If a Woodchuck Could Chuck…a Racist

I have a new preoccupation that I’d like to share.  I call it being “racist adjacent.”  I have never had this discussion with anyone, so I am not aware how often this idea has been indulged any anyone.  I assume someone has to some degree.  Here’s how it works.

First, as a disclaimer of sorts, this is not necessarily about racism.  I am quite tired of racism.  Who isn’t, right?  But, not only that, I am tired of discussing it.  I am tired of thinking about it.  I am quite tired of the word.  Rarely is it discussed in such a way that anything is learned.  And that is part of my current issue.  

“On the turning away

From the pale and downtrodden

And the words they say

Which we won’t understand

Don’t accept that what’s happening

Is just a case of others’ suffering

Or you’ll find that you’re joining in

The turning away…”—David Gilmour


This is a portion of a Pink Floyd song about how so many of us tend to avoid dealing with the suffering of the homeless.  It occurs to me that I should not allude to it without mentioning it specifically.  My point here is that there is a “turning away” that happens with regard to the subject of racism.  This is happening between those who are not racists, per se, but rather “racist adjacent.”  And with racism such that it is, most of us are racist adjacent.  We are either subject to it in some form, or we are closely associated with someone who is.  My recent preoccupation is about where column “A” meets column “B” in conversation.

Let’s say there are two friends or associates across different cultural backgrounds who either work together or just enjoy one another’s company.  And, within an ordinary course of events, one friend describes to the other a third association who is inarguably racist.  (This is the 2020 experience). While walking into a hard, driving, cold storm of racist ideas and consequences in popular culture, the listener seeks refuge from the philosophical storm, just a respite that will allow the listener to restore some hope and lean back into the driving storm for another mile.  The listener wonders, or maybe even asks, “what do/did you say to your racist associate/friend/family member when the subject was raised”?  The unsettling response is when the confrontation is avoided.  

This is a little like the end of a paved road for the person dealing with the ramifications of intolerance, while the dominant culture individual remains on a parallel course, but the road in their lane remains paved.  We may be traveling in the same direction, but my ride will be more bumpy, and my associate’s ride will be relatively smooth, while our direction of travel implies no conflict.  While riding on the put by path, one may think, can you move closer to the center of the road so that I might also be on a smoothly paved path, but that would involve some sort of confrontation.  You’re not dealing with the racist in this request.  You are just dealing with how that person deals with the racist, or the racism.  They are…”racist adjacent.”

Part of the exhaustion of a period distilled in the 2020 experience, or perhaps in the Trump Presidency, is from how our close associates deal with truly awful, anti-social ideas.  I had a fairly close friend who I knew had voted for Donald Trump in 2016.  We remained friends until I discussed with him the situation at the southern border regarding the incarceration of immigrant children.  He was not particularly moved by what I consider to be a human rights injustice, and I quickly lost all ability to relate to him.  This disagreement on principle in another time might not have led to the dissolution of a friendship.  I have friends with whom I disagree, but this time, and this concept of being racist adjacent brings exhaustion eventually.  In the effort to even avoid racism, and the discussion of racism, one runs into someone reminding you of the thing you seek to turn away from.  

I apologize for not having an uplifting message about this issue.  Goodness knows we don’t need one more complaint.  But, I am curious about this sort of fatigue.  It is virtually infinite regarding various issues where sensitivity meets insensitivity.  As I look out on my country, and I consider another day, about to walk into a driving storm of warring cultural insensitivity, I wonder, how are you holding up?