What White People Say in Private

I grew up in the South and lived there over thirty years. Luckily, I took most of my moral guidance as a child from a mad man with a box and dodged the white-supremacist dogma I grew up around, but that racism was still ubiquitous and something I had to learn to navigate in situations I couldn’t avoid. Attempting to re-frame conversations and/or nudge them in different directions became second nature to me, though a second nature that was rarely effective or successful.

By the time I was in my 30s, I was well aware that nothing I said or did was going to make anyone see their racist ways, much less abandon them, so derailing a racist conversation was the best option available to me. One particular night I was stuck in a social event with a group of bigots and when the conversation came around to me, I told them I was a writer working on a book titled What White People Say in Private. They laughed for a half second, then stopped almost on cue, looked at me, looked at each other, then went back to a slightly more cynical laughter. One person half-jokingly said, “We better be careful what we say around him, guys!” Nothing I ever said had that effect on white people, so I knew I was on to something. Over the next few years I often used that phrase in similar situations to make racists just uncomfortable enough to keep their ignorance to themselves while I was around. I even toyed with actually writing a What White People Say in Private book until I joined Twitter and saw trolls saying everything I’d ever heard and worse.

The phrase and the idea never strayed far from my mind, and while a book on the subject wouldn’t reveal anything new under the sun, a blog category with occasional relevant posts could highlight specific incidents and allow people to see bigots at rest in their natural habitat. Opportunities for me to record this stuff will probably be few and far between, but keeping reading and I’ll keep passing along what I stumble upon.

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