A confession here. I am a racist. I hope you are, too. Not because I think being a racist is good or an ideal to aspire to, but, because I don't want to be the only racist in the room.
To see if you are a racist, let me give you a test. Now for you, this will be a hypothetical test; but it was real for me, so please try to imagine it being real.
I was in a hurry, driving down the freeway in the fast lane. In front of me, also in the fast lane, is a BMW. As I get closer to the BMW, I start going through an internal conversation along the lines of Why buy a BMW unless you are going to drive fast – atleast slightly, illegally fast? And why drive in the fast lane if you are going to drive slower than traffic? I get close and see a custom license plate that says USCMBA and my first thought is What a dork. So I pull over to pass on the right – because he is such a jerk as to drive too slow in the fast lane and with a BMW to boot, it is not my fault that I have to pass on the right.
Now, my question here is What is your opinion of a guy driving slow in the fast lane, in a BMW, with a vanity plate that reads USCMBA?
As I go by, I see he is black. Now what is your opinion?
I immediately went into defense – Well he probably has to dive slow so the racist cops don't pull him over…probably worked his ass off to get through USC which is expensive…his parents worked their asses off, too.
I do want to be clear that this is not all top of my lungs thinking, it is just sort of background noise thinking as I am driving. But I also am aware that my thinking did a 180o turn around when I saw that he was black. A racist reaction. True, a chauvinist pig racist reaction. But…still!
When I first meet someone, I notice their sex, age, and color – in that order, but, sort of, all at once. And I start making pre-judged assumptions about that person. I like to think that I am able to add to those assumptions and change those assumptions as I get more information. And, interestingly, because people are always more complicated than my prejudges, getting to know the person almost always results in more change than addition.
So, where is all this going? I don't know, but yesterday was MLK day and I think we have a long way to go. And I think the United States is doing better than most countries. Maybe that is the best we can hope for on MLK Day.