Wednesday I was listening to a discussion about white privilege. When presenters would bring up situations where they hurt suomeonewit racist actions or remarks, they called the situations “mistakes.”
The conversation did not make me feel uncomfortable in the way it should have to provoke my development, but the continued use of the word “mistakes” and discussion of “whiteness” as it affects white people made me very uncomfortable. (Note: the whiteness of white people affects all people who are not white. That’s who best understands whiteness. We white people are products of our white privilege but do not get to “woe is me and my ignorant state of whiteness”). This proves we white people have to learn how to respond and properly classify situations when we allow our privilege to interfere with our civilized behavior.
When you are racist, you hurt someone. You perpetuate by example what you did, which is racism.
Let’s pause here. Note I said, “When you are racist…” This does not mean you have to have ill-intent or identify as a racist to be racist. You could be completely ignorant of the situation or how your actions are racist, but this does not give you a pass.
When you are called out on your racism, do not be defensive. Take a breath. This person is telling you how you were hurtful to them or someone else. They don’t want an apology, but a simple, “I am sorry for (racist behavior) and should be a better example” is a good start. It is a good start. You need to work with the individual(s) you hurt to repair that relationship.
If you are called out in a group setting, own up to your behavior, ask the person if you could talk further after the session, and move on. Maybe you did not mean to be hurtful, but you need to know how to avoid being hurtful to people in the future.
These are not “mistakes” they are situations in which you hurt another human being by insulting their identity. Call them for what they are, stop calling them “mistakes,” and understand what to do when you are called out.