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Kirby: Confessions of a white, male Mormon's battles with his inner racist

Published June 10, 2017 9:56 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The first time I ever felt discriminated against because of the color of my skin was in high school. I had a crush on a girl of another race. A serious crush, like she was all I could think about.

Things between Marsha and I never progressed beyond me walking with her to her next class. The only time I ever touched her was when I picked up one of her books, and then it took several days to recover my senses.

My infatuation did not go unnoticed. One day after school, her brothers "instructed" me to stay away. I wasn't fit to be anywhere near their sister, and they would be obliged to beat on me some more if I didn't keep my distance.

Initially I blamed reverse racism. I was white. Marsha was black. How dare they discriminate against me like that? Later, I learned that race wasn't the problem. Rather it was my widespread reputation for being a lout and a petty criminal. Mike and Tony wanted their sister dating up, not down.

So, I can't really say that I've been discriminated against because of my race. And, yes, I say this despite the fact that being male, white and Mormon is commonly used by some to profile me as an oppressor.

I have certainly been that. During the course of my life I've at times used the N-word, including in jest to some black friends. I've also said it casually and contemptuously. I've even used it to bother white people I didn't like, knowing how much it would shock and anger their politically correct sensibilities.

Note: If this doesn't prove that Mike and Tony were right about me, I don't know what would.

One of the ugly truths about my life is that I grew up racist. Like most Americans my age, it was part of my religious, scholastic, social and familial background. People of color were inferior. At best we acknowledged that it wasn't their fault, but they were still … well, a different color.

Despite all of that, I don't consider myself racist today. I claim this even though it probably isn't true. While I've never deliberately discriminated against blacks, most racism today is of the thoughtless kind.

It's not my fault that I'm white. It's something I take for granted, specifically that my life is easier by virtue of the fact that I'm in the decided majority. It makes it easier to discount or ignore the struggles of others.

I don't lord my race over people, but there are a lot of things I don't have to worry about because I'm white. I don't immediately stand out when I walk into a room — at least not until I open my mouth.

Yes, I've been judged on my appearance — long hair (stoner), sloppy dress (bum), short hair (narc), white shirt (Mormon). But these were all things I could change anytime I felt like it. Celebrity efforts to the contrary, you can't change your race.

The incident in high school is the only time I've ever wondered if I was singled out because of my race, and then it turned out I was wrong.

I don't know how to fix all this except to be aware of the negative influences in my history, like the color white representing purity and the color black representing sin.

I've been around. I know that if there is a color that represents true sin these days, it has to be UDOT orange.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.






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