Lately I’ve been seeing many articles casting blame on white Americans. People will sometimes put racism on all white people in America. I’ve heard different variations of why this is, from “racism is only for those in power,” to “you are racists because of systemic racism”, to “being white means you are racist”.
I’m not going to argue with those points. Instead, I would like to reframe how we think about racism.
Racism is a Sliding Scale
Like how sexuality, gender, or light are all considered a spectrum, I argue that racism is a sliding scale.
Think of soda (a.k.a, “pop”). Despite how unhealthy it is, the majority of us have tasted pop. Yet, we don’t have the same amount of guilt around it as we do racism. It just exists. Many of us drink it, and it’s an incredibly hard habit to break.
Racism works the same way.
Through this article, I will be connecting famous pop brands to different stages of racism.
When you know it’s bad and you just don’t care
The first step of the “sliding scale” can be seen in “Mountain Dew,” or “Energy” drinks. It’s a bit rare to see someone who is an avid drinker of these products and proud of it. Most often that person is a kid, addicted or incredibly defensive. Why? Because we all know these drinks are terrible for you (even in low quantities).
The first version of this can be seen in, “Mountain Dew,” or “Energy” drinks. It’s a bit rare to see someone who is an avid drinker of these products and proud of it. Most often that person is a kid, addicted or incredibly defensive. Why? Because we all know these drinks are terrible for you (even in low quantities).
The question is, will they stop? Probably not. Why? Because it “tastes good”, “it’s fine”, “they are different and can handle it”.
These drinks are filled with negative consequences and frowned upon by society. Yet, many people drink it daily. The folks that drink these are in so deep that they are ok with it. There is little an outsider can do to get them to change their mind.
It’s the same for Coke and Pepsi
Many of us drink a standard dark, sugary soda. It doesn’t matter if it’s Coke, Pepsi or BIG K: It’s not good for you. There have been studies upon studies about how bad it is.
Yet, these drinks are just a part of everyday life in America. They are in our alcoholic drinks, our airports, our hotel rooms, our marinades. They’re everywhere, and we are expected to drink them.
Years ago, I stopped drinking dark sodas. I was surprised to find that people got upset at me for choosing not to drink the. They thought that I was judging them with my choice, that I was fighting the status quo and making things difficult for no reason. My attempt at being a better person highlighted something they knew they should also change, but didn’t want to.
Sometimes, peoples’ anger with me wore off with exposure. While spending more time with me, they would decrease the amount they drank coke. Sometimes they would even stop drinking it too.
This is standard racism.
Then, there is Coke Zero. Do you like being able to drink your coke while feeling like you are better because at least it’s free of calories and sugar?
Coke Zero drinkers remind me of the performative woke people in my life. They act like they are better than other people because of their labels or aesthetic, but at the end of the day, they are still drinking coke.
On one hand these people care about the bad affects of racism. Still, they don’t care enough to be uncomfortable. They aren’t interested in changing their taste, their comfort, to be better. They will only act better if it is convenient to them.
I see this all the time in my life, people trying to be better but never really going out of their way to be uncomfortable. The people in my life who read books and blogs (irony is not lost on me) but still haven’t walked into a soul food restaurant, are confused by BLM, and have mostly white friends, seem to have missed the point. Sure it’s better than the Mountain Dew people, who actively and aggressively defend their poor choices. Still, it’s not great.
Coke Zero racism is a stepping stone towards being better, but it isn’t the end.
Unlike Coke Zero, people who drink Diet Coke are more comfortable being a little uncomfortable. They know that their coke isn’t the same as the full coke, but unlike the Coke Zero people, they are not in denial about it.
Unfortunately a lot of the people who drink Diet Coke feel like they have done “enough” to confront their sugar addiction. They say things like, “It’s not coke.” “It’s “harmless.” “It’s better.” All the while still being unwilling to see that even Diet Coke isn’t particularly good for you. It beats out coke, but that was a low bar to begin with.
When I was growing up in Ohio, I compared the racism of the majority of people to Diet Coke or Coke Zero. It’s not that most people in Ohio are clearly hateful. They are just unwilling to be uncomfortable for a variety of reasons.
No one wants to stop drinking coke. People will do whatever they can to still get the perks. Majority of people aren’t willing to lose Diet Coke, even though they know it’s what they should do.
“Its Just Easier”
It’s easy for Diet Coke racists to stay comfortable. Due to the Diet Coke racists in my life, I’ve grown comfortable with a low bar of what I thought people around me were willing to give up to do the right thing.
As an adult, my low bar means I often have more patience for conversations about race than others. However, I also know that – like talking about the unhealthy effects of pop – discussions about racism involve a mindset shift. Just as pop drinkers need to recognize why their drinks are bad for them in order to stop drinking, racists need to believe that racism exists – and make a change – to be the good person they want to be.
People who are open to discussions are those whose minds and actions can be changed.
So, how can I stop drinking pop?
Regularly break your distorted vision of life. no matter how uncomfortable it is.
Hear about the reality of racism. Listen to stories from friends, family, and media until it’s undeniable.
Diet Coke racists often want to be good. The key is to hold them to that goal. Like weaning yourself off of sugary drinks, however, it’s not easy and will be a long process. It will be so easy to go back at first, to do what is easy and familiar. If you stick it out long enough, though, it will become self-fulfilling. Even if they choose to slide and try for that old comfort one day, it will only sicken them.
Most people who stop drinking soda don’t keep with it to make others feel bad for drinking it, but because their body no longer needs it; the excessive sugar is no longer pleasant. The same happens with racism: Once you open your eyes to see it, you can never un-see it. Once you get used to not having it, you won’t actually want it again.
The Sliding Scale of Racism
When we lump everyone into the same category, it alienates people. Saying “everyone is racist” is ok for shorthand. However, to cause real change, you have to know who you are talking to. The people that are most likely to change want to be good people, but need to be taken out their comfort zone. They need to stop thinking they have done “enough” just because they aren’t hateful.
Many black folk who are too tired, too angry, to do this work, which is understandable. For that reason, I challenge our allies to do so.
If you aren’t sure how to get started, be sure to stick around. Friends don’t let friends be racist.