My Name Is Ed. I’m a Racist

Alcoholics Anonymous knows that recovery requires acknowledging one’s illness; denial cripples recovery. What follows isn’t about drinking, but about a more cunning disease. Before I say more, I want to introduce myself: “My name is Ed. I’m a racist.”

No, I’m not flaunting my bigotry, nor succumbing to guilt. I’m acknowledging that I’ve been deeply conditioned by a society permeated with racism. For a white person raised in the U.S., racism recovery demands persistent mindfulness. It’s the task of a lifetime.

Admitting you’re an alcoholic is hard; likewise admitting to racism. Conveniently, our standard notion of racism features behavior we avoid. We “know” we’re not racist because we shun ethnic slurs; we wince at the N-word.

The flipside of this (necessary but insufficient) standard is our widely held, but rarely examined, notion of anti-racism. Again, we “know” we’re anti-racist because, in my case for example, back in the eighties we organized against South African apartheid. Or because recently we contributed to Haiti earthquake relief.

But such notions of racism/anti-racism don’t go deep enough. It takes work to fathom racism’s breadth and subtlety and to perceive the social and economic forces fostering the de facto segregation that warps our social fabric.

Equally essential, we must recognize and resist the racism pervading U.S. foreign policy. The Pentagon’s current military adventures – whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia — were foreshadowed, in the 19th century, by relentless Indian wars and by U.S. invasions of Mexico and the Philippines.

Financed by federal income taxes, this generations-old war machine has never had much use for the lives of peoples of color. It’s no accident that its numerous invasions and interventions invariably target non-white people.


In my first 14 years of school I had only two black classmates; despite over 18 years of schooling I never had a black teacher. I was 19 before I had a personal conversation with a black person. My early college days were spent in a lovely ivy enclave set off by walls and rent-a-cops from the black and brown ghetto at its gate.

Demoralized by the irrelevance of my courses, I dropped out. Thanks not only to family connections, but also to the sixties building boom in my hometown, I could work construction. In Syracuse’s 15th Ward, “urban renewal” drove thousands of blacks out of what was becoming prime real estate. The forced relocation demolished a vibrant black ghetto.

Despite that boom, few blacks could break into the construction trades; there wasn’t a single black in our union local. None of us challenged the arrangement. Forty-five years later not much has changed here: few black contractors can bid on even modest building jobs.

It’s no wonder that in the early eighties when I hitchhiked through South Africa, it seemed like home. And last spring when I spent a month in Israel and the Occupied Territories, that European colony also felt like home. [See my July ’09 Peace Newsletter article, “Life in the Bubble: At Home in the Israeli Settler State.”]

Basic to these segregated societies and to our militarism is what poet Adrienne Rich calls solipsism. In philosophy solipsism is the theory that the self is the only reality: you exist only as a figment of my imagination.

Rich speaks, in particular, of white solipsism: a cultural egoism, which assumes — quite unconsciously — that only white history or discovery or suffering or interests have merit and standing. Most white folks — whether in South Africa or Israel or here — grow up in white neighborhoods going to white schools and consuming white-controlled media. This is how we internalize white “reality.”

For many of us the solipsism that denies or demeans or destroys did not originate with racism. It began, historically and personally, before we were exposed to ethnic diversity. While being molded for roles defined by gender, boys acquire the parallel male solipsism of a patriarchal culture. Sexism precedes racism, grinding the lens that makes our racist outlook second nature. Sexist behavior provides an ongoing rehearsal for our racist performance.

When we were young we had little control over our enculturation and so weren’t to blame for such tunnel vision. But now that we’re grown, we are responsible for the kinds of callousness and exclusivity we choose to honor. Many of us eagerly — or obliviously — float along the mainstream that invalidates the lives of people of color. Their labor and their living conditions, their needs and their pain, their gifts and their rights, are systematically negated, rendered invisible, rendered mute.


White solipsism helps explain the foreign policy double standard which regards only political violence aimed at whites as “terrorism.” Since World War II few whites have been victims of aerial warfare: no wonder few here see such warfare as the cowardly terrorism it is.

Although the pundits glibly link “terrorism” to Islam, they never call Congress or Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama terrorist when they squander billions invading Islamic oil lands or when (say) U.S. drone aircraft assassinate those resisting the invasion and occupation. Or when those unmanned drones kill civilians willy-nilly.

In the moral calculus of white America the tens — maybe hundreds — of thousands of slain Iraqis or Afghans barely exist. Even we who actively oppose U.S. militarism in West Asia and the Mid East often ignore the racism at its heart.

To overcome our “isms,” we could curb our over-consumption and our over-eager embrace of privilege. We could shed our patterns of exclusivity, bursting the bubble of self-reinforced segregation. We could withhold and re-direct our federal taxes – without which U.S. militarism would soon exhaust itself.

Through cross-cultural study and solidarity work we could better understand the human condition – especially that of the huge majority of our species who aren’t white, who aren’t affluent, who don’t blackmail the globe with aerial warfare and nuclear terror.

Ed served 14 months in federal prisons for his civil resistance against the SOA. More recently he has been one of the “Hancock 2,” the “Hancock 15,” the “Hancock 33,” and the “Hancock 38.” Reach him at: Read other articles by Ed.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on March 9th, 2010 at 10:56am #

    Yes, to racism. I come from croatia. I am also racist. Yes some selftalk does lessen it. Sayng seriously that i wldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for blackest afrikans, helps but does not cure me of the diseease. tnx

  2. An Individual said on March 9th, 2010 at 11:25am #

    The best cure to racism is to eschew the notion that people get their unalienable rights as members of groups. Treat each person as an individual instead of a member of some ethnic (racial) group, and you have begun to strike the root of racism (collectivism). No amount of government legislation will ever cure diseases of the heart (racism, sexism, etc.). In fact, it typically makes the problem worse, as collectivism only forces us into groups and pits those group against each other. Treat me as a member of a social or ethnic group, and you strip me of my individuality, and I’ll be resentful for it. I am a “black” person, but firstly I am an individual person with unique needs, wants, ideas, and so on.

  3. MichaelKenny said on March 9th, 2010 at 12:57pm #

    Don’t forget that racism is not just about skin colour and it’s not just about hating people. I never cease to be horrified by the, essentially colonial, master-race mentality which Americans show quite unself-conciously when “supporting” other countries or peoples. Americans seem to regard “foreignness” as a sort of mental disability, whose “sufferers” need to be protected from their own folly (which, of course; stems from their inherent inferiority and is not, therefore, their fault!). That explains a lot of American foreign poilcy. To shake off racism, Americans need to accept that they are merely the most spectacular product, and today, almost the last vestige, of the unmitigated evil that was European colonialism and not God’s gift to mankind. The realisation that, like the Germans in 1945, they have a “past” to deal with, would be a good first step.

  4. John Andrews said on March 10th, 2010 at 3:34am #

    I don’t think it’s accurate to equate racism with alcoholism, or other addictions – unless you’re ‘addicted’ to racism.

    As I grew up in colonial Africa I know a bit about racism, and for me my pre-pubescent racism was sort of absorbed from the atmosphere rather than taught – and once I was old enough to apply a little logic to the ‘normality’ of my surroundings my racism disappeared like my belief in Santa Claus. It was simply too stupid to be true.

    So unless you’re someone who secretly believes that racist views are correct but pretends they’re not in order to be acceptable to society, recovered racists are not really like recovered alcoholics – who always crave alcohol. Some of us simply grow up.

    Also I’m not sure that the US foreign policies are inherently racist – I think they’re more inherently classist. White elites have more in common with black elites than with white non-elites; and if they had to choose between having a drink with a black elite or a white non-elite would almost certainly buy a beer for the black guy.

    The appearance of racist foreign policies today is simply a product of our recent history where white people dominated world power – in other words the fact that foreign policy favours white races at the expense of brown ones is not because those races are brown, but because the brown races were relatively weak when the white races were busy infecting the planet – a power balance that still exists to this day.

  5. bozh said on March 10th, 2010 at 10:11am #

    Racism, lust for other peoples’ lands-riches, avarice, discrimination are all interwoven together along with ‘religions’, goddisms, classfulness, ‘education’ [by media and ‘schooling’].
    All of these ‘disciplines’ are mere parts of a whole. So, if u’r a racist u’r also covet, long for power-riches, look dwn on less powerful, turn to goddism [ a special case of discrimination-racism-science;i.e., studying unseen and unseeable phenomena].

    Can one be more racist-etc., than studying goddism and upon meeting people like american indigenes, who did not study it, declared them more primitive and less deserving on keeping living as they always had?

    Egyptians or copts were blacker than hebrews but hebrews were looked dwn on as nomadic herdspeople loking for a home.
    All this and we weren’t even stupid! Merely rendered stupid by priests with their studies of goddisms and other ‘science’.
    Welcome back to sargon’s days! tnx

  6. Tonyo said on March 12th, 2010 at 9:20am #

    There is no such thing as racism, it is straight up bigotry. Anatomically speaking, human beings organs, appendages, nervous systems, are all located in the same places regardless of ethnic or cultural origin. Is bigotry despicable,? of course it is and should not be tolerated.

    If an individual hates polish people only, they are bigoted toward the polish people only, not the entire human race. This is bigotry and prejudice and an overuse or bastardizing of the word racist or racism. I don’t care what the definition of racism is in any dictionary. Just like I don’t care if bushwacker, obamass, colin cancer powell take umbrage to my calling them murdering, lying, criminals for the empire. F**k Them and All Who Respect Them.

  7. Aesop said on March 13th, 2010 at 6:04pm #

    What a pointless article. You might as well have said “My name is Ed, and I’m a human being”, and then gone on about how evil you are.

    As another poster mentioned, the root of racism is that deep rooted human need to be a part of some collective or group. I guess “tribes” would be the best way of describing it. Once upon a time your and my ancestors relied on these close-knit bands of kin to survive in the wild, and being without a tribe would have been extremely hazardous to say the least.

    Fast forward to modern day, and times have changed but people have not. And so, even today, we all belong to one tribe or another, and by definition if you have trustworthy insiders you must have untrustworthy outsiders. The group dynamic ends up being the same as thousands of years ago; one group I’m willing to sacrifice and care for, the other I am not.

    You can see this at work in phenomena like nationalism, which attempts to enlarge this “family” group you would sacrifice for to one that is much, much larger, in that way getting you to care about people that you have little to no direct relationship (or even contact) with. Otherwise why should I care about something that happens to people thousands of kilometres away? (Ahh, they’re you’re brethren! Your fellow _______ brothers and sisters need your help! etc.)

    Being an “outsider” means by definition that you aren’t as valuable or important as the insiders, and from there it’s not much of a stretch to go from relatively benign banishment (some examples being when historical China and Japan banished foreign “barbarians” from their lands altogether) to outright extermination (examples are, sadly, too numerous to list).

    In my own cross-cultural study, I’ve noticed that every culture on the planet is teeming with bigotry of some sort or another, and that group dynamic I described is the reason for it. That’s why concepts of “white solipsism” are meaningless as the problem is best understood through how we identify ourselves through our group membership rather than through narrowly defined racism. Specifically, it’s not a problem of “white solipsism” ( or any *insert skin colour/ethnicity here* solipsism), but rather “group solipsism”; if we think our in-group is the best, than naturally we’re bound to think that its’ accomplishments or interests are the most important. And if you think about it, it just doesn’t make sense that a Chinese person, born and raised in China, would have anything but a Chinese-centric view on the world. Same goes for anyone else.

    Moving on, your point on political violence and whites is, frankly, absurd. “Since World War 2…” Why stop there? If you wanted an example that totally blows your point away, you just had to stretch a few more years back for one. In case you’ve forgotten, white people spent 6 years blowing the crap out of each other in world war 2, practically inventing mass aerial bombardment along the way. It was the same then 70 years ago as it is today; “they” are the “enemy”, therefore it’s okay if we bomb them and they die. No one thought or really cared that it was “cowardly terrorism” then, or now. It has little or nothing to do with racism.