Tim Wise talks about how racism is in the very air we breathe and that as white people, we are bound to absorb some of it no matter how we resist. I’m with you, Tim. I believe you – at least about all those other white people out there. But me, I’ve worked really, really hard and, hey, my job is all about teaching and convincing people to be tolerant and accepting.
I honestly thought I had rooted most of my racism out, until June 16, 2012. That was the day I showed up at the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew my driver’s license. Mind you, I had received the notice that my license would be expiring nearly sixty days before, but my life is hectic and I procrastinated.
So here I was the day before my birthday, walking into the driver’s license place one hour before they closed to renew my license. I was told that they would take care of me, but the wait would be about an hour and a half. This, in itself, was a problem, because I needed to be in Joliet by 2:00pm. At the minimum it would be an hour and a half drive, and who knows what kind of construction I might encounter. I had no choice. I didn’t want to risk driving on an expired license.
As I sat down to wait amid the fifty or so other people, I noticed a large number of immigrants. Now, I don’t have issues with immigrants, but when it comes to getting a driver’s license there are a million questions that they have to answer and several documents that they must show. Each person took a minimum of 20 minutes to move through the process.
Under normal circumstances, I would have felt sympathy for the people undergoing so much scrutiny. However, thinking about my messed up plans caused my frustration to grow and I began to feel resentment. All I needed was an eye test and my picture snapped, for Pete’s sake! Two minutes! Why did I have to spend all this time when they were the ones with the problems?
Then it hit me, I was upset because I was used to WHITE PRIVILEGE! I have lived in this country and state all my life, hence, my process is relatively simple. Because I am an older, white woman, no one questions my motives or loyalty. I was behaving like a racist! I was used to being treated special and I was annoyed because I had to wait my turn and it was taking a long time.
The next day I ran into a good friend who happened to be the same ethnicity as the people in the DMV office. We chatted amiably and as I drove away, my son, with whom I’d shared the story, asked if my friend was one of the people I had stereotyped. Wow! How could I have done that? Am I welcoming and accepting only until it becomes inconvenient?
I read recently that the odor of hate is also the odor of fear. There are those in the public arena who would like for us to fear that giving rights to others threatens our own privilege. When we buy into it, even for a minute, we risk having our fear turn into hate.
The way I acted that day is not the person I want to be. Do I feel guilty for the way I was? Of course, but I’m not going to dwell in guilt. I am going to work at noticing the way racism shows up in me and continue to work at rooting it out because I happen to believe the button I wear that says, “Racism Hurts Everyone.” I diminish myself when I diminish others or alienate myself from them. Besides, I don’t want to miss out on the joy of learning about others.