never had to worry about my mere presence scaring people (except when I went through my ultra-punk stage, which I brought upon myself.) I’ve never had to worry about my kids being shot by police or being profiled as a potential shoplifter, to name just a couple of examples.
Now I know that being a white ally is about realizing how much I don’t know about the experience of being a person of color. I know that it’s my job to do the work of learning how to be an effective ally and combating my own racism. It’s hard sometimes not getting defensive and saying “but I’m not racist!” Sure, my racism may not be as overt as a KKK member, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And I’m working as seriously as I can to undo it.