Sunday, February 15, 2015


CONTEXT: I've been thinking about this question a lot, so I reached out to one of my trusted advisors, my friend Justin. (here he is: that's his profile picture right now on FB. I didn't even have to ask him to put that shirt on).

He's constantly asking challenging questions on social media, often regarding race/racism/privilege, and is always down for a difficult ethical/philosophical exercise like the one I presented him with tonight…all via Facebook Messenger. (You'd be surprised how many intense intellectual conversations I engage in via FB Messenger). 
This is an unedited transcript of that conversation. 


Amy: serious note: (and if you don't feel like addressing it right now, you don't have to) 
did you ever come up with a suitable answer to the question we talked about a while back: 

"Can you be racist and still be a good person"? 

for some reason i've been thinking about that question a lot. it's been bothering me that i don't have a definitive answer, or i'm afraid to make a judgment on this because of what the trickle down effect will be. in my heart i think the answer is no, but that would relegate a lot of people who might otherwise be good people into a new category. again. don't feel like you have to go there if you're not feeling up to it. but i've had this conversation with you and my dad and a handful of other people whose opinions i respect and everyone goes…"hmmm. i don't know. that's a good question.”

a colleague sent me this article today. it's heavy. it got me thinking about it again because at some point, the perpetrators of this horrible crime were described by people in their lives as "good".

Justin: hmmm. i don't know. that's a good question.

Just playing

Amy: ha!

it IS a good question.

because it's the worst question.

because it shouldn't even be a fucking question.

Justin: Ummmmm.... it really really really is a difficult question to answer though. Gut and heart scream no, because such a big part of me is just the complete inverse of a racist person. And because I've personally felt the punch to the gut that racism deals. And because racism forces me to walk around in constant fear of what is waiting out there for my son when he's old enough to step outside alone. It's hard to picture a person that's full of THAT stuff being anything but a bad person.

Amy: so…no?

Justin: But... then brain kicks in, and I start to think about the way racism works. It's not always exactly a choice. It's not always a conscious decision. Sometimes it's handed down from parents. Sometimes its born of ignorance (in the literal sense). I'm pretty sure that I've met and talked to racist people who left our conversations a little less racist. I'm sure that on at least one occasion, I've started some momentum that might have even caused a racist person to ummm... become a not racist person. I don't think THOSE people are necessarily bad. Like, if you grew up in a town of 600 and all you knew about black people are the urban legends that bounced around town and you left that town a racist, that's not really your fault. I don't think you become a bad person until you plant your feet and refuse to understand what's wrong with that and make the decision not to fix it.

Justin: If that makes any sense... it was just a stream of consciousness and I was trying to work it out in my head as I typed it.

yeah that makes perfect sense.

it's kind of my sticking point too. like, if it's CONSCIOUS and HATEFUL, you're a shitty person. if you just don't know better, maybe you're a good person who  believes harmful untruths but not out of malice, just ignorance.

but then i think: how do you absorb ridiculous shit like the idea that somebody's skin makes them that much different (worse) than you? like, how do you not say, HMMMM WAIT A MINUTE THAT SEEMS FISHY

Justin: Yeah. That exactly. I think you BECOME a bad person when you make the decision to remain racist when you could make the decision not to.


Well, you know, it's just one of those things.  A lot of black people think all white people are racist, until they meet an Amy Miller.

Amy: well and THAT is sad and ridiculous too, right? like, are white people really that fucking lazy?

because it's just laziness.

Justin: Then you can say "Wow, there are some really cool whiteys out there" or you can say "She's racist too! because she's white and all white people are racist!"

Amy: i wouldn't even be mad at you if you felt the latter was more accurate.

but i would be sad.

Justin: Absolutely sad and ridiculous. And I've been lucky enough to expand my horizons and meet some white people that destroyed my preconceived notions about white people. Like you, and Ralph. But if you go talk to 25 year old Justin, and I'm probably not that big of a fan of white people. But if you look at pretty much ALL of my interactions with white people, and add to that the things that we grow up hearing about white people(some fact, some fiction), it's easy to understand why.

Justin: The white version of THAT^ is a racist.

you are merely exercising race-based prejudice!


Justin: Because I don't have access to the power needed to make it racism and I never will.

Amy: i don't get offended by black people having negative views about white people. i just always make sure that i am being the best version of me (individual) as i can while also recognizing that to some extent it will reflect on white people.
so if i am not an asshole, it at least suggests that other white people may not be racist assholes.

I don't think you should be offended, because honestly we kinda earned the right to not like you lol...

Amy: absolutely.

which is why i get irritated when white people are like, that's reverse racist.

i'm like STFU

because white people have historically been TERRIBLE FUCKING PEOPLE

Justin: BUT, the thing is, whether we earned it or not, the best thing for ALL of us is to take a second and see what you're all about. Because then we find that we have a TREMENDOUS ally in you.

Amy: so give black people a minute to get used to the idea that maybe we aren't all that terrible.

similarly though, racism is dismantled via positive interactions, like what you said earlier about people walking away from you being maybe slightly less racist.

Justin: I don't think that's too different than the crossroads that a racist of the ignorant variety will reach at some point in their lives. You can choose to remain ignorant and stay racist.. or you can choose to throw all that junk away and not be a racist.

Amy: in scenario A you're a bad person. in scenario B you're a good person.



we should make a PSA

Justin: LMAO!


We should. That would be a cool way to explain it.

not the weird religious version.