Why I don’t get to say I’m not a racist.

I’m all for self-identification. People figuring out who they are and who they want to be? People finding words to describe things about themselves in ways that finally make sense, damnit? Finding out about these words and identifications and learning more about the different ways that people can be, can live their lives, can feel and think? The ways in which this adds so much richness to all of our understandings of ourselves, each other, and the very human world we live in? Awesome. Really, incredibly, fantastically awesome.

I get to say that I am many, many things. And I get to say that I am not many other things. And by doing so, I get to make more sense of who I am and what that means.

But I don’t get to say that I’m not a racist. Or ableist, or transphobic, or classist, or even sexist or homo/biphobic, or anything like that. You don’t get to say the same about yourself, either. And the reason for this is not just because of the inevitable immediate consequences of a phrase like “I’m not a racist, but..”. While that would be a good reason itself, there’s a more important one.

Being any of those things isn’t about me. It’s about the effects of my actions on others. Replace any of the above words with ‘asshole’, or your favourite non-specific insult of choice, and this will start to make sense. I can say that I’m not an asshole all that I want, but if people perceive my actions as assholish? If I consistently do things which can be defined as assholish? I’m an asshole. Because being an asshole isn’t about me, it’s about how my actions impact on others.

So I don’t get to say that I’m not a racist, or any other thing like that. Because being not-a-racist- or any equivalent for other categories- has nothing to do with what I feel myself to be, or how I identify. It isn’t about me. It’s not a box I can put myself into. It’s the constantly changing sum of the stuff that I do, and what that does to the people around me.

Oh, and I think there’s a rule on the internets that whenever these sort of things are mentioned, the mentioner gets to link to Jay Smooth. So here you go, for your not particularly tangentially related viewing pleasure: