On a recent Jimmy Fallon show, Dr. Robin DiAngelo suggested that white people should not ask, “Am I racist?” Instead, we should ask, “How have I been shaped by racism?” Here’s my response.

In graduate school, I was a teaching assistant in a class called, “The Role of Religion in African-American Culture.” I was stunned to realize it was the first time in 18 years of education that I was reading books written by black authors.

How could that be? And how could that not reinforce the notion that what black people had to say was of little value?

For the first time, I saw the whiteness of TV shows, movies, and books in my world. I had been imprinted: whites were important, and blacks were inferior.

Another mind-bending class I took in graduate school was “Feminist Theology.” I felt empowered to learn women had been important in early Christianity but were later written out of the story. I was shocked to see religion has been misused to control women. Belief in a male God makes men important and women inferior.

When I shared these feminist discoveries, I was disappointed by the defensiveness I encountered among many men. They generally didn’t think women’s issues had anything to do with them. That’s why most men do not read books written by women, and most boys will not go to movies with girl leads.

But wait … I resent men’s lack of interest, but I hadn’t sought out books or movies about blacks, had I? Men preserve their advantage in society … and so do whites. Aha. My experience as a woman in a man-dominated world awakened me to what people of color experience in a white-dominated world.

This realization didn’t free me of racism, but it started me on the path of recovery. I offer this to you because I think the more we can connect our own experiences of feeling less than others — whether by race, gender, education, ability, sexuality, etc. — the more we can heal and enact laws to create a fair society.

Sue Piha

Oak Park

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