This is the second part to this post. At the end of that post I said something like, “My main racist crime?: I don’t use checkout lines with black people as the cashier. Like subconsciously.”
That’s kinda a lie really. It was a clickbaity end to my last post, honestly, and I feel kinda bad about it in retrospect. I’m not nearly that twisted of a person — claiming to be against racism while not using any checkout lines staffed by African Americans — and my own reality is much more blurry than that. Let me explain a bit.
Everything else being equal, I’ve noticed I choose white cashiers over blacks, with the key phrase here being everything being equal. Obviously if a black person has no one in their line and some white person has three people in their line, I’d choose the black person. It makes sense. I’m pragmatic as hell and I think this is how everyone should be; if all races are equal (as I believe) you shouldn’t even use race as a deciding factor to which goddamn checkout line you use. White or black doesn’t matter because I just want to get the fuck out of Walmart as quickly as possible. Simply choose who has the shortest line and get the hell out of there! I’ve taken solace in my coldness in choosing checkout lanes but I’ve noticed something strange when these two hypothetical lines are equal in length. Whose line do I choose: the African-American cashier or the White cashier? Surprisingly, this is when my latent racisms really popped into view. I’d pick the white cashier over the black cashier for reasons that didn’t seem really clear to me. And I never even really thought about it; it was just something that happened. Something about the white cashier seemed more ‘familiar’ to me or something. But once I realized this the question then turned into “Why am I this way?”
When I realized this I was kinda shocked. Like I said, I try to be pragmatic as possible — which line has the shortest wait because I really don’t give a shit who checks me out — but I found it strange that race would somehow be taken into account in absence of anything else. And it’s a quiet, subtle thing that’s hard to really notice or process because you’re not aware that it’s happening, especially when you view yourself as not racist or anything, but yet, here was this tendency to pick a cashier with a skin color closer to myself. It’s kinda scary when you realize your brain works this way.
The way my brain works goes something along the lines of “familiarity”: white people seem more “like me” culturally and socially than others with a different skin color which is totally bullshit but how it feels in the moment. That’s my natural tendency, like it’s harder to ‘understand’ the cashier if they’re a different race then you are. Once again, total bullshit, but this is what my mind does. It’s strange to realize this almost naturally naturally occurs. It’s something deeply ingrained and something you naturally do without questioning it, with zero ill-will against anyone involved. It’s just how your brain seems to work.
And racism in this form is a natural thing I think: it’s a holdover from our caveman days like everything else we suffer from. Here in 2020 with all of the fancy technological achievements we have, we are still hopelessly biological cavemen hindered by all the shitty evolutionary holdovers we have from the good ole days. You know, shit like social approval, success, being accepted by the group, etc. and this is one of them. I have zero references here but we are a hopelessly tribal species where our brains inherently group people into those that are with us and against us. I think this doesn’t need much evidence really because whenever I see someone with a Trump flag in their yard I instantly count them as “one of Them” while someone with a Bernie sticker on their car is “one of Us.” Us vs. Them always. It doesn’t stop there either. Football teams, the Bears/Packers rivalry, Republicans/Democrats, Liberals/Conservatives, and so on. We cut up teams based upon silly shit all the time and it’s no surprise that separate teams — subconsciously and unknowingly — in terms of race as well. White/Blacks. White/Mexicans. Americans/Immigrants. White/Arabic. White/Asian. Those similar to us and those dissimilar to use; those of the opposing tribe. Those not totally against us but those who aren’t exactly like us. A different team and a different tribe. An old evolutionary holdover that doesn’t make much sense currently but something that we’re all susceptible to because we’re all hopelessly prehistoric cavemen in a hopelessly complex world.
After realizing this tendency, it’s natural to wonder how you can even solve the problem. There is no easy way forward because you’re so hopelessly biased. But it’s freeing in a way to realize how you are, and this simple realization gives you a way forward despite any clear answers to your questions. After I realized this strange trait about myself — even with no answer to why I was this way — I could move forward. Just knowing my tendencies allowed me to counteract them consciously. Now, all things being equal at shitty Walmart, I make a conscious effort to change my ways and pick an African cashier over a White cashier. I don’t have any great success stories about this because with such a subtle problem it’s hard to see any clear benefits to changing your ways, but there are a few side notes. Black people don’t seem to judge the fuck out of my alcohol purchases the way old White women do, and they seem to be much more open and honest about how shitty their lives are. Everyone working at Walmart seems to hate their lives, and it’s only the White people that seem to try to put a cover of dignity over how they feel. I seem to have found some honesty that doesn’t exist with the White cashiers always acting and lying about how they really feel, and even if the African cashier is rude as fuck it seems to come from a genuine place of frustration that the White’s don’t seem to have. You can’t help but appreciate this honestly. This almost seems like stereotyping in the reverse, or still grouping individuals into groups, but still. I think I’m growing as a person in this way.
So as my Facebook friend suggested, and as I took it in a way totally unintended, I’ve been self-reflecting on racism and have stumbled upon the fact that I am an unknowing racist, albeit in a totally undramatic way. And tying this back with my prior post about “subtle racism” I think this is a fitting conclusion to the post. The problem with racism is that it doesn’t fly directly into your face as racism — it’s quiet comments from family members/friends and in the tendencies we all hold even if we aren’t aware of them — and this makes racism hard to combat. While we’re all willing to shout down Nazis on the corner of the street, it’s much more difficult to shout down your racist neighbor who talks about “those people.” It hides in the shadows. It isn’t obvious. And if there’s one thing I’ve realized, it’s so quiet that it might reside within yourself as a tiny and unnoticeable form that you might not even notice that you harbor the demon. Search within yourself. We’re all equal, and ask yourself if you really might be the problem you’ve been fighting all along.
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