this month zinester Olivia Olivia (“Lost Dogs,” Sucks to Be Brown in Space Germany”) writes about her thoughts on racism and the word “racist.”
Honestly, I only had one idea for a zine when someone suggested I make one: a list of white supremacists, basically a place where I could write about people in my life who are explicitly racist and detail why. Let me tell you, I could write full essays about why some people are racists. And it pleases me too. I love looking into my past, thinking about someone who treated me poorly, be it my high school math tutor (Ms. Barclay, you And your daughter are racist), the bigoted girl who instructed me to give up my seat to her in 12th grade (Kara: you are racist), the white girl in college who compared her memoir about being white in Oakland to the Autobiography of Malcolm X (Kailyn, take note: you are racist capital 1 to me), or the horse-faced white girl who “stopped listening to rap because it’s sexist” (Zoe Bad Vribes: I see you, you and anyone who likes you and hears you speak is a racist, you are like a racist A-bomb).
It was an inexhaustible project. I could write about racists the live long day. White people hate being called racist. Never fails to kill a racist dead or send them into an explosive fury when you call a white liberal a racist. Not all racists, sure. Some racists love the word – good ol’ “I love being racists” racists. I learned the power at a young age growing up in California. Hardly knew what it meant but looking back I was spot on when I used it. Teacher made me leave the room when they recited the Salute to the Flag. “I was born in Canada” I’d say. “Well then leave the room and stay in the hall way,” my teacher Mr.Dean said to me.
“Racist,” I mumbled under my breath.
You should of seen the look on that teacher’s face. Grown man’s jaw drops at a little Salvadorian girl who calls him a racist.
I gave a light-skinned Bolivian boy in my class a lovenote for Valentine’s Day in 4th grade. He said he was saving his first kiss for a girl with blue eyes.
“Racist,” I mumbled incoherently.
That boy was pissed. He threw all his pens and paper off his desk . “I am not a racist!” he shouted. “I AM NOT!” he said louder when I didn’t look back at him.
Just by standing there, just by having mumbled it to myself, just barely loud enough to be heard by others, just by not turning around when he said “I’m not” – he knew he was. It was more insidious that arguing. I was proof, my mumble. It was truth.
No single word has ended more friendships or caused more violence in my life than calling a white person a racist, no matter how quietly I said it.
At the end of college, I moved to Berlin, Germany. My group of younger, still-in-college white girlfriends – by all appearances the best friends I ever had, disowned me over a discussion about whether or not renaming the street our college was on was acceptable. They were renaming the street “Cesar Chavez Avenue” from “39th”. There was commotion, even a racist article one of them wrote attacking the very idea that the street could be named such a thing. I was shocked my crazy white girlfriends, who had just pooled money to send me to Berlin when I could not afford a ticket, would suddenly be throwing around hate speech and racist rhetoric so blatantly.
And for the first time, I was forced to use the word against people I loved: “You guys,” I had to say, “You’re being racist.”
You have never seen a group of white girls drop a friend quicker I guaran-fucking-tee you.
When I moved back to the states, two years later, to Portland, where I went to college, these girls, these racists, started a petition to have me trespassed from my alma mater. Because I had called them racists. I had to meet with the head of campus security in order to gain access to my former campus, a campus that had cost me a whopping $65K a year to attend, the loans of which I am still and forever chained to. And the white man in charge of campus security gave me a lecture about calling people racists. If I thought the campus and my college was racist, he made it clear, I would be trespassed. “No calling people racist,” – Head of Campus Security, Reed College.
I agreed, to get onto to campus. I even brought a white ally with me to nod and later ridicule the campus security guard with. What a fucking moron. What a racist!
He was still a racist, even if I didn’t get to say it within ear shot of him. Racist!
What an idiot, to have been afraid of such a tiny word that described him and his family so perfectly.
It occurred to me after my short return to the campus that the resources there were not really apt for me as a woman of colour, as a survivor, as a poor person. It occurred to me that maybe I should be barring them from my life instead of vice versa. Reed College is racist, anyone who participates and perpetuates its racist curriculum and abuse of the indebted students is racist. The institution is trespassed from my existence. I will never support it, never visit it, never attend any of its events. I will never willingly give them personal information and feel insulted to have my diploma from such a racist institution. By saying this publicly, I am risking my educational future. But that’s okay, because I have something important to say: the institution is racist and it sucks and it’s failing its students by attracting and breeding more racists.
Such a tiny word, so much power. I’m almost worried right now writing this, the campus security guards will break into my apartment and confiscate my diploma. Some trustee will find me and take my degree away from me. You know, if the word is that powerful, so be it. If I lost my BA in English and Creative Writing because I called into question the ethics of the institution I attended, that degree is worthless. If professors won’t write me recommendations to get my MFA, I’ll call them racist too. I might not get into graduate school, but you are a racist, because I sure as fuck am talented, at the very least just as talented as the white boys you’ve written beaming recommendations for.
And let’s be honest, I’m going to write anyway.