Failing some tests is truly painful.

Below is an essay I wrote that was published on March 18, 2000 in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

It is an astonishing dissonance in a nation allegedly based on equality, that there is a group of our citizens who are assumed, simply by the virtue of appearance, to be less. Less trustworthy. Less educated or educable. Less moral. ~Anna Quindlen

Are you a racist? If you saw two tall teenagers together, similar in all respects except that one is black and one is white, who would you assume is the better basketball player? Do you tell racist jokes or listen to them without objection? Do you have a close friend whose skin color doesn’t match yours? Do you visit their home? Do they visit yours?

I am a recovering racist. I grew up white in the South of the 50s and 60s. Most of the schools I attended were segregated. And I have rarely had more than superficial contact with men and women with skin color darker than mine. Of course, there’s my marathon buddy and friend, Jesus Valdez. But, in truth, Jesus is more a product of the white culture than of the Hispanic.

The racism that lives just beneath the level of my consciousness was brought home to me a few days ago when I took a race bias test called the Implicit Association Test. This online test flashed words and photos of black faces and white faces on the screen of my computer monitor, and I had to quickly categorize these as “good” or “bad.” Because I had little time to think about my responses, my unconscious beliefs surfaced. My test results revealed that I had a strong preference for white.

I was devastated by this revelation. I felt nauseous. I felt a sharp pain in my heart. I left my computer and went to lie down on the bed. I wept. My wife, Shonnie, came in to see what was wrong. I drew her close to me and held on to her for dear life. I’m not sure for how long.

You see, I consider myself a generous, conscious, compassionate man who supports justice and equality for all. I knew I sometimes stereotyped folks (black man driving a new Cadillac = drug dealer), but I believed I was conscious enough to catch these malicious thoughts and then refrain from acting on them. Little did I know that lurking in my unconscious mind was a strong prejudice based on skin color, a prejudice that white is good and black is bad. And since that prejudice was unconscious, how could I possibly refrain from acting on it?

OK, so I’ve had this painful insight; now what am I going to do with it? Rationalize it away? “That’s not so bad. Everybody else does it too.” Push it back down into my unconsciousness and forget it? Find someone to point my finger at, someone else to blame—my parents, my teachers, American society, the media? No, not any longer. It’s time to take responsibility for my beliefs and my actions. It’s time to connect with someone on the other side of the racial divide. It’s time to relate, as best I can, to the life experiences of men and women of color.

To take the Project Implicit on race, visit https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.

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