An Open and Honest Conversation about My Racism
August 1, 2010 by William K. Wolfrum
“You see, you’re one of the good Blacks,” I told my friend Al, at a high school graduation party. “It’s the bad Blacks that are the niggers.”
“I think I hate you now, Bill,” said Al, walking away.
It was 25 years ago when that scene took place, and his words still haunt me. Partly because I haven’t spoken to Al since. But mostly because that those words started me on a path toward acceptance and enlightenment that I remain on to this day.
Racism toward African-Americans was instilled into me from birth. I never got a sex talk, but I got plenty of racism lessons. And until that night, those lessons formed my opinions of African-Americans.
Being racist was an unnatural fit for me, especially since the vast majority of my experiences with Black people were positive. Al, in fact, was one of the few people who I felt close to in high school from freshman year through senior year. But mind you, my casual racist mindset was on display more than just that night. And regardless of how I got that mindset, I take responsibility for every racist word that ever came from my mouth.
Plain and simple, I was an extremely ignorant boy, swimming in his own privilege. I knew nothing of the African-American community. In fact, I knew nothing other than the limited culture of an upper-middle class white home. So while I feel I’ve never been deeply racist in my heart, I grew up being deeply racist in my mind, and thought little of it.
In the 25 years since that horrible conversation, I have had myriad experiences and travels that have helped me understand my own racism. I have learned that – while I can never fully understand a culture that I am not part of – the cultures of all minorities are a vital part to American culture as a whole.
Nonetheless, I cannot ever bury that ignorantly racist 18-year-old. He exists inside me as a never-ending lesson to myself. That boy teaches me that education and experience have helped me get on the road to becoming the man I always felt I should be. He teaches me to never become self-satisfied on issues of race. And he teaches me that the road from racism to acceptance is a road that will never end.
I am an imperfect man and I always will be. But the 43-year old writing this post has a much more open mind and much more open eyes than the 18-year-old who ended his relationship with a close friend with a racist diatribe.
This is for you, Al. Someday I hope to apologize to you face to face. But I want to thank you for your words that night, because they helped turn me around and put me on a path of acceptance and self-examination.
The path I am on today began that night, a quarter-century ago. And that path has made my life better in so many ways. Accepting and learning about the cultures and lives of other races and nationalities has made me a better husband, friend, writer and man.
So along with my apologies, I send you my thanks, Al. Because of you, I aim to create love, not hate.