Former Racists Share What Made Them Reevaluate Their Thinking
Racism is an insidious, and unfortunately prevalent, force in all of our daily lives. Maybe we're on the receiving end of it, being treated differently and losing opportunities because of others' preconceived notions.
Or maybe we're on the other side of things. Even those who aren't actively racist or discriminatory still have to process the world through the filters of the things they've been told about people who are different.
Reddit user u/Quanris asked:
I went away to college.
I was a kid in a racist family. N-bombs were thrown around the dinner table regularly. I had really only met a few African Americans in my whole life. I was also the first in my family to go to college (other than my brother to seminary for the cult my family is in which I don't count).
My friend Richard REDACTED was my first "black friend". I think he only liked me at first because he had a crush on my friend Amy and she would always be at my parties. But we ended up friends for 4 years. I'm naturally sort of empathetic and am good at putting myself in other's shoes.
It just sort of dawned on me very early on that I wouldn't speak or act that way if he was around so I just decided I should never act that way. It took me a little while to forgive myself for being garbage, but I was a kid and literally didn't know any better.
I haven't talked to Rich in over twenty years. I moved 3,000 miles away after college and as you might expect from his name - it is basically impossible to google him.
If you are out there Rich - thanks!
My grandma grew up in Virginia in the 1900s. Being racist is just the default setting. Nana loved her family more than anything, though. So at one point in the late 1980s, she met her first not-100%-white grandkid, and discovered she still loved him.
She made astounding late life progress accepting that darker skin toned people were not only people, but family, friends and welcome in her house.
My whole family is quite racist. When I was little I was trying to wrap my head around the rules of the world, so I thought it was as simple as different teams. Blacks vs Whites was just like the Red Sox vs the Tigers. Then my grandmother starts going on about how horrible Polish people are and how I'm never to talk to them. So I'm psyched! Screw those Polish people, whatever color they are, we're mortal enemies. Then she points out our Polish neighbor to me. But... she's white.
I point out to my grandmother that she's white so we're on the same team. My grandmother says no, that she's a mix-breed. I point out that my great granddad was a Shoshone Indian and that I'm a mix-breed. She says that doesn't count.
That's when I realized she was just making up the rules and I wasn't going to play games with someone who couldn't stick to the rules.
I never made the choice really to be racist, but I grew up in South Mississippi and my family wasn't overtly racist, but they were the kind to say racist things behind closed doors and didn't allow us to watch TV shows such as the Cosby show or Fresh Prince and definitely no rap music in the house.
I absolutely fell in love with a lot of black artists in the early 90's, I loved the hip hop scene at the time and Fresh Prince was the best sitcom on television! I played football with 80% black guys and worked at Popeyes chicken with over half the staff being black. I guess you can say my own real world exposure despite their attempt to shelter me changed me.
I cringe at some of the vernacular I used in my early youth, as the N word was the same as "black" in my house, I literally was not raised to know that was a bad word. I'm glad that from the age of maybe 12 on I learned to love all people on my own.
I definitely had a stereotypical idea of how a group of people is because of the action of the few or because what I have seen on the media. What made me change? Well, I saw a video of a writer named Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, she spoke about the dangers of the single story and that video changed my life and it opened my eyes. Check it out on YouTube and read Chimamanda Ngozi: Dangers of a single story.
I absolutely adore that woman. She's everything I want to be when I grow up ( being 20 feels like still being 15, mostly confused and waiting for the real grown ups to make decisions). Check out her book Americanah, it's so good.
My uncle used to be the most racist person I knew and it drove me crazy, but he is an "old white man and set in my ways". Is what he would say when confronted. It all changed the day his great-granddaughter was born. His granddaughter had married a black man and he was unaccepting until that baby was born. She had him wrapped around her pinky finger from her first breath.
Since then there are several mixed children in the family. It's awesome to see the difference in his behavior. He genuinely loves them all and accepts the racially different spouses of his grandchildren and their children. If he hears anyone being racist he shuts it down.
I grew up in the deep South. I mean, twenty years of my life was spent on the same exact street that my family has lived in for over a hundred years. I went to public school; K-12. So I basically grew up with the same people around aside from the occasional new student who made the questionable decision to move there. When we all graduated, we all went to the same exact community college.
I just got tired of it. I made the decision to move North to go to college. One of the first courses I took was a sociology class about our country's perspectives on different races.
It instantly opened my eyes to how racist I truly was. I had been raised in it, genuinely brainwashed into the ignorant thinking that rule racist attitudes. I had never even stopped to ask myself if I were a racist until that class. It was then that I came to the hard conclusion that I was racist, homophobic, and sexist (I'm female and I had some harsh attitudes toward how a female should behave/dress/etc.).
I'm ashamed of the things I used to think and the disdain I used to hold toward other people. But admitting to being wrong is the first step toward progression. I'm very glad that I took that class and that I realized my harmful behaviors. It's something I think back to constantly and consider it as a turning point in my life.
College roommate was Muslim. Definitely was not a terrorist. Kinda already knew my paps was wrong about that but when you live with someone for an entire year it takes you from "kinda already knew" to "holy sh!t that way of thinking is fucked up".
I'm Asian and I grew up kind of resenting my parents for being different than my classmates' parents and I hated that they didn't know how to speak English. I had to translate for them all the time, call phone companies, go to the dmv with them, translate documents, etc and I grew resentful.
So when I was in elementary school I told them that I wasn't Korean but that I'm a full fledged American and I wasn't going to speak Korean anymore. I also hated interacting with other Asians that reminded me of my parents. aka textbook internalized racism.
It wasn't until middle school when I had a teacher that validated my culture and actively tried to communicate with my parents that I realized that bilingualism is an asset and something I should be proud of.
Now I'm going into teaching and have done some translating work on the side. People say my Korean is super fluent for an American born Korean and I really have my parent to thank for that. Now I'm super regretful for hurting them like that.
Sesame Street. I'm not even joking.
Was raised in a slightly racist household in a pretty racist state.
Seeing kids of all colors playing together made me wonder why my mom wouldn't let me play with certain people.
It kind of snowballed from there.
edit: I am so happy that my top post is about Sesame Street's fight against racism!
We are told that, if you're not confident, you should just "fake it til you make it."
This is great--in theory. In practice, sometimes "faking it" can have extremely real and terrible consequences, which these people found out the hardest of hard ways.