Note: If you’re a self-identified racist, this post is not for you. Also, please immediately catapult yourself into space.
Hi, everyone else! We need to talk about something that is happening with frightening frequency among well-meaning white people, this rapidly proliferating idea that you need to be A Racist to do or say something racist.
This week’s example comes to us from Kelly Osbourne. As a guest host on “The View” Tuesday morning, she attempted to call out anthropomorphic hairpiece Donald Trump by asking, “If you kick every Latino out of this country, then who is going to be cleaning your toilet?”
Jeff Neira via Getty Images
“Latinos are not the only people to do that,” Rosie Perez said.
“Come on, you know I would never mean it like that,” Osbourne replied.
She has since apologized through her rep, saying, “I will take responsibility for my poor choice of words but I will not apologize for being a racist as I am NOT.”
It’s a line we’ve heard many times before. Back in 2006, Michael Richards apologized for his notorious slur festival of a standup show saying, “I’m not a racist, that’s what’s so insane about this.” More recently, Amy Schumer responded to criticism of her more tone-deaf routines saying, “Trust me. I am not racist. I am a devout feminist and lover of all people.”
“How can I say something racist if I’m not racist?!” they seem to ask, not really apologizing so much as expressing confusion over how a racist thing could have happened to them, a non-racist. This kind of magical thinking is not relegated to celebrities making public statements. It’s emblematic of the way white liberals consider themselves to be inoculated against offensive ideology.
The bit of progress we’ve made towards being less terrible means that Being Racist is treated as an awful, disgusting thing, the equivalent of a pedophile murderer with no eyebrows (or just Donald Trump). Still, you can say or do a racist thing without being a card-carrying racist. Osbourne’s comments are a peak example of the kind of microaggression that is derogatory and disrespectful, regardless of intentions. She should have admitted that without conflating her words with a perceived history of liberal righteousness.
Unfortunately, being the kind of person that would probably let Rosa Parks sit in the front of the bus or Ruby Bridges be in your algebra class does not make you a hero incapable of wrongdoing. Not being a hateful bigot does not create a forcefield preventing you from even the possibility of offensive behavior.
Silence is complicit in encouraging bigotry. To ignore that is to treat everyday instances of stereotyping and discrimination as innocuous trivialities, when in fact they are extensions of the racism that infects everyday life. The reality is that racism, by its very nature, is pervasive. It is embedded in the bedrock of society. It is not some mustachioed villain tying only minorities to the train tracks. It is systemic, institutionalized marginalization. It is everywhere, and it is dangerous to pretend otherwise.
You, white progressive, may have tried to get vaccinated, but you are not immune.
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