I claim that I'm not racist, sexist, homophobic, or the perpetuator of any other disgusting social behavior. I can claim it in the sense that I have ceased to express these behaviors overtly. I don't participate in racist jokes and I'm not hateful or physically abusive to women nor do I poke fun of GLBTQ people. I don't do these things overtly and intentionally.
Still. I grew up in a world where the story and culture that influenced my life was steeped in racist, sexist, homophobic assumptions and behaviors. These and other marginalizing, hateful, dehumanizing narratives shaped my life in profound and significant ways. For years these things have spurred my biological and emotional reactions, they served as mechanisms to maintain and utilize my own power, and were effective conversation capital for social navigation.
I tell my kids of the terrible and atrocious consequences of adopting these exclusive narratives. I get it. I do that. I'm a very committed ally and speak out against injustices against people who are victims of systemic oppression. What scares me is that I am often unaware of the subconscious, unintentional reactions and assumptions that emerge in my behavior. What happens when I am in the heat of the moment and my kids hear me invalidate their mother's voice and opinion as if it doesn't matter or that her experience doesn't count? Do they hear a different tone in my voice when I speak of my gay and lesbian friends? Do I try too much to overcompensate for my previous homophobia that it emerges in a patronizing posture? Do they notice the incongruences between my speech of anti-racism and where we actually live and who we actually hang out with? Is my ally talk just another reach for power, an unconscious compensation that winds up undermining what I'm theoretically trying to be?
This complexity scares me. It bothers me deeply. It frightens me that what I want to be may not be who I actually am when other eyes start to break it down and see for themselves. Do the women I work with feel the same way as I do about how I relate to them? Do my friends who are different in sexual orientation or ethnicity see my behaviors the same way as they are theoretically intended? Could my wife call bullshit? My kids? My coworkers?
My fear is that on certain hours and on certain days they could. That's what scares me.