We got offended when our friends accused us of only dating good-looking boys. “Are you calling me superficial!!? He’s a great guy who just happens to be handsome. That’s not what I noticed about him!”
That’s a lie, though. The fact he’s good looking was the first thing we noticed about them. But it doesn’t make the rest of it untrue. You saw how handsome he was. Maybe it made you want to talk to him. But that’s not the primary reason why you became a boyfriend-girlfriend.
Race is like that. And it doesn’t make you a racist.
Some of us – in fact, almost all of us – are conditioned to classify people upon first sight. “Tall,” “well-dressed,” “slightly overweight,” “scar.” And definitely the race. “Asian,” “white,” “black.” Within white people, we then divide them into blonde, brunette, redhead, and died hair colours. Olive skins, regular white people, and translucent.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. My best friend is Indian (she doesn’t like being called “East Indian”). If someone asked me to describe her when I first met her, that would have been the first thing I’d have said. “She’s East-Indian-Canadian, short statue with a beautiful brown complexion, a pretty face, big eyes, a brown curly hair and a slight hook on the nose but the cute kind.”
After three weeks, I would not have described her like that unless I needed to find her in a crowd. (If it were the case, I’d be in trouble. With her being about 5′, there would be no way to find her in a crowd.) I’d have said “She’s positive, smart, and extremely supportive. She’s helpful and loving. She’s got your back. She’s stoic. She enjoys sarcasm and jabs but doesn’t know the rhythm. She can’t carry a tune, but everyone enjoys listening to her because she’s so joyful.” It would never occur to me that I should mention she’s brown.
What makes you a racist is, though, if your first impression of them is a racial stereotype. What makes you a malignant, toxic racist is if your permanent impression of that person is a stereotype.
“I met Mayako. Because she is Japanese, she’s obedient to men.” This is racist-lite. Forgive yourself. Allow yourself to not feel so much shame. Just recognize it and adjust accordingly to where you want to see yourself.
“I’ve known Mayako for years. Because she’s Japanese, she’s obedient to men.” “I haven’t met Mayako, but because she’s Japanese, she’s certainly obedient to men.” “I’ve known Mayako for years, and she isn’t really obedient to men. She couldn’t possibly be Japanese like she says.” Now, this is bona fide racism.