Whenever I hear these words I get ready for the elephant sized shoe to drop. Not because I think that person is horrible but because of the "but". There is nothing that can come after, "I'm not racist..but" that isn't racist, at least in some way.
The FLOTUS advocates drinking one extra glass of water per day. The first thing you hear is, "I'm not racist but..."
"She doesn't need to tell me what to do! Why is the first lady in our business?!"
"I already drink water but her words make me just want to drink a soda instead..."
A new Miss America of east Indian descent was crowned. You hear,"I'm not racist, but..."
"Shouldn't Miss Kansas whose a marine, has tattoos and hunts have won instead?"
"This isn't Miss India, this is Miss America!"
"Miss Kansas would have represented OUR values..."
"A terrorist for Miss America?! That muslim isn't even American!"
See, the long heavy sigh inducing I'm not racist...but phrase is suspect because the person is coming from a place of discomfort about something that is obviously racially motivated, and they want to hide from or justify that fact to themselves. Now that American institutions are starting to look like a part of urban and suburban America, a certain subset of the population who did not think of themselves as outwardly racist are showing their own personal feelings of discomfort at the new status quo. I've felt this discomfort as a black woman dealing with new cultures in America and overseas. But, see...that's MY problem, not theirs. Other races aren't usurping my job or space in society; they are just living like I am and competing for the same things I want. I just have to adapt, which is what I did and am doing.
A powerful black woman can advocate healthy living and a woman of Indian ancestry can symbolize beauty, poise and elocution. We should be rejoicing that the country is now starting to look like what the founding fathers overarching original intent was for this American experiment. A place all could come regardless of class, economic background, religion or culture. A place where if you worked hard, you could become a Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet or, better yet...Oprah.
I encourage those who use the words, "I'm not racist but..." to look into their hearts and see why they need to put those qualifying words in front of their statements. It's not racist to admit your discomfort with race. That's called being a normal human being. It is racist to ignore those feelings and blame the person you are speaking about for some imaginary problem that you made up to cover your discomfort. An Indian-American woman winning Miss America over a blond marine is uncomfortable for some, but that has nothing to do with the participants or the contest. A Black First Lady talking about health issues is something that all first ladies do; Laura Bush touted literacy and and Nancy Reagan said, say no to drugs. It's time to own up to and move through our own personal discomforts so that we can move past these non-issues and just get onto arguing about stuff like normal people....