Admitting to Racism

What should you do when you’re accused of being a racist?

Chances are, if you live long enough in this diverse world, you’ll get accused of being racially insensitive, and maybe even flat-out called a racist. If you’re a public figure, either a celebrity, high profile blogger, or leader of any group and you’re called a racist the fallout gets broadcast much further than just the one conversation.

Paula Deen apologizing on the Today Show . (AP Photo/NBC, Peter Kramer)
Paula Deen apologizing on the Today Show . (AP Photo/NBC, Peter Kramer)

Recently Paula Deen, celebrity chef, admitted to using the n-word in the past during the deposition in a discrimination lawsuit. In just two weeks, Deen has seen her Southern cooking empire collapse.

According to news reports (including this CNN Money article), The Food Network has decided not to renew Deen’s contract. JC Penney, Target, and Walmart have dropped her product lines.

Scrambling to restore her image, Deen has released video statements and appeared on the Today Show issuing a tearful apology, begging forgiveness, and claiming that she “is not a racist.”

But here’s the thing. If you’re a powerful, wealthy, white person and you’re accused of being a racist, there’s only one response:

I’m sorry. I was wrong.

Don’t try to explain yourself away. Don’t cry and try to get people to feel sorry for you. Own up to your mistake. Admit that you were wrong. Apologize for causing hurt. And accept the fact that you just might be racist.

Because, if we each were to examine our hearts, behaviors and words, we could all admit to being racist. Being racist or saying a racist remark doesn’t mean you’d sign up for KKK membership, but it does mean that you demonstrate behavior that dehumanizes another or sets up a hierarchy based on race.

Even if you didn’t mean it to be racist, even if you had the best of intentions, if someone is hurt by what you said or did, the right thing to do is to apologize. It’s up to the other person if they choose to forgive you. You are not entitled to forgiveness, so don’t demand it.

And if you did in fact use the n-word, as Paula Deen has admitted to, then you really don’t have a defense. There is no more dehumanizing word in American history. So yes, using the n-word is racist. If you choose to use it, then you are participating in racism. End of story.

I’ve learned that the first step in reconciliation is to stop defending yourself and try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective.

Humility goes a long way in bridging the divide.

What do you think? Am I on track? If you’ve ever been accused of being a racist, what did you do? If you’re a person of color, how do you think white people should respond to accusations of racism?

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