“Abruptly he saw another side to himself, a side he had never been able to recognize – or perhaps had simply refused to accept. He recoiled in horror from what he was seeing. He could not accept it. He could never accept it!”
Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash
When I was a teenager, I loved reading fantasy novels. One of my favourites was by Terry Brooks, called The Sword of Shannara. Basically, the story was about an unlikely young hero named Shea, the only person able to wield the only weapon capable of defeating the evil warlock enemy. This mighty weapon is the Sword of Shannara, but when Shea finally gets a hold of it, he is shocked to find that the Sword’s power is not military in nature; rather, it merely reveals the truth about a person.
It turned out that revealing the truth was awesomely powerful – so powerful that Shea was almost overcome by the unbearable truths about himself and his character flaws.
This concept came to mind recently as I listened to discussions about racism and discrimination in the workplace, and what stops DE&I (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) from truly happening.
A common reason I’ve heard is the human fear of discomfort. We’re uncomfortable being uncomfortable, and change – let alone changing racism – is inherently uncomfortable.
But I wonder if it goes deeper than that. Discomfort is definitely a legit fear; but I think the bigger fear, is our fear of being bad.
Facing our dark sides
For the most part, people like to believe that they are good, and want to be seen as good. Obviously, being racist would go against that. A concept in social psychology is that human beings are motivated by two primary desires: to be liked, and to be right. Believing that we are not racist meets both those desires.
In Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to be an Antiracist, he says:
“Denial is the heartbeat of racism, beating across ideologies, races, and nations. It is beating within us…How often do we become reflexively defensive when someone calls something we’ve done or said racist? How many of us would agree with this statement: “ ‘Racist’…is the equivalent of saying, ‘I don’t like you.’ ”
“…it's important at the outset that we apply one of the core principles of antiracism, which is to return the word racist itself back to its proper usage. Racist…is not the equivalent of a slur. It is descriptive.”
I’ve been forced to face my own racism, discrimination etc. as I’ve been changing my lens. I started writing a blog post to reflect on my podcast with Katie Gore, and stopped mid-way when I realized that I discriminate against people speaking with “accents” (i.e. not speaking in perfect “Canadian” English). The automatic thoughts and impressions I have when I hear an accent, are ones I’m ashamed of. I know it’s wrong, and I have to actively tell myself to give people speaking with an accent the same credence as people speaking without.
Here I am, purporting to be an advocate for inclusion and belonging, even hosting podcasts about it. I know everyone discriminates, including me – but the resultant truth that “I am racist”, makes me recoil in horror.
Screenshots from my owned copy of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Why I can’t admit that I’m racist
I caught myself thinking, “I can’t write that; I can’t post that. If people read that, they’ll say I’m racist. Am I racist? I’m not even White. I know I have faults – but am I really racist?”
This was before I read Kendi’s book, so I hadn’t gotten to the “racist is descriptive, not a slur” part yet. But I had read Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and I believe that, much like differentiating between shame and guilt (“I am bad” vs. “I did something bad”), it is important to recognize that my racist behaviour is not my identity.
Kendi defines racist as: “one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction, or expressing a racist idea.”
If we accept this definition, how many of us would say that we have never been racist? Or that our friends, our loved ones, have never been racist?
When I read his definition, I know I have been racist – and still am.
I also know that I don’t want to be, and I am committed to become antiracist.
Why I must admit that I’m racist
As much as it terrifies me, I’m compelled to post this. Not just because it’s true, but also because I believe that admitting my racism is necessary to change my racism.
If I’m not willing to be wrong; if I can’t admit that I’ve hurt people who then rightly dislike me; if I can’t acknowledge the bad parts of me along with the good – then I’m not going to be able to change the bad parts. Because I won't see anything to change.
Racism is in all of us – not because we’re evil, but because we’re human.
But it doesn’t have to define us. It's not the whole of who we are. And if we want to, we can change.
But first, we have to admit it. We have to find the courage to face the truth – even when, or especially when, we recoil from it.
Believe me, I know how hard this is. In my next post, I’ll share about getting past the horror of the truth, to accepting the truth.
Share your stories and comments
This was a tough one for me to write. Are there things about yourself you find hard to face? What would the Sword of Shannara reveal to you?