I have a friend who believes that racism is just under the surface for most White people--even though we are always attempting to remain politically correct. He insisted one time that if he antagonized me enough I would probably eventually call him a nigger.
I was having a discussion with another friend of mine who informed me that some of the people in my neighborhood try to tell her that I may be nice to her face, but as soon as she leaves my house I'm probably calling her a nigger.
With both friends, I try to insist that those thoughts have never even crept into my mind. I'm not sure how much they believe me.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming to be perfect...I do realize that White people feel free to say things around me, because I'm White, that I know they wouldn't say if a person of color were sitting there. I know I've also said some things that my friends of color (Hispanic, Black, and Indian) get exasperated with and have corrected me on. However, I don't hear or think the volatile racist epithets that it seems my friends seem to assume we're saying. (Though several Black people have told me before that they would almost prefer the overt racism so they at least they know where they stand with us.). The White people I know make assumptions, and therefore comments, about Black people that are based on ignorance due to systemic representations and the way our society has chosen to segregate based on what we have and how we look. When appropriate, I try to share the lessons I have learned about my own inadvertent racist actions with other White people...sometimes they listen and sometimes they don't.
Even though I realize that racism still exists in different forms, I think I'm naive. I want to believe that in 2006, racism isn't volatile...that's it's more about making comments we don't realize are as inappropriate and hurtful as they are. But Michael Richards and Mel Gibson are helping to prove that in 2006 it is still more than unconscious comments. Their comments show me that, just as my friends are saying, these thoughts must be festering deep down inside of White people. Maybe not all of us, but enough of us that it is difficult to know where someone stands on their true feelings about race and ethnicity. Richards' anger and Gibson's intoxication prove my friends' point even more. It's not in our sane moments that we make these comments. It's when our guard is down...when we are least able to control our politically correct facade.
I suppose it's not my job to take on the world and figure out how we all need to deal with ingrained and systemic racism. But I also can't sit back and watch it happen without making an effort to work actively against it.
They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. ~Andy Warhol
I don't have the answers. All I know to do is to continue putting the conversation on the table and remain open to correction myself.