What is the first thought that pops into your mind when you think of the word ‘racist’? Proud boys? The KKK? MAGA? White Supremacists? Xenophobics? White people in the south? Those people who have confederate flags flying in their yards, bumper stickers, school districts that ban black hairstyles, people who call Black people the N-word in anger, or people who want to deport Americans to a random country for not sounding or looking in a specific way?
While all these people are the poster example of racism, I want to start a dialogue about a more subtle, every-day friendier racism right here in our backyard –– Bergen County, New Jersey.
The side of racism where people don’t have to be an official member of the KKK to be a racist. It can be your future boss who decides to tell you how amazed he/she is and prolongs the interview with inquiries and assumptions about your accent, foreign education and/or work, skin color, your imaginary American spouse who surely must have 'bought and imported' you from an undeveloped country, as if no American has ever traveled abroad for studies or work. It can be your new neighbor who tells the entire block that you’re an immigrant, because you happen to pass by while being on a phone call speaking a foreign language, or another neighbor who tells you that she/he is not a racist, but hates all Asians and Black people in Bergen County, or that one acquaintance who laughs and makes jokes about racial stereotypes, but insists it's only a joke, not how they really feel and think about other fellow human beings.
People usually don’t call out family members, acquaintances and friends about their racist words or views, or attempt to hold a brutal honest dialogue, sharing the truth, pain, the disappointment and mental impact.
We have heard many times before that racism is taught, that it starts at home. This is a fact, but racism is also in our school systems, workplace, the media and even people running for public roles, and elected public officials.
For too long, people of color, Asian-Americans, immigrants, people with an accent, and anyone who doesn’t ‘fit a mold’ are made to feel wrong and guilty when voicing pain and correcting neighbors. These racial stress related topics have been avoided for too long because of the guilt you feel from hurting us, that turns into fear and anger. Instead of an apology, you defend your character and explain repeatedly how nice you are, and that you’re not a racist.
Well, you know what? It’s a privilege to only get your feelings hurt after being called a racist, rather than experiencing racism itself. People have been conditioned to think that racism and being a nice person doesn’t go hand in hand, when racism is built deeply into this society. This is a dangerous, and dark system that oppresses certain people in
more ways than just a white supremacist group. You don’t have to wear a white hood to hate people.
It’s time to start the dialogue about the nice racists in our communities, and confront it head on. Nice racists shouldn’t defend their characters right now, nor should racist public officials pretend to be innocent in this matter. You, dear nice racists, should not be the ones hurting right now.
While you’re still here reading this, this abusive racist behavior needs to stop. No one’s existence is there to give you permission to be a nice racist, so take responsibility for your hatred, and learn from this.
The racism experienced by people who move into Bergen County, whether from another county, state, or country, may or may not be intentional at times, and the racists don’t always appear as evil or violent. It can be inviting, friendly, simple, and at many times, it’s produced by the nicest people.