Testing Positive for Racism

When we rise up and strengthen our herd immunity to systemic racism, we become the better versions of ourselves as parents, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and Americans.

Michal Urbanek/ Shutterstock
Michal Urbanek/ Shutterstock

Racism, like COVID-19, is a virus. Want to find out whether you would test positive? In a minute, you’ll be able to. By taking the racism test below, you’ll find yourself in one of four groups: Not Racist, Slightly Racist, Moderately Racist, or Seriously Racist. The second part of this article, Tracing, is for those of you who test positive to discover the origins of your racism and whether your immune system is compromised because of where you live and work, your age and your life experience. The third and final section in this metaphoric analysis, The Vaccine, is devoted to finding a personal and societal cure for racism. 

But before you take the test, here are a few important things to consider. 

First, not everybody is racist. Some people test free of prejudice. Wired with exceptionally high degrees of kindness, fairness, empathy, and humility, these carriers of divine compassion and fairness are often elevated to sainthood. Nonracists model the antithesis of racism by treating all people, especially those who are different than them, equally and with respect.  

Next, some carriers of the racism virus are asymptomatic. They will show few, if any, signs or symptoms, such as openly prejudging, shunning, discriminating against, and being passively indifferent to the pain or well-being of folks who look and act different from them. They may not even be aware that they’ve been infected by the virus and will be surprised when they test positive and are cited for “hidden” or “unconscious” bias.

Third, some carriers of racism are highly symptomatic. In the US, they proudly carry racist signs; chant overtly bigoted slogans; boldly tote guns to threaten and intimidate people; and gather with like-minded, white supremacist carriers who sanctify their racism as pure-blooded Christianity and patriotism. These remorseless poster children for institutional racism champion populist nationalism, anti-immigration policies, right-wing politics, and Confederate flags, and wear their prejudice like a badge of honor. Often arrested for hate crimes, these “haters” are quick to join the Aryan Brotherhood in prison. Emboldened and completely unaware that they’re being used as puppets by those who wish to stir up chaos in America, they exploit every opportunity to call attention to, and justify, their righteous arrogance and superiority. 

And last among those who test positive are the Stealth Racists. These carriers represent the biggest group of all and operate under the radar. Steeped in camouflage; and hiding, denying, and repressing their prejudices, some of them go undetected over the course of a lifetime. Sanctioned by complicit families, companies, communities, police departments, financial institutions, and governments, the bigotry embodied by Stealth Racists is kept an air-tight secret until they slip up and, for example, get caught publicly using the “N” word, engaging in excessive force, making offensive jokes, racial profiling, or being part of a hidden code of discrimination where they work. 

Because racism spreads in the shadows, Stealth Racists can be the most dangerous of all. It’s not only about laughing innocently at racist jokes or forwarding racist emails, our passive compliance—and willingness to remain silent about undeniably racist policies, politicians, and prejudices embedded in our places of work, houses of worship, communities and classrooms—feeds the beast. 

The Fear and Shame That Sublimate Racism

Two powerful emotions drive Stealth Racists underground: fear and shame. Keeping their prejudices secret affords them protection from the laws preventing racial discrimination, being held accountable to changing social norms, and/or being stigmatized as racist. People of good conscience try to deny their prejudices, obliterating the shame they feel when looking in the mirror, but it’s there; and they live in fear of the legal, financial, and social consequences of being outed. They’re also afraid of being race shamed by those in their families, places of work, and communities, who aspire to a world in which racial justice and equality are assured. Stealth Racists must become adept at covering up their prejudice with a wink, smile, joke, flattery, and/or by having a few token “black friends” or employees as proof they’re not bigots. However, we’re now entering an era of truth and reconciliation in America. 

America’s Time for Truth and Reconciliation?

With protesters on the march across America demanding racial justice, police chiefs, mayors, and Congress are poised to change laws and policies; the NFL Commissioner even acknowledged that he made a mistake in how he handled the case of an African American player named Colin Kaepernick who boldly took a knee in defiance of police violence; and our collective awareness about how the subtle elements of white privilege perpetuate racism is rising. Yes, change is in the air.  In American, and across the globe, people of all ages, races, ethnicities and faiths are in the streets protesting racism. While only several weeks old, this uprising is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. It is not only inspiring hope, but leading to meaningful reforms and the promise of structural change. 

The number of Stealth Racists and their high school/college-age kids posting “Black Lives Matter” and “Peace and Justice” signs in their front yards; taking to the streets protesting, “No Justice, No Peace”; reimagining America as a diverse “land of the free”; and identifying as “anti-racists” is going to be, according to many civil rights activists, a game changer.

If you see yourself in any one of the above descriptions and test positive for the virus, you have an opportunity—whether you’re asymptomatic or even overtly racist. The way we all evolve as individual human beings and as a herd is to reprogram our minds and hearts. Not only is this a chance for you to awaken and reach for the better version of yourself, it is a reality and accountability check. And whether you’re doing this for yourself, your community, your children and grandchildren, or your creator, it’s your decision to change. And since racism is contagious, like COVID-19, by taking hold of it in your own life, it encourages others to do so. And wouldn’t a world with “herd immunity” against racial prejudice be a better, safer place for all of us? 

Why Testing?

“Testing” is one way of taking personal and social responsibility. And becoming more aware of the subtle forms of racism. You may have unwittingly infected the people around you (including your children), contributed to community spread, fueled a global pandemic of prejudice, and said/done things that led to the detriment of some people without fully realizing what you were doing. Historians, like Tim Wise, show us that carriers of the racism virus often do so with little, if any, conscious awareness of the broadscale negative consequences. But the curtain is being pulled back on how our fellow Americans have suffered, and how they are still at risk. And you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t looking for a chance to do something about it. 

Containing and eradicating racism is within our reach, but right now, it may only be an aspiration. It’s our job to turn it into action. And systemic change. Much like COVID-19, discovering a vaccine to end the scourge and break the code of racism has been an elusive endeavor. Historic figures have put their lives on the line for social change, spiritual transformation, and raising our collective consciousness about the multifaceted benefits of embracing, rather than resisting, our differences and discovering our commonality. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa inspired us to be our better selves and showed us that positive change starts with discovering the vaccine within. By policing our racism, unleashing our compassion, and standing for change through peaceful, nonviolent protests, we reduce community spread and flatten the curve. 

It’s Been About George Floyd: Now It’s About You, and Us

The murder of George Floyd exposed the full spectrum of racism in America. For millions of African American, Latino, Asian, and Native Americans, as well as those white Americans who took to the streets to express their moral outrage, this is a new era of civil unrest in the war against racism. The challenges of sustainable change with respect to our deeply ingrained prejudices are as great as the opportunities to evolve into the better versions of ourselves. 

And change begins with telling the truth. Most of us are carriers of racism who will test positive. But finding out whether this is true is not a matter of sticking a swab up our noses. It’s simply a matter of admitting the truth. By answering 10 questions with 100% honesty, you’ll be able to determine whether, and to what extent, you are racist. And whether you’re Slightly, Moderately, or Seriously Racist. 

You’ll also have a chance to look under the hood and see whether you’ve been judging yourself, being misjudged and/or misjudging others as racist. People who are harshly critical of everyone they meet, including African Americans, and hold them accountable for their part when things go south, are not always bigots. People who consciously, semi-consciously or unconsciously profile black people, and have it out for them are bigots. Mortified by ex-cop, Derek Chauvin’s brutal murder of George Floyd, one critic held Floyd responsible for his part in drawing the attention of the police. “Attempting to buy cigarettes with a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill, having a bag of white powder in his pocket and being high on meth and Fentanyl,” he commented, “were surefire ways of drawing the attention of the cops.” 

After taking the test for racism, you will also have an opportunity to do some tracing, following it back to its original source. Seeing how and when you might have been infected, and whom you may have infected over the course of your lifetime, will provide a foundation for learning what you can do to flatten the curve. 

Time to Test Yourself

Now, please take the self-test, designed to give you a rough sense of how prejudiced you might be. Because the test is subjective, and not scientific, and so many prejudices are out of people’s awareness, I will ask you to be the judge and correct for any inaccuracies. 

Please answer the following questions with 100 percent honesty to determine if and to what extent you are racist. There is no pressure to share your answers or publicly admit your score. The sole purpose of this test is to help you understand if you’re racist, and to help you combat the virus in yourself and others. 

Please note: While the test, Tracing, and Master Plan focus on prejudices toward African Americans and use the term black, you may have other prejudices—be they toward Latinos, Asians, Jews, Muslims, or another “minority” that you should note in your responses.

Rate yourself on a scale from 0 to 10, and put your score in the space provided.

  1. I consider black people my equal.     

0 ___________________5______________________10 ____My score

Not true     Somewhat true     Yes, true

  1. The frequency with which I’ve discriminated against black people. 

0 ___________________5______________________10 ____My score

          Often Occasionally   Never

What I said or did to discriminate was______________________________

  1. I’ve grown up believing that blacks are inferior.

0 ___________________5______________________10 ____My score

True   In some ways   Not true

  Please explain your answer _______________________________________

  1. I have stereotypes that influence the way I treat black people. 

0 ___________________5______________________10 ____My score

Yes     I have a few No

For example, ___________________________________________________.

  1. Family, friends, and people who know me would say that I am 

0 ________________   5______________________10 ____My score

Prejudiced      Somewhat prejudiced Not prejudiced at all

  1. All people are created equal.

0 _________________  5____________________10 ____My score

Not true   Not sure they are       Yes, they are

  1. I harbor prejudices that I keep to myself (such as disapproving of interracial couples).

0 _________________  5____________________10 ____My score

True         Sometimes True False

  1. I would get involved if I witnessed racial injustice.

0 _____________ _____ 5____________________10 ____My score

No   I might say/do something Definitely Yes 

  1. It’s my responsibility to do something about racial inequities, injustices, and biases. 

0 __________________ 5____________________10 ____My score

No, it’s not       Kind of   Yes, it is

  1. If I do test positive, I would probably score as

0 ___________________ 4 _______________7_____________10    ____My score

Highly Racist     Moderately Racist   Minimally Racist     Not Racist

Now it’s time to add up you score to see if you tested positive.         Score total ____

Positive result Highly Racist = a score roughly between 0 and 40 ___

Positive result Moderately Racist = a score roughly between 40 and 75 ___

Positive result Minimally Racist = a score roughly between 75 and 95 ___

Negative result Not Racist = a score of 95–100 ___

If You Tested Positive

In this next section, called “Tracing,” those of you who tested positive can find out where your racism originated. This will set the stage for taking concrete steps to contain and eradicate racism on a personal and societal level.

Tracing 

Whose attitudes and behavior about race may have rubbed off on you? To get you started, use the following “Might have beens” to help you remember some of the origins of your racial prejudices.

  1. Might it have been something a parent, grandfather, uncle, neighbor, politician, or character on a TV show said or did that shaped your beliefs and feelings about black people? 
  2. Might it have been something frightening, painful that happened to you, or someone you care about, involving a black person?
  3. Did your family belong to a church, synagogue, mosque, country club, or social group that felt it was okay to say and do things that marginalized, excluded, and hurt black people?
  4. Might you have joined a club, fraternity, sorority, or organization in which prejudices were quietly and inconspicuously sanctioned, reinforced, and encouraged? 

Who/Where ____________________________________________________________ 

The prejudice that rubbed off on me is ________________________________________

Who/Where __________________ __________________________________________

The prejudice that rubbed off on me is ________________________________________

Who/Where _____________________________________________________________ The prejudice that rubbed off on me is ________________________________________

Tracing also involves an accounting for the people you may have infected. To get you started, use the following “I might haves” to help you consider who may have been infected by your racial prejudices.

  1. I might have shaped the beliefs and feelings my children, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow parishioners have about black people. 
  2. My kids and family members might have witnessed me saying or doing—or failing to say or do something—that made it okay for them to be biased against black people.
  3. We belong to a church, synagogue, mosque, country club, or social group that believes it’s acceptable to say and do things that marginalize, exclude, and hurt black people.
  4. I belong to an organization, family, or community in which prejudices are sanctioned, reinforced, and even encouraged. 

Who might your attitudes and behavior about race have rubbed off on?

Who/Where ____________________________________________________________ 

The prejudice that may have rubbed off is ________________________________________

Who/Where __________________ __________________________________________

The prejudice that may have rubbed off is ________________________________________

Who/Where _____________________________________________________________ The prejudice that may have rubbed off is ________________________________________

Undoing Our Prejudices

Some of us were once prejudiced but have worked hard to overcome these feelings. There are stories of skinheads who were “haters” that “got religion,” transformed their lives, and became advocates for racial equality. Men and women in team sports and the military often talk of “losing their prejudices” after developing close interracial ties with their teammates and brothers and sisters-in-arms. As with COVID-19 and other viruses, there are going to be traces of what we had to do to fight it off. They’re comparable to the antibodies we develop to fight off viruses. If this is what happened in your life, take this test for antiracial antibodies.

Testing for Antiracial Antibodies

  1. Might you have discriminated against/hurt someone in the past ? __ Yes __ No
  2. If yes, have you tried to change? Why? How?_________________________________
  3. Were you ever discriminated against or prejudged?             __ Yes __ No
  4. Please explain what happened _____________________________________________
  5. How has this affected your life? ____________________________________________

The last section is your opportunity to follow up on all your hard work and put together a concrete plan. This is the way we hold ourselves accountable for the goals we’ve set to make the world a better place for our children, grandchildren, and others who will have their own viruses to combat. 

Weeding out, containing, reducing, and eliminating racism is both personal and societal. We all know how deeply seeded racism is and that these kinds of changes can be painstakingly gradual. Years of sensitivity training to reduce sexual harassment and discrimination has shown that it may be helpful for some and useless, if not harmful, for others, whose sexism was driven further underground. We must hold each other accountable by making sure there are serious consequences for aberrant behavior. We will need accountability checks to forge significant changes in America’s racial discrimination portfolio. And since we’re all works in progress, we will also need one another’s support and encouragement. 

My Plan to Contain and Eradicate the Racism Virus

If you’re looking for the impetus and inspiration to step up and put your plan together, take it from Walt, Clint Eastwood’s racist character in Gran Torino. Having racially profiled minorities all his life, it took the rape and beating of his young Hmong neighbors to turn his cold, unfeeling heart to a heart of gold. Taking two fatherless teen kids under his wing, his prejudices turned to compassion. Gifting his vintage Gran Torino to the boy and sacrificing his life protecting the girl, Walt found peace and justice—and became a hero.  

Perhaps, like Walt, your age, background, or the social norms you grew up with have left you immunocompromised (at higher risk of infection) when it comes to racism and watching another young black man die in police custody, you’re ready to make a change. Or you marched on Washington (for civil rights and against the Vietnam War) in the 60’s and are ready to join forces with, and march alongside, your “woke” grandchildren to co-create a world in which their friends are not being targeted for being black. 

Whatever your inspiration, here are a few things to consider doing as you get started turning aspirations into actions, effecting positive change and becoming a hero:

  1. Educate yourself about racism and racial inequality by reading, listening to, and/or learning about it in a book, podcast, webinar, or taking a class. 
  2. Add to your understanding, perspective, compassion, humility and inequality by learning more about white or “skin privilege,” or what anti-racist activist, Peggy McIntosh, calls “The invisible package of unearned benefits.”  
  3. Take in what you’re learning in a deeply personal way—lower your defenses let it guide your words and actions.
  4. Come up with a plan for doing at least one thing to contain, defuse, or end racism and lift people up in your life and community. To keep yourself accountable, write it down and put it where you can see it.
  5. Embrace someone in your neighborhood or community who is not like you. Sometimes all it takes is kindness expressed by a classmate, teammate, co-worker, neighbor, brother, or sister-in-law—or meeting their parents or kids—to break the code of racism. When we meet people who are different than we are on a personal level, it’s no longer possible to dehumanize, marginalize, objectify, and/or dismiss them with an air of indifference. They become human. We discover just how much we have in common with them, begin to care about them, and take a vested interest in their well-being. 
  6. Catch yourself making (otherwise unconscious) inferences and judgements about black people, whether it’s your misinformed reaction a black man or woman, a mixed-race child, couple, or family. Smile and change the conversation you have with yourself about them.
  7. Forgive yourself for the ways you have prejudged people. Talk about it with a trusted confidant. Confess to a non-judgmental member of the clergy or your community. And then, embrace the better version of yourself that you’re becoming.

Now it’s your turn to form a plan.

  1. I can _________ to contain or eradicate the racism virus in me.
  1. I can _________ to contain or eradicate the racism virus in me.
  1. I can _________ to contain or eradicate the racism virus in me.
  1. I can _________ to contain or eradicate the racism virus in others/society.
  1. I can _________ to contain or eradicate the racism virus in others/society.
  1. I can _________ to contain or eradicate the racism virus in others/society.

As we have watched COVID-19 change the world as we knew it and have become increasingly aware of how racism impacts our lives, we have a choice. We can rise up to meet the challenge, testing ourselves for the virus and owning up to our part; and working to eradicate it from our hearts, families, communities, workplaces, society, and nation. Or, we can shrink from the challenge and passively engage in a form of complicity and compliance called “doing nothing.” 

There is a standard of high moral, ethical, spiritual, and humanitarian leadership where we treat those who are different from as equals—and define them on the basis of their character, not their race. When we rise to that standard and strengthen our herd immunity to systemic racism, we become the better versions of ourselves as parents, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and Americans. Testing ourselves and doing whatever we can to reduce the spread of viral racism is a noble legacy. Making the world of our children, grandchildren, and future generations more just, equitable, and safe is within our reach. And it’s time to roll up our sleeves!

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