We live in a monster culture. When we talk about Hitler we talk about what a racist monster he was because who else but a monster could do what he did? When we talk about David Duke it’s knowing that as the head of the KKK, he’s a monster who works at recruiting other monsters. Right now we’re talking about Tucker Carlson because all the racist and sexist things he said under a pseudonym in an online forum are coming to light – what a monster. We all knew he was, just look at the things he said under his real name. Monster. We look at these people and think, Only a monster can do those things. And that reassurance lets us sleep at night. We don’t know anyone like that, we’d be able to spot a monster coming at us. Those people are monsters, they are not like the rest of us. But I have news for you: Racists aren’t monsters.
Racists Aren’t Monsters
Those men, those horrible men, and all the women like them, they aren’t monsters. They’re people who did really bad things and were caught. There are people all around us every day who do and say really bad things and don’t get caught. They aren’t monsters, either. They are people who are doing bad things – but, they are still people. And those racist monsters we see all over Twitter, or on the news? Yep, they aren’t monsters, either.
The thing is, when we vilify some racists as monsters (instead of humans we should learn from), we remove the lessons that should be learned. When we call someone a monster, we decide that that person, in particular, has done something far outside of the norm of what is considered human. We take away the idea that people around us are doing things that are also bad and that we should say something about that.
Why are we afraid to speak up? Probably because it’s so much more difficult to talk to a friend or relative about racism than it is a stranger. They aren’t monsters, after all. But these conversations need to happen. The longer we put it off, the more strained our relationship with our loved ones will grow until we see their behavior as monstrous, too. Think about all the times you’ve dreaded going to a family get-together because your racist uncle was going to be there spouting off. Or how much time you’ve spent stressing over Thanksgiving because sitting at a table listening to someone say something you consider vile feels…wrong.
We love them, and the longer we put off these discussions the more likely we’ll build barriers that separate us from our friends and loved ones permanently. It doesn’t have to be like that. So what can you do?
- Read about the issues. There’s a popular post circulating about Irish slaves, and how white slavery was a thing, too, and that’s actually a myth. Irish laborers were often called slaves as a derogatory term in the 17th and 18th century but were not actually slaves uprooted from their homes and sold as property. By taking a moment to look up things that don’t seem right, we take a moment to share the truth with our loved ones, and at very least give them the opportunity to learn.
- Admit that you’ve had your own prejudices in the past, and try to learn from them. Equally, don’t pretend that your past issues don’t exist. By talking about what changed our own opinions, we give others room to grow.
- Seek out people who have experience teaching about racism, and learn how they teach people to talk about it. It’s okay not to have all the answers. And it’s okay to seek out people who know more than we know.
- Learn about black history and share it. When we give voice to the truth, we give truth power. Black history has been suppressed for far too long, and learning from it and sharing it is a responsibility we all share.
I’m not here to change anyone’s mind, or forgive anyone, or make light of racism, in fact, just the opposite. When we villanize one type of racist as a ‘monster’ and forgive another for their ignorance or age, or because they are family or a long-term friend, we’re trying to tell ourselves that, “Our racist friend isn’t a monster. Our family member isn’t really that bad.” No, they are. Ignorance doesn’t make their racism any less awful. Your grandpa may not have killed anyone in the name of his racism, but that doesn’t make his racism any less toxic or vile. And if you love him, you need to talk with him before the relationship is unrecoverable.
Equally, if the person you love is willfully racist and unwilling to listen or change, it’s okay to walk away. While it is our responsibility to start the conversation, if the person we love doesn’t want to listen, acknowledge, grow, or change, there is no reason for us to stay in a toxic environment – no matter who the person is.
Racism is a disease that spreads from one human to another, and when we don’t call out the people we love, we give them permission to continue to spread that hate amongst other people. And if we do that, maybe we really are monsters, after all.