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15 Ex-Racists Describe The Exact Moment Their Viewpoints Changed

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Actually interacting with the people I supposedly hated.”

I come from a family of racists. They spoke of other (than whites) races using ethnic slurs as common as commenting on the weather.

When I was about 5, my older brother and i went into the local bakery to pick up an order for our mom who was waiting in the car. A black boy was in front of us in line. This was something i hadn’t often seen and i said very loudly to my brother, look it’s a n-r!

My brother quickly shushed me,which made me very confused, but it was the crushed look on the boy’s face that made me start to question my family’s viewpoint.

Over 40 years later, I have a very diverse friend group, but still feel shame on how I made that boy feel those many years ago.”

My father is an avid user of the n-word and in general, has some quite racist opinions, which I inherited. In fourth grade, I switched schools from a school with mostly white kids to one with people from everywhere. That’s where I found some new friends with a big mixture of ethnicities. One day I go to a friends house and he has some friends there and we play video games. At one point I look up and realized I’m the only white person in this room. Before I always thought of POC as different, there I realized that I was the different one. Ergo: If we all can be ‘the different one’ we are all the same.”

Grew up in a town with no black people. Dad was very racist. So naturally I grew up racist. Joined the military and was forced to hang out with a melting pot of races. Straightened me out.”

“I started a construction job. Hispanics are some of the nicest, funniest people you’ll ever meet. The language barrier even adds to the hilarity. It was an eye opener that these guys are just trying to make a living and go home, just like me. Landing this job has changed my view on ALL races and I’m very happy it did. You can’t just HATE someone for their distance from the equator.”

“I grew up in an affluent area of Orange County CA. My family had money, but not nearly enough as many of the kids at my school. I was an only child, got picked on, had pretty low self-esteem. My family were basically country club racists. Basically they didn’t actively drop N-Bombs all over the place, but they had prejudices and didn’t push back at all when I started saying racist things as a kid. I absolutely said the N-word with my friends, laughed about it, but was always too scared to do so publicly.

When I got to high school, I was big into right wing politics, wanting to join the army, and learning German. I wouldn’t say I was a neo-Nazi. My best friend’s brother was a neo-Nazi and I didn’t hang out with any of his friends or want to go into that scene, but I often thought that I would have made a good Nazi had I been a German during the Third Reich. I definitely had friends in high school, but I wanted to go to college in a place that was more conservative and less diverse than I currently was. I figured my life would improve if I went to a place like that.

So what changed? I did move to a small Midwest town and started taking German in college for real, I took history courses that kind of started to chip away at my view of the world. Studying abroad in Germany though my Junior year is what really started to break the glass on my views. I thought that my German background and last name would win me some favors over there, but people didn’t really give a shit at all. I saw that modern Germany was categorically and vastly different than the one I crafted in my head. I made friends from all over Europe and the world. I had some people I cared about really roast me for some nationalist and militaristic views I had. It made me really mad at the time but eventually, I took their criticism seriously.

I came back and finished doing some work in history classes and wrote a paper on Nazi propaganda. It was then that I really examined Nazi viewpoints through recent experience sand saw how fucking dumb they were. I remember seeing a poster and the text said that the Jews were both behind Communism and Capitalism and just thought, this is just complete fucking nonsense and the people who believe this are morons.

I actually did go into the military, I did ROTC in college and my time in ROTC and active duty pretty much flushed the rest out of me. Getting to know, working with, and leading people from different backgrounds and getting to see things through their eyes was an invaluable experience.

So to summarize, meeting people from different backgrounds is probably the most important for me and really actually having meaningful conversations, and not walking away when you’re challenged. The thing is, I didn’t just say ‘you’re right, nationalism and being racist is wrong I get it now’ when I was in Germany. I fought back, I defended myself, I thought these people were just butthurt leftists and weren’t going to take anything I said seriously anyway. But those conversations planted the seeds that grew over several months, and eventually, they made me recognize how wrong I was. Second was I always knew it was wrong to hate people, but I still did. I didn’t have an online support structure to keep me in the mindframe. Had these online communities existed 10 years ago, I don’t know if I could have broken out of this.”

My father was a racist just like his father before him. My dad did his best to indoctrinate me and my brother with his racist ways of thinking. I believed my dad’s philosophy was truth until I entered first grade. That year I was sat next to the only black girl in my class. Naturally, I hated her immediately. Not only was she an n-word, but an uppity one at that. She was more outspoken than most kids I knew, which I considered to be rude, and her style of diction was different from what I was used to, which made it difficult for me to understand her at first.

However as I was forced to interact with her throughout the year, I learned that she was everything my preconceived notions said she shouldn’t have been. She was sweet, kind, funny, and intelligent. She helped me grasp the concept of arithmetic and was easily the best speller in our class.

The idea that a black person could have all of those positive attributes, especially intelligence that surpassed that of a white person, flew in the face of what I had been taught all my life up to that point. Knowing that girl was the single experience that made me first question, doubt, and eventually reject my dad’s beliefs about race.

That girl and I remained friends until she transferred schools after our third grade year. I didn’t keep in touch with her and have no idea where she is now. If you’re out there Adia, thank you for just being yourself. You are the very reason why I went down a better path than the one I was shown. I sincerely hope that you are well.”

Not really racist, but we joked around a lot with racial slurs a lot when I was young. I grew up in a small Idaho Mormon town and in Sunday school we were told not to date outside our race and economic levels. Being the only poor brown person in the room it made me feel pretty bad surrounded by a bunch of white girls, but that awful feeling made me not want to make someone else feel like that. I cleaned up my language and dropped all the racial slurs and also dropped out of the church ever since. Also being called ‘okay for a Mexican’ dozens of times in my youth only made me want to get away from those things even more.”

I wouldn’t say I was racist, but more uneducated. I grew up in a predominantly white town, so when I was 10 and I moved to a city that was more diverse, it was weird for me. All I had to go off of was how other ethnicities were portrayed in pop culture. Well, that and my racist aunt and some other closed minded family members. So it was weird for me at first but then I realized we weren’t as different at all, all was alright. Plus it helped that my older brother talked to me about it before we moved. We were driving in our dads black Ford truck and we saw another truck very similar to his, just a different color, that was broken down on the side of the highway. He asked what I thought was wrong with it. I said probably the engine or something like that broke (remember, i was 10). He asked if i thought it was because that truck was a different color that it wasn’t working and ours was. I said no, that made no sense. He said, ‘And thats why racism makes no sense.’ Oddly still remember that but I barely remember us moving. Weird.”

I had a moment ages ago. I was out driving, and had to swerve to avoid someone making a slow-ass right turn into my lane, like turtle-turning.

My first thought: ‘Dammit, probably some old Asian lady.’

I drove past and it was an early-20s white dude just like I was. Even looked a lot like me, too.

That gave me a crystal clear ‘holy shit that was racist as fuck’ moment.”

So I was born in Alabama, still here, and come from a deeply ‘white Christian’ family.

When I was younger I was told to stay away from blacks, Mexicans, Jews, and Muslims. Funny enough, not only did I grow up learning to call blacks the “N” word, but Mexicans, Jews, and Muslims were followed by the N-word. (Yep, literally, Mexican N-word is what my dad taught us to call them.)

Well anyways, my deep hate for non-whites/non-Christians was deeply rooted thanks to my parents.

Until in 2011, a tornado outbreak swept through the south.

I did a lot of voluntary work, met some black people, but was still worried about being around them.

Until about a week or two later when our school reopened. We had a lot of new kids from various areas that were damaged. Most of them black.

So the next school year I get partnered up with this black girl in our history class, and I’m mostly focused on our project, but we ended up talking for a while.

She ended up being my first girlfriend a few weeks later, and after I met her family and learned what they went through because of the 2011 outbreak, plus her parents were from Birmingham during the civil rights movements, I started to learn that love is more powerful than hate.

That ability to make someone smile, there’s nothing better than that. While me and her broke up later on, she had a massive impact on my life.

I still live in Alabama, and I still hear racist remarks from my parents and from strangers. They will pass away, and sure they may have already left behind their mark of hatred. But hate can be erased with love.”

Having a ton of friends from different countries growing up. Although I don’t think I was ever a racist, I grew up in a pretty white neighborhood with a fair bit of quiet racism about it. I just dont want to be one of those people that is like ‘awww fuckin asians’ behind closed doors or whatever.”

“Former ‘I’m not racist!’ white woman here.

Reading a book called The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam changed my mind. It’s about unconscious bias. It helped me understand that humans are drawn to people who look and act like them, and tend to distrust people who look different. This is an ancient impulse designed to protect tribes of humans from being attacked by outsiders, which may have helped in our hunter-gatherer days, but has no place in a global society.

I took the Implicit Association Test discussed in the book, which showed that (surprise surprise) I had some implicit bias.

So, from then on, I made it a point to ask myself: “Am I worried about that person because they’re actually acting sketchy, or because their skin is a different color than mine?”

Now, I’m less ‘I’m not racist’ and more ‘I don’t want to be racist.’ I know that I’ve been living in a racist society. I know that marrying a black man doesn’t give me a free pass or absolve me of racism. I know that my brain, like all human brains, can be full of shit sometimes and it’s up to me to challenge my first impressions of people.”

I was never one who would say the N-word or thought people of other races were beneath me or anything, but I did not understand systemic racism, or the impact that racist policies throughout history still have on people today. In other words, I was that, ‘Slavery is over. Here’s an MLK quote, but affirmative action is bullshit. I have a black friend’ white person. * cringe *

So anyway, what changed all that was first of all, joining the Army and actually living among people of every race, religion, background, and persuasion, in reasonably close quarters, for a few years of my life. When you actually get to know people well enough that a few of them will tell you how things really have been for them, it’s really eye-opening. That was what showed me that no, things actually aren’t equal now, even though the laws would make it seem as if they were. We’re still experiencing the world in very different ways.

After I got out of the Army, I went to a state university for an engineering degree. Two really important things happened there.

First, my history professor, when I was a freshman, was a black woman who told the side of the story that you don’t hear about much in most history classes. Sometimes I was skeptical of what she was saying, but I’d always Google it, and it turned out she was right. This opened my eyes to the fact that there’s this whole story of our country that most of us never even hear, and that there are real and ongoing reasons for policies like affirmative action, and that concepts like reparations actually aren’t crazy when you consider the ongoing economic impact of policies like Jim Crow laws.

The other thing that happened which opened my eyes was when I was a junior, I got pulled over by a cop for speeding on the way to class, and was talking with my classmates about it. My experience as a white woman was that I got pulled over, and given a warning. My white male classmates said the police officers in our town (this was in the south, just for reference) were usually cordial with them, but always gave them the ticket. The one black woman in the conversation said the police were a bit rude to her and she always got the ticket, and the two black men had some real horror stories about this stuff, how they were always made to get out of the car, were sometimes asked if they could search the car, etc. It was just so obvious how differently we were treated.

From then on, I made more of an effort to understand where POC are coming from when they say something is an issue rather than just thinking it’s not an issue because it’s not an issue for me. I used to not believe people on stuff like that, which was pretty fucking racist of me, but just learning more about it and listening to people’s experience really changed my mind.”

“I wasn’t a self-proclaimed ‘racist,’ I actually was very certain I wasn’t racist at all. But then as I got older, I realized I had some underlying assumptions about people of color that weren’t correct and were racist.

What really changed my whole perspective was a video titled something like ‘Race Doesn’t Exist’ and I was like, well that is dumb, but I clicked on it.

Among other things, the video showed a photo of Barack Obama, and some famous white person I didn’t know. The narrator said “Racially, what is the difference between these two people?”

In my mind, I was like, “Well one is black and one is white.”

The narrator said, “Both of these people have one black parent and one white parent.”

And that’s when it hit me. ‘Race’ doesn’t exist. Humans have a spectrum of skin color, some darker some lighter, but it doesn’t make any difference where you are on that spectrum, you’re just a human.

We made up ‘races’ to categorize people, but they’re all just made up boxes. There’s nothing different between a black person and white person other than how much melanin is in your skin. That’s it.

I realized I had always had these underlying assumptions that people of other races were ‘different’ than me. And then I realized they aren’t, and it changed the way I think about it and interact with my fellow humans.” TC mark



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