My Default, Racist Assumption

I read novels in the evening before bedtime to relax. Stories about other people please me; I identify with their flaws and their strengths.

I’ve recently woken up (ha!) to the fact I always, not sometimes, picture the characters I’m reading about as being white, unless the author states otherwise.

My default assumption is racist. It’s embedded in white supremacism, the notion that the world revolves around whiteness. I am not happy to report this.

It turns out that only 10% of the world is white, as in, viewed and treated as white (Quora).  
Of the 16 most populous countries in the world, the populations of 14 have lots more skin pigment than I’m seeing in my hands as I type. (United Nations). I am not typical, as world citizens go. Brown and black hands of many different shades are typical.

A reading in one of my anti-racist support groups the other day suggested that being racist is so common, so much a part of our culture, that we should stop being afraid to use the word. We can’t fix what we can’t identify. Hiding our racism fosters it. Naming racism, we can work with it, fight it, and grow out if it.

Which is why I wrote this piece. Even though the word racist makes me deeply uncomfortable when applied to myself. If you are white, have I made you uncomfortable? Do you have a group that supports you in learning to be anti-racist?

4 thoughts on “My Default, Racist Assumption”

  1. It’s interesting that only 10% of the world’s population is white! I would have thought more. It’s great to become more aware of these presumptions and to update and correct them as we learn more.

  2. It’s interesting that only 10% of the world’s population is white! I would have thought more. It’s great to become more aware of these presumptions and to update and correct them as we learn more.

  3. Hi Alison!

    This is a great awareness, and is an example of a racist default I’ve generally gone to as well. I don’t mind calling it racist. I’m ashamed, honestly, but trying to propel forward toward a different, better awareness. I remember being told as a child, ‘anyone can grow up to be president,’ and always visualizing a little white boy. Why not a person of color? Why not a girl? Looking back at old books, and thinking back to some school curriculum, and growing up with even more racial barriers in place than there are today, in the 1960s, the assumptions seem implanted by the surrounding dominant power structure. What a shame and impoverishment, and worse, for everyone. I don’t attend a support group, but follow many accounts on social media to reset my awareness, and read novels by women of color, primarily (when I do read….).

    I hope you are well, as we live through these stressful times

    1. Thanks, Angela! I’m reflecting that when we first met each other about ten years ago through climate activism, racial justice and awareness wasn’t generally part of the climate activist world, at least not in my white experience of it. Now, racial justice and climate concerns are definitely linked, with the term “climate justice” used a good deal of the time. Thanks again for your good comment.

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