Sunday, October 18, 2015

Race Among Friends is here!

I’m happy to announce the release of my book, Race Among Friends: Exploring Race at a Suburban School, published by Rutgers University Press. Race Among Friends is an ethnographic study of high school students reading multicultural literature at a “friendly” suburban school. I found that beneath the surface of the many cross-racial friendships among students, racial tensions festered and sometimes flared in dramatic ways. Race Among Friends would be an appropriate read in college or graduate level diversity courses, or for teachers in racially diverse schools. It will be available from RU Press, Amazon, Barnes & Nobel online, and IndiBound in November. Check out the links here:

Race Among Friends on

Race Among Friends at RU Press

Race Among Friends at IndieBound

Race Among Friends at Barnes and

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Say It Ain't So, Atticus: Go Set a Watchman and the Problem of Racism

You've probably heard that the long awaited sequel to Harper Lee's classic depiction of American racism, To Kill a Mockingbird, was released today. The novel is still widely read in schools, and many of us remember Gregory Peck's portrayal of Atticus Finch, the tall, handsome lawyer who stands up for racial justice, with the warm, fuzzy nostalgia for simpler times that black and white movies create.

Imagine our dismay to find that in Go Set A Watchman, Lee's sequel, Atticus Finch is a racist. Apparently Atticus positions himself against desegregation and says some pretty intolerant stuff. Say it ain't so, Atticus! How can a character who so exemplifies racial justice in our collective memory turn out to be racist in a story set two decades later? What caused this change and how do we, as readers, deal with the deafening crash of a white role model plunging from his pedestal?

I'd like to suggest that maybe Atticus Finch should never have been placed on that pedestal to begin with. The problem we lovers of Lee's classic text face is not that the character, Atticus, changes so drastically from one novel to the next. The problem is that we've read the character and To Kill a Mockingbird in general through the lens of what we wanted, hoped, and perhaps needed the novel to say about racism and not what it actually says. Just like its curricular counterpart, Huck Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird stops short of being the antiracist novel we'd like it to be. In fact, Lee's depiction of African Americans in the story firmly establishes them not as equals, but as lesser beings far beneath the white characters, albeit deserving of their protection.

Let's start with the title, which appears in the text in the following scene. As Scout and her brother, Jem, practice shooting with their new air rifles, Atticus tells them, “Shoot all the bluejays you want…but remember, it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Confused, Scout asks a neighbor, Miss Maudie, what he means. Miss Maudie explains, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (p. 90). What does Lee mean by this metaphor? Who are the mockingbirds in the story? 

First, there's Tom Robinson, the black man accused of rape and defended by Atticus at trial. We see through the circumstances of Tom's arrest that he, like the proverbial mockingbird, knows his place and doesn’t bother anyone. Tom, we're told, was walking along, minding his own business, acting as a “respectable Negro” (p. 192) should, when Mayella Ewell asked him for help and subsequently accused him of rape. At the end of the story Lee further cements the mockingbird metaphor through an editorial printed in the town newspaper that “likened Tom’s death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children” (p. 241). In Tom, Lee gives us an African American figure who is both without voice (he must rely on a white attorney to defend him) and without physical prowess (due to an injured arm). He is the quintessential “respectable Negro” of the time, the mockingbird who doesn't cause trouble and whose role it is to serve the whites in the story. The only other time the mockingbird metaphor is used in the text is in reference to Boo Radley, who, though white, is mentally disabled, and whose very name, “Boo,” symbolizes an invisible, ghost-like, and voiceless creature.

Lee then extends her view of the “respectable Negro” by showing us the opposite when Scout and Jem visit their maid, Calpurnia’s African American church. As they arrive, Scout relates, the “smell of clean Negro” (p. 118) welcomed them; it's hard to read that phrase and not cringe, but for Lee, presumably cleanliness denotes respectability. Although the white children are given deferential treatment by most of the congregation, one person, Lula (who I guess didn't smell as clean), protests their presence. Lee uses weapons imagery in Lula’s description -- she's “bullet-headed with strange almond-shaped eyes, straight nose, and an Indian-bow mouth” (p. 119). To make her even more frightening, Lee tells us that from Scout’s perspective, Lula “seemed seven feet high” (p. 119). Unlike the other African Americans in the story, Lula is clearly depicted as a dangerous figure. While her anger at the children’s incursion into her space might be understandable given the circumstances of Tom’s false accusation and the blatant racism of whites throughout the novel, Lula’s voice is not tolerated. Calpurnia, who views Lula’s anger with amusement (thereby infantilizing her), calls her a “nigger,” and ultimately Lula is sent away by her own kind as punishment for her “fancy ideas an’ haughty ways” (p. 119). Again, it's hard not to cringe. 

Once rid of Lula’s threatening presence, the children are free to experience the singing of the congregation, led by Zeebo, the town trash collector and Calpurnia’s son. Scout and Jem are amazed at how, without musical accompaniment or songbooks, “Miraculously on pitch, a hundred voices sang out Zeebo’s words” (p. 121). Though they are unskilled in other ways (Calpurnia tells Scout that most of the congregation can’t read), this group of “respectable Negros,” it seems, sing very much like the mockingbirds who, as Miss Maudie explained, “don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy” (p. 90). 

And so To Kill a Mockingbird, supposedly an antiracist classic, has some serious problems in its depictions of African Americans. But what about Atticus himself? While it's true that Atticus does his best to defend Tom Robinson in court (putting himself and his children at risk), he never completely disassociates himself from the racism of his time. He's careful to explain to Scout that racists "are still our friends" (p. 76) and are "entitled to full respect for their opinions" (p. 105). He makes light of the role of the Ku Klux Klan (p. 147) and excuses the head of a would-be lynch mob as "a good man" who "just has his blind spots along with the rest of us" (p. 157).

So it should come as no great surprise that the Atticus of Go Set a Watchman is less than satisfying as a white antiracist role model. By today's standards the antiracism of To Kill a Mockingbird and of the character Atticus Finch are weak at best. That's why we need to stop reading the novel through the lens of today's standards. Instead, we should view it and its sequel for what they are: stories of how white people dealt with race during a time when white supremacy was assumed, even by the authors of those stories.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Rachel Dolezal and Racial Identity

Identity is complicated. We're becoming more aware of the complexities of gender identity through the stories of transgender folks like Caitlyn Jenner. But what about racial identity? Is it possible to be "transracial," and is that what's going on with Rachel Dolezal?

I don't have the answer to that question, and I'm not suggesting that Dolezal's deception about her race can be compared with the experience of Caitlyn Jenner and others like her. But I do know that racial identity is not simply about biology, either. 

During my field research among high school students, I witnessed an interesting interaction about this very topic. Here's an excerpt from my field notes:

Donna, a substitute teacher, and one of the few African Americans on staff at EA, sits chatting with four African American girls. The conversation gravitates to boys. Adrienne, the only senior in the group, says in amazement, “You know, we only have two black boys in the whole senior class. Two out of forty-two!”
They spend a few minutes naming the cute black boys at the school, and complaining that there aren’t more of them. They mention one boy in particular, Henry. Chelsea, asks, “Is he black or does he just look black?”
The other girls glance up in surprise. “What kind of question is that?” asks Keisha from the middle position on the sofa. “If his skin is black, he’s black.”
Chelsea defends her question. “Well, like, he could be Dominican or something, and have dark skin but not be black.” 
They agree on this. Keisha, nodding, says “Yeah, that’s how it is with my uncle.”*

Chelsea's question, "Is he black, or does he just look black?" and the ensuing conversation show that these girls were in the process of figuring out what it means to be black. What makes one black?Clearly, these girls believed it was possible to look black, but not be black. For them, being black meant acting in a certain way. And, in fact, many students at the school had very strong opinions about racial identity performance. Although the school boasted a friendly environment, students continually talked about "acting white" and "acting black" and were not shy about correcting their friends should someone cross the line of what they considered proper racial behavior.

All of this is to say that all of us perform race (just as we perform gender) every day. We behave in ways that people generally ascribe to specific racial groups. It may not be fair, it may not be productive, but that's the way racial identity has evolved in the U.S., a country with a brutally racist past. So, in that context, Dolezal's claim that she "identifies" as African American may not seem so outrageous.

Except for a few small problems (and by small I mean gargantuan). First, Dolezal was raised as a white person in a white family, and so received all the benefits of whiteness. If you are not familiar with the idea of white privilege, see McIntosh's famous essay on the subject here: Unpacking Invisible Knapsack. In denying her whiteness, Dolezal is denying the way her whiteness worked for her early in her life. 

I'm not sure why Dolezal lied about being white. She is a social activist who, apparently, has done much to advance the cause of racial justice. Perhaps she felt guilty and ashamed of her whiteness. As I explained in my post about Ben Afleck's cover up of his slave-owning ancestor, guilt and shame are not uncommon responses when white people first begin to think deeply about racism. 

But here's the gargantuan part of the problem with Dolezal's behavior - in 2002, Dolezal sued Howard University, claiming she was denied a scholarship and teacher assistant position because she is white. She invoked the "reverse racism" discourse that positioned her, a white woman, as the victim of racial discrimination. She failed to recognize (maybe she forgot?) that places like Howard University were founded in response to the centuries of racism that denied higher education to African Americans, and that "minority" scholarships were established as an attempt to equal a playing field that is still largely unequal. (See previous post on institutional racism in education). 

So, when push came to shove, Rachel Dolezal, who "identifies" as black, performed her whiteness very, very well.

*This excerpt and more discussion of racial identity can be found in my upcoming text, Race Among Friends, available from Rutgers University Press in late October 2015.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Racism: Tackling a Difficult Topic with Youth*

Over my many years of discussing the topic of race with college students I’ve noticed the prevalence of certain themes that arise in my conversations with whites.

1. While there are still a few racist people around – (and it’s because they’re older. They can’t really help it. This really freaks me out when I realize that the people in question may very well be younger than I am) – racism is over and was solved by the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream,” and all that.

2. If anything, it’s white people who are victims of racism through affirmative action policies. Students usually bring up the unfairness of “minority scholarships” here.

3. We should strive to be colorblind because talking about race just makes it worse.

When I did my dissertation research among high school students a few years ago I found that the very same attitudes prevailed. What interested me most was that these attitudes existed among white students who held close friendships with students of color. I discovered that in the midst of these friendships there was a great chasm regarding belief about the topic of racism.

Over the past few years this chasm seemed to widen over the shootings of unarmed youth like Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. I noticed that opinions about these incidents are highly polarized among white and black people, even in places like churches where diverse groups of people share religious beliefs and maintain close friendships.

Although I wrote The R Word before these events took place, my purpose was to explore this phenomenon. The R Word tells the story of Rachel Matrone, an Italian American, suburban teenager who is being raised by her grandparents and police detective uncles. Rachel, like many of the youth I’ve talked to, believes racism is over and is happy she lives in a world where everyone is equal. Rachel’s ideas about race are challenged, however, when she forms friendships with youth of color and begins to see the world from their perspectives. She becomes especially close with an African American boy named Henry. One afternoon around Christmas time, unbeknownst to her family, Rachel takes a ride with Henry in his broken down car, and they are pulled over by a white police officer. While Henry is visibly shaken by the encounter, Rachel soon recognizes the officer as an acquaintance of her uncle and responds to his questions impatiently.  After the cop lets them go with a warning, Rachel’s only concern is that her uncle will find out she’s with Henry, while Henry is upset for a totally different reason. Here’s the conversation that follows:

(Henry speaking):
“Do you have any idea what happened back there?”
“You mean the cop? I told you, it’s okay. I don’t care if he tells my uncle. I’m kind of glad, in a way.”
“Your uncle? Your uncle! Who cares about your uncle? You could have gotten me into serious trouble back there!”
Henry hardly ever raised his voice, but he was getting louder with every word. Rachel tried to understand.
“What are you talking about? You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“You just don’t get it, do you? You don’t have to do anything wrong to get in trouble. It’s called DWB—driving while black.”
“You heard me. When a black kid, especially a guy, gets pulled over by a white cop, there’s a certain way to act to avoid trouble. You gotta be respectful, and quiet. You don’t give the cop any excuse to go off on you, and the last thing you want to do is smart-mouth him and try to stare him down. Are you crazy?”
Rachel thought back to the incident at the mall while shopping for Sister Gloria’s wallet. “Oh,” she said. “I’m sorry. I guess I forgot.”
Henry sighed, and Rachel felt some of his anger dissolve. “Rachel, there’re certain rules you can’t forget when you’re with me.”
“But you act like every cop is out to get you.” She thought about her uncles. “They’re not all racist, you know.”
“I know that, and I’m not saying they are. But you never know, and you don’t want to take a chance. Why do you think my family’s always warning me to be careful, especially when
I’m driving in a white area? Did you think they’re afraid I’ll trip and skin my knee?”
“Are you saying your family doesn’t trust white people?” Rachel felt herself getting defensive. “Isn’t that racist, too?”
“Call it whatever you want. There’s reasons. It’s reality.”

The conversation ends there and the two drive on to Henry’s house, where they spend the afternoon decorating his Christmas tree with his family. Rachel remains perplexed about Henry’s reaction, though, and later that day they meet up with some friends for a movie. During a trip to the ladies room (where all the best conversations happen), Rachel looks to her Hispanic friend, Sandra, for advice.

“So how was tree decorating?” Sandra asked over the sounds of flushing, running water and hand dryers.
“It was fun. Getting there was a little tricky, though.”
“What do you mean? Don’t tell me Henry’s car stalled out again.”
“No, it’s just that there was a ton of traffic, and then we got pulled over by a cop on the highway.”
“Oh. That’s scary.”
“I didn’t think it was that scary, but Henry sort of freaked out.”
“Was the cop white?” Sandra had a way of getting right to the heart of the matter, and, for once, Rachel was glad.
“What do you expect?”
“But that’s just it. The cop was a little rude, maybe, but he wasn’t that bad. Henry got all nervous. Then he got mad at me after.”
“How come?”
“It turned out I knew the cop from my uncles. So I argued with him a little—all I said was that we weren’t doing anything wrong. And we weren’t. He wound up letting us go with
a warning.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“It’s just that Henry was convinced this had something to do with race, like he was pulled over because he’s black and not because his car sounds like it might explode any second. I don’t get it. Anybody could have been stopped in that car. And I’ve heard of white kids getting picked on by cops sometimes, too. Maybe this had nothing to do with race.” Rachel was so intent on her words that she didn’t realize how loud she had become. An African-American woman standing in line in front of them glanced back and raised her eyebrows.
Sandra took Rachel’s arm, turning her until they angled the wall. “Maybe it didn’t,” she whispered. “But maybe it did. That’s the thing—if a white kid gets stopped, right or wrong,
he knows it isn’t about race. But Henry can never know that for sure, can he? In his mind, there’s always the possibility that it is.”
“Oh. I never thought of it that way.”
“Of course not. You never had to. Go.” She pointed Rachel toward the open stall in front of them and that was the end of the conversation.

Through this scene I tried to show the dilemma faced by people of color in a variety of situations, whether being stopped by police, applying for a job or an apartment, waiting for a cab, being followed around by store employees, or, for kids, being disciplined at school by a white teacher. Like Henry in my story, they can never really know for sure if race plays a part, and in their minds, there’s always the possibility that it does. So, many white people had trouble understanding the response of anger and hurt from African Americans over the Ferguson incident, while many African Americans did not understand the silence, which they interpreted as lack of empathy, from their white friends and coworkers.

As a white person, I recognize that, like Rachel, my whiteness protects me from the anxiety that comes from never really knowing for sure if I’m being treated according to my actions or if my racial background plays a part. My goal in writing The R Word was to explore these issues through the medium of young adult fiction. Through The R Word I examine how our experiences guide our thinking in matters of race, and I hope that my book can help us think more broadly and more critically about how race continues to affect us all.

*Recent talk given at Spring City Library Local Author Fest

Friday, May 1, 2015

Talking While White, Part II

A few weeks ago I participated in a local library’s Author Fest. I had a fun day mingling with local authors and publishers and I’m always happy for the opportunity to talk about racism and to share about my YA novel, The R Word. I did notice that there were no people of color among the presenters and very few among the library patrons that browsed through the tables, chatting with the participants. No big surprise here, since it's a small library in a largely white neighborhood.

Another thing that didn’t surprise me were the comments and questions from other whites at the event. Within minutes of arriving I had a conversation with another presenter that went something like this:

Other Presenter: What is your book about?
Me: It’s about race relations among teens.
OP: Well, that’s certainly relevant. It’s all over the news.
Me: I know.
OP: If you ask me, we talk too much about it. The media blows everything up.
Me: I disagree. I think we need to talk about race more, not less. Obviously there’s a lot of racial tension around and it’s not going to go away if we don’t address it.
OP: Yes, but it has to be addressed respectfully.
Me: Of course, like everything else.

OP then made a quick exit and that was that. I know that lots of white people agree with this person’s perspective, maybe for a variety of reasons. Maybe they are uncomfortable about the media coverage of excessive police force against African American males. They feel the coverage is unfair and they want to see more stories about all the good things police officers do to help people every day. At the bottom of these feelings may be the shame and guilt that I talked about in my last post – the same feelings that drove Ben Affleck to cover up his slave-owning ancestor. Or, maybe they’re just angry. They believe that America is a meritocracy and that people should stop complaining and work harder if they want to improve their circumstances. It’s easy for them to deny the power and persistence of racism because as whites they have been on the receiving end. They’ve spent a lifetime benefiting from their whiteness in small and large, albeit invisible (to them) ways.

The way the person backtracked was interesting, too. When I challenged the position that “we talk about race too much” OP’s argument switched to “we need to be respectful when we talk about race.” In retrospect, I wish I’d asked how and why OP felt conversations about race became disrespectful, but I didn’t. Oh well, chalk it up as another things I wish I’d said moment.

During my presentation (which I’ll post next time) someone asked a question that I’ve also heard many times before: “What made you get interested in this topic?” I have to admit that this question used to leave me blank. I really had no idea when or why I became “interested" in racism (although angered and disgusted by are better descriptors). Then I realized the implication of this question. Why would a middle class white person like me care about racism? After all, race doesn’t really affect white people, right? As one race scholar noted, many whites think of race as something other people have. It’s understandable if people of color care about racism, because it’s in their interest to do so. But when a white person cares – wow, that’s really something!

So now I answer that question with some of my own. Why is it unusual for me to care? Why don’t more of us care? How can we choose to believe that racism is over when we’re confronted with evidence to the contrary every day in so many ways?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ben Affleck and the Shame of Slavery

I've always liked Ben Affleck, and even though I'm not convinced he'll make a great Batman, I'm willing to reserve judgement and give him a chance. Today Ben made it into the news for a different reason. He's admitted to lobbying the producers of the PBS show "Finding Your Roots" to leave out an embarrassing detail of his heritage - one of his ancestors was a slave owner.

My first thought about this was, "Huh?" Why would a person living in 2015 feel embarrassed about something a distant relative did over a hundred years ago? I know, Ben is a megastar and has an image to protect, but still, he certainly had no control over events that took place long before he was born. However, if we look at this from a theoretical perspective, Ben's response makes a lot of sense. For the last several decades scholars have proposed that people go through stages in their racial identity development. I'm not saying that I buy into the idea that all people go through predictable life stages in any area, but I do think some of the stuff in these theories can helpful in figuring out why people believe and behave as they do.

So, one theory about the way white people like Ben and me develop racial identity says that once we become aware of the reality of racism we may try to deny its existence because we feel shame or guilt. Sometimes we do this by denying our whiteness - for example, when I was young I remember thinking, "I'm not really white, I'm Italian." Seems ridiculous now, but I do remember thinking that way. I've heard others deny their whiteness in other ways - "I'm white, but my babysitter was black." "I'm white, but I went to school with all black kids."

Ben Affleck acted on his shame in a different way. He tried to keep the secret of his slave-owning heritage, even though he must have known that no one would hold him personally responsible for the racism of an ancestor. I guess shame makes people do strange things.

The good news for Ben and for me is that we don't have to get stuck in a place where shame rules our feelings about race. We can own our whiteness by admitting our privilege and working to speak and write and act in anti-racist ways. Ben Affleck is in a prime position to do this - his celebrity gives him voice and power. The question is, what will Ben do from here? Instead of trying to cover up his racist heritage because of embarrassment and shame, will Ben find ways to counter the effects of racism in the present day?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fraternities and the Excuses of Racism

Most people I know will respond with strong emotion to the video footage of University of Oklahoma fraternity members'  racist chants during a bus ride to I don't know where. My African American friends are most likely hurt, angry, and disgusted. Perhaps they feel that nothing will ever change. I can't say I blame them.

Most white people too, will likely be angry and disgusted by such blatantly racist, hateful behavior. If they are from the north, as I am, they may even write this behavior off as a southern thing. "Yeah, Oklahoma," they may think, "what can you expect?" Of course, I recognize that this is a totally biased and false assumption - I know that there a plenty of southerners who are committed to social/racial justice and plenty of northerners who are racist, even if they don't ride on buses chanting racial slurs (just not done in NYC). But I'm being honest here - geography is one of the excuses whites may use to explain away the racism of other whites.

Which brings me to the topic of excuses. What fascinates me about this whole deplorable incident is the explanations given by the people involved, along with their friends and family members. Here are some I've heard so far:

1. The Mel Gibson Maneuver: "I was drunk." While I'm not an expert on the subject, it's my understanding that alcohol can make a person less inhibited, but it doesn't, in and of itself, turn people into racists. In that respect, booze is a lot like makeup - it works with what you've already got.

2. "I made a mistake." Writing the wrong date at the top of my check is a mistake. Forgetting to pay a bill because I lost it in a pile of junk mail is a mistake. Going out with a person after he asks how much I weigh is a mistake. Painting my bedroom hot pink is a mistake. Having my final grade in Statistics tattooed on my forearm is a mistake. Need I go on? We all make mistakes, but intentional, repeated behavior cannot be labeled a mistake or a "lapse in judgement."

3. "The song was taught to us." Yeah…and?

4. "The video does not define him personally," stated by a friend of one of the guys leading the chant. This is a derivation of the "I made a mistake" excuse (see #2 above). While I agree that people are complicated, aren't we all defined by our actions? Perhaps the video isn't the only thing that defines this guy, but it surely is one thing that defines him. And if the video doesn't define him personally, it defines him, what? Professionally? Religiously? Politically? Just as bad and maybe worse.

5. "I was singing along with a rap song." This, from the elderly fraternity house mother, is a version of the "they say it, why can't we?" motif. I have heard young people express confusion over the use of racial slurs because they hear them from African American rappers or friends. Not understanding the difference between insider/outsider status and entertainment v. everyday use, and not being fully aware of the brutal history of the slur as used by whites, white youth might not fully understand why they shouldn't use "the N word." But this woman is surely old enough to know better.

6.  And here's the saddest of all, stated by the parents of one of the chant leaders, "…we know his heart, and he is not a racist."  I'm a parent. We all want to believe the best about our children. Perhaps a more accurate assessment by these parents might be, "We love our son, and even though he did something very wrong, we know he has the capacity to do better in the future."

7. Speaking of parents, the last excuse is not from family or supporters of the chant leaders, but from their detractors. Apparently a group of protestors planted a small sign in front of the home of one of the chant leaders that said, "Racism is taught." The message here is that the parents are at fault for teaching their son to be racist. I don't know these parents, and it's true that racism can be taught by parents or family members. It's also true that, in the words of the Nox (message me if you get the reference), "The very young do not always do what they are told." Children's behavior does not always reflect the belief systems of their parents. I know this first hand, and, contrary to the rosy picture of family life depicted on Facebook, I bet most parents who have gone through the teenage years with their children would agree.

A critical race scholar by the name of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva wrote a book called Racism Without Racists. His point was that people can and do hold racist attitudes without considering themselves to be racists. If there are no more racists in the world, then where is all this racist behavior coming from? If the people involved in this latest incident can find excuses for such blatantly racist behavior and claim they are not, in their hearts, racists, what does racism mean and what does it take to be considered racist?

Instead of all these excuses, I'd love to hear a true apology from these folks, and not just from the two that were caught, but from everyone involved. There were a lot more voices on that video than the two white guys who stood up and led the chant. I'd like to hear an admission of racism, and a desire to change. Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear someone say, "I didn't realize before how racist I truly am. I'm sorry and I want to do better." That wouldn't solve everything, but it would be a start.