Whenever people talk about doing dumb things because they were young, I feel a disconnect. I didn’t drink or do drugs. I had a job. I watched my siblings. I never snuck out or got grounded. I was valedictorian. I was a “good kid.”
But that really glosses over one of the most uncomfortable truths of my youth. I’m sure you’ve guessed from the title. I dated a racist.
Not that I should get to explain myself, or that it is explainable or forgivable, but here’s what happened:
I was a fat kid. Like really fat. Super ugly. So even when I lost about 60lbs my junior year of high school, everyone in my small town high school could not shake that image of me as the fat, acne-ridden, bespectacled ugly girl. Hence the fact that I jumped at the first offer someone threw my way to go on a date. It came from a guy who worked with me at my father’s company. He was older and hotter and willing to date me. And for those reasons, I did a whole freaking lot of ignoring.
It admittedly fit with my life philosophy at the time, which was to basically quietly do what you believe to be the right thing. I accepted everyone and championed tolerance. My older sister asked me how the hell I could possibly date a republican who had dropped out of college and who loved country music. How could I condone those things? And his insane beliefs to boot. I just keep re-iterating that it didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t planning on marrying him. He was planning on marrying me.
That ultimately led to us breaking up.
Not when I found out he didn’t think Obama was born in America.
Not when his mother left a note on the bathroom mirror for him with the n-word in it.
Not when he himself used that word.
Not when his family asserted that slavery was actually beneficial for the slaves.
Not when he thought that the Civil War was about states rights.
I should have broken up with him the very second I got a whiff of his racism: when he told me he didn’t find any black women hot. I incredulously and naively brought up Beyonce. Horrified, but apparently not enough to jump out of his car and never speak to him again. Which is what I wish more than anything I could say I did.
I thought I was being open minded. No. Fucking. Joke.
Seriously. See I grew up in St.Louis, Missouri. Ferguson is a few miles from my house. The courthouse where the grand jury sat is a mile from my home. But I had grown up in such a white-washed, upper-middle-class area that we didn’t even need outright racism. I went to a school that bussed kids–almost all black– in from the city. This was a hold over from the 50s and we still called it de-seg. I grew up in a rare liberal household in this conservative sphere and it never occurred to me that racism was an option for a good person.
And then I met him and he explained growing up dirt poor, the only white kid in a black neighborhood in the city. He’d been shot in the knee as a 6 year old by black gang members as part of their initiation. His handicapped grandmothers car was broken into many many times by black neighbors. This was how he explained his distrust. He thought people were basically bad and out to get you. And that went double for black people. That’s what he had gotten out of life.
I legitimately met this with “well my privilege has kept me from being hardened like this.” I thought I was learning about my privilege.
I also naively told myself “I can teach him better. I can show him differently.” I was going to prove him wrong about black people. That was my aim.
And I’m so utterly, utterly sorry. I have learned so much better. Tacitly complying with the wrongs of others, allowing them even when deep to your bones they disturb you and more importantly hurt others is NOT doing the right thing. I’m sorry I didn’t know the right thing.
Today I’ve gotten better about speaking up and advocating. And sitting down and listening. I’m not good at it by a long shot. I have a lot more to do. But I hope I never again stay silent because it’s hard for me. Because I might lose something, no matter how large.
I don’t even know that this is an important story to tell. It’s pretty biased probably, and indulgent. And paints me in a better light than what I am. But I selfishly wanted to apologize and say it will never never never happen again. I will stand up when it’s hard. I will refuse to “understand” hatred and bigotry.
I’m sorry I placed understanding someone’s hatred over understanding others’ pain. I was the ignorant one.