I always assumed that I was not racist. I considered myself anti-racist. However, a class assignment has made me question myself and look beyond personal prejudice.
Racism is not just discrimination or a prejudice against a racialized group. That is just discrimination or ethnocentrism. It is when this discrimination is attached with the power to oppress that it becomes racism.
Personally, I don’t feel I have much power. I do have prejudices, but they are often counter-cultural. For example, women who have perfect hair scare me. I assume that they spend hours on their appearance and label them as materialistic and shallow. This is an unfair judgment, but hardly like racism.
When I was younger, I believed that people of European descent, especially the English, were a horrible blight on the earth. Because that area of the world was responsible for colonizing so much of the rest of the world, I blamed them explicitly. While this caused me to read more First Nations mythology than the Knights of the Round Table, it was only discrimination.
Because I preferred non-Eurocentric stories, food and friends, I believed that I was immune from racism. Our local church had a large population of black people, an anomaly in rural prairie town, and I was so envious of their skin colour. The few First Nations kids in town were nice to me and I considered them some of my best friends.
How could I be racist? Well, I was blind to my own privilege and so I contributed to the problem.
When I lived in Mexico I worked as an edican. Canada has no equivalent- it is a cross between a model and a sample clerk. I was hired to represent different companies at events, doing everything from handing out samples to singing onstage. I did more high end events, where I wore suits and socialized with the cultural elite, and fewer low end events which sometimes included bathing suits and standing on curb corners with signs.
I always assumed I spent more time in certain venues because I was bilingual, or because I was nerdy and could quickly memorize large amounts of information. Now I must admit it was because I was blonder (and taller) than the other models.
This still doesn’t make me racist, but if I stay in denial of how I’ve been privileged I am feeding the myth of meritocracy that contributes to social inequality.
Honestly, I benefit from a lot of society’s biases: I am tallish, pale, able-bodied, young, slim, English-speaking and hetero. I always thought I had special privileges because I earned them. Oh well. I can still be smart and blonde 🙂