headshot of George Dinwiddie with books he's written

iDIA Computing Newsletter

February 2024

Choice Starts With Awareness

I hope that you find this to be a startling admission:

I am racist.

I don't want to be racist, and I've worked hard over most of my life to be less racist, but I would be fooling myself if I thought I wasn't still racist. I have more work to do.

And I'm not alone in this. As a white person who grew up in the United States, it's inevitable that I would internalize racism. It's like it's in the air we breathe.

In fact, a Black friend told me that they internalized racism while growing up, also. And, no, I'm not talking about so-called "reverse racism." Prejudice can go in any direction, but racism always attacks the less-advantaged in society. He was talking about feeling that Black people are worth less than white people, feeling that what Black people say means less than what white people say, and feeling that many types of success are off-limits to Black people. I say "feeling" instead of "thinking" because it's mostly subconscious and assumed rather than explicitly believed. Think how sad it is to grow up believing such things about yourself!

Where does this racism come from? Why is it so hard to eliminate?

Like I said, it's in the air we breathe. Certainly you can see that to enslave Black humans and treat them as machinery in the pre-industrial age requires thinking of them as less than human. These attitudes predate European colonies in the western hemisphere. They're quite plain in Shakespeare's play, Othello, written at the very beginning of the 17th century. Surely these attitudes in Europe are, at least in part, derived by the conquest of the Iberian peninsula by Muslim Africans in the 8th century. Beyond that, my insufficient knowledge of history fails me.

As the fish does not notice the water, we do not notice the air we breathe--until something doesn't smell right.

My first memory of the air not smelling right dates to when I was about five years old. As usual, my mother stopped at the grocery store on the way taking Lucille, the woman who helped her clean the house on Saturday mornings, home. They would both do their weekly grocery shopping. I noticed that my mother always told the bag boy to put Lucille's groceries in our cart and take them out to the car with ours. When I found out that if she didn't, they would expect her to carry her own groceries, I got mad at the grocery store manager. I thought he was my friend, but why would he treat my friend Lucille so badly?

From that point on, I noticed the air smelled worse and worse to me. But that didn't make me immune to the implicit attitudes of the society around me. I learned jokes that didn't seem bad at the time, but I later came to realize the attitudes they exhibited. I have sometimes come to that realization in mid-joke, and finished with an abrupt "I don't want to tell this joke anymore." I have walked through Black neighborhoods late at night feeling nervous, and then belatedly realizing that I was the one acting strangely. When I smiled and offered a friendly greeting, I received a similar response. I'm sure that I still have many tacit reactions that are inappropriate, and that I need to root out as I become aware of them.

I explicitly choose to not participate in racism, and continue to practice implementing that choice. Making that an explicit choice starts with awareness. Without that, I'm left with the socially ingrained tacit choice to perpetuate racism.

/signed/ George

P.S. I send this at the very end of Black History Month because it's not about Black history, but white history and white current events. I think there is nothing that a Black person could do to eradicate the racist tendencies that I grew up with. It's up to me to do that, and to help my fellow white people start with awareness.

Please help me out. I would appreciate it if you could reply with a few words about your reaction to this newsletter issue. Think of it as an extreme opt-in, non-persistent and totally voluntary tracking mechanism.

And if you'd like to talk further about this topic, you could schedule a Zoom Session with me to talk about it.

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Or you can also simply reply to this email or send an email to newsletter@idiacomputing.com to continue the conversation. There's a person, not a bot, on this end. I'd really love to hear from you.