I’ve been thinking about moving to a cheaper place so one Saturday about a month ago I headed out to preview apartment complexes. The first one I chose was in a convenient area and in my price range. As I pulled up to the leasing office I decided to drive around the complex first to get a feel for things. The buildings seemed to be well maintained and my only reservation was that the whole place was sloped on the side of a hill. As I circled through the parking lot maze I saw several tenant out and about. By the time I came full circle back to the leasing office I had passed about 6 or 7 tenants. Non of them were white. I sat in my parked car for a moment before heading to the exit and driving away. As I pulled back out onto the main road I had a very real A Ha moment. Despite all my knowledge, education, and good intentions, I’m still prejudice.
February is Black History Month. I wanted to use the opportunity to discuss bigotry. There were two topics I wanted to write about. First was the rage I’m filled with when a white person gets angry because they can’t say the N word. Second was how many bigoted people aren’t ashamed of being bigots anymore. As if it’s OK as long as they are honest about it. I decided against both topics because they could easily lead to a preachy finger pointing blame game. No one wants to be lectured especially because I shouldn’t throw stones from my glass house.
Instead I’ll point my finger and throw the stone at myself. I’ve been very honest and shared many very personal details over the last three years. However this is by far the most embarrassing story I’ve ever shared. To be clear, I’m not talking about funny self deprecating embarrassment but rather pure horrifying shame. I forced myself to tell this story though to illustrate the larger point that even a liberal equality-for-all thinker can still make an ignorant decision. Years of a politically liberal college education couldn’t erase all the traces of prejudice from my subconscious. I took time and did some personal reflection to try and uncover what motivated my actions. Why was I so uncomfortable? Or to be more honest, I tried to find a way to justify why I felt so uncomfortable. Sadly I couldn’t come up with anything other than I was afraid it was one of “those types of places.”
The lesson I learned was that I needed to approach ignorance a different way. My gut reaction to an insensitive remark is usually anger and annoyance. However, going forward I shouldn’t judge the judger so harshly. When you encounter bigotry I still think you should speak up and make your opinion heard. Sometimes silence can signal acceptance. Make it know that you have a difference of opinion but all the while remembering that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Use that moment as an opportunity for teaching rather than an opportunity for chastising. A wagging finger of disapproval never changes anyone’s mind.
Please don’t take this admission of guilt as a way of making up for it. I don’t believe I should be given a pass just because I was honest about it. The fact still remain that I made a poor decision based on unfair assumptions and fear. It’s a mistake to be learned from.