The Real Racists

A day after Darren Wilson’s hands are wiped clean, I hear a woman on a call-in-radio show say that the real racists are the ones who keep using racism as a crutch.  The host responds that the real lesson is that kids think that stealing is acceptable behavior.

I’m driving to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving and my shoulders tighten up.  I grimace and think, “How do you get to be so blind?”  I turn the radio off because I’m getting mad, but not just at host and his caller…

“Who do you think you are?” I ask myself.  “Why are you really mad?”  And I can’t answer the question.

That evening, I read Phillip Garcia’s article and I’m too ashamed to admit that this is exactly the reason I’m mad.  It has nothing to do with Mike Brown.  I just don’t want to be lumped in with the idiots who actually believe what was said on that call-in show.

My anger had nothing to do with injustice or racism.  The real lesson from Mike Brown’s death didn’t come through to me: being racist isn’t the problem it’s being white.

I’m not talking about this superficial archetype that can’t dance or rap.  Being white is a performance.  It’s the way a person moves through society as well as the way a person perceives society and his/her place in society.  It’s akin to Andrew Garfield actually believing he’s Spiderman and everyone around us being forced to think likewise.

Yes, it’s a cultural construct, but it’s a fucking real one.  The lady on the call-on radio show said as much.  The real racists are hung up on race.  I’ve used the same phrase.  You see, if the problem was just about “being white” being imaginary, then I would just be slightly psychologically damaged.  But I (along with a large portion of the world) reify that imagination into reality.  Race is how society is structured because people act on it, people go to prison because of it, people are murdered because of it.

It isn’t just that it’s imaginary.  It’s worse.  Have you ever talked to a sleepwalker?

And when I wake up (every once and a while), I realize that the real racists are ones who think race doesn’t exist.

People accused James Baldwin of being a racist.  And, of course, he always said race was a construct, too.  But he had a slightly different emphasis.  You probably know the quote, “As long as you think you’re white, I’m forced to think I’m black.”  And he also said, sometimes in the same breath, that white people didn’t know what “being white” really meant.  “White people,” Baldwin said, are imagined.  Nothing that powerful actually exists.  Ironically, the “crutch” the lady on the call-in radio show talked about was the very fact that she could talk about race as a crutch.  “White” isn’t a race because race is something that has to be endured.

And I feel nothing.  That’s what “being white” is like.  The privilege of numbness.

I can twist “performing whiteness” to my own advantage, too.  I can pretend that it’s something that I can just stop doing.  I can pretend that I’ll exorcise it by publishing this piece.

But if something smells like shit, then it shouldn’t be in any responsible human being’s character to ignore such an obvious sign of a diseased society.  But “being white” means ignoring it.  It means living in a constant state of delusion.


Nick Hilbourn’s work has recently been featured in Infinite Acacia and Trickster.  He lives near Philadelphia.  His favorite writer is Donald Quist.  He blogs at

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