I am not a (your denial here)

When Richard Nixon declared, “I am not a crook”, we needed look no further than the vehemence of his denial to find the truth.

Likewise, when Amy Cooper said “I am not a racist”, we knew at once she is a racist. (Amy Cooper, for those who don’t recognize the name, is the woman who called police to tell them “An African American man is threatening my life”, knowing full well that a predictable outcome would be that man’s death at the hands of the police; and knowing full well that her claim was a lie and is documented on video.) We know that Lisa Alexander is a racist. She called the police because a Filipino man was stenciling “Black Lives Matter” in sidewalk chalk on the retaining wall of his house. Since this is a wealthy area, he clearly didn’t belong there. Only white people can be rich enough to live in Pacific Heights.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal (6/15/2020), a recent graduate of Monona Grove High School was in the school as a member of the football coaching staff. He was stopped in the hall by a police officer and a hall pass demanded. The coach responded that everyone in the school knew him. The officer is quoted as asking “what someone new would think about seeing ‘a big black guy’ walking around the building”. I suspect the officer doesn’t think he was being racist, merely acknowledging the possibility of racism in others. But if you care more about a white person possibly being made uncomfortable by the presence of a black person than you do about that black person, that’s racist. If it is the black person who needs to adjust/accommodate, that’s racism.

About 45-50 years ago I saw and heard U. Utah Phillips ,”the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest”, for the first time. He lived in Spokane, Washington, which has since become a stronghold of racists of the blatant variety. To paraphrase, Phillips admitted to racism and told us that anyone who denies being a racist is clearly a racist. To be a white person in the US (or anywhere on earth) and deny racism is like being a fish and denying water. It is the world in which we live. That both makes it hard to see and impossible to be separate from. But we are not fish. We can look for it within and without; and we can fight it within and without. We can live as anti-racists, not mere deniers of racism. When we say or do something racist, we can call it that; not a “mistake”, not “the wrong words”; and not claim that we can’t be racist because we have a black friend or co-worker.

While I can’t find video of Phillips talking about racism, here’s the next best thing:

Bicycling magazine ran an essay about racism in bicycling. That was the prompt for this entry. Responding to one of the racist comments wasn’t enough. The writer, the former Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, is identified as an attorney and a gender non-conforming queer Black woman. She says “Bicycling cannot solve systemic racism in the United States. But systemic racism can’t be fixed without tackling it within bicycling.” Almost as interesting as the essay is the comments section, including “‘Systemic racism’ in America is a complete myth – as false as the claim that ‘people of color’ are being oppressed.” (As of this writing, 29 people have “liked” that comment.) Other commenters think discussing racism has no place in the world of bicycling. We should just talk about spending money on new stuff. Luckily, those comments are not going unanswered.

Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald, to whom I often turn as a voice of reason, put it this way when talking about what to say and not say when you commit a racist act:

“I won’t insult your intelligence by saying ‘I am not a racist’ because I know I am. As a white person in a society where every institution is geared to advantage people like me, it is literally impossible for me to be anything else. In that, I am like a man in a male-dominated society. He cannot help being sexist, his good intentions notwithstanding. Saying he’s not sexist is like a fish saying he’s not wet.

“Many of us as white people struggle with that. That’s because we process racism as a loathsome character defect, when really, it’s the water in which we swim.

“No, the question is not whether we are racist, but what kind of racist we will be. Will we be the overt kind, whose behavior marks her from a mile away? In many ways, her very obviousness makes her the least dangerous.

“Will we be the racist in denial, who thinks that because he doesn’t use racial slurs and eats lunch with a black guy at work, he’s all good? He’s ultimately the most dangerous, because his racism is reflected in implicit bias but otherwise hidden, even from himself.

“Or will we be the racist in remission who knows good intentions are not enough, that he must consciously commit not simply to being non-racist, but actively anti-racist?

Can someone help me out here? It seems that, by definition, to take up arms against one’s government is treason. I guess that the confederacy wasn’t trying to overthrow the US, just secede from it. But still, why would we name our military bases for the generals that took up arms against us? And why, years later, would our own president be opposed to changing those names? He has already said that he doesn’t like losers and he like veterans who weren’t captured. You’d think he wouldn’t want to name a bunch of military bases for a bunch of losers, but by my count, 10 US military installations are named for confederate generals. Of those, 6 surrendered, 2 were killed in battle, and 2 were captured – they all sound like losers to me by the president’s definition.

As for the title, I owe a debt to Lou and Peter Berryman for “(Your state’s name here)”.