“Dr. Fulks, you know I’d do anything in the world for my Belle,” Mrs. Arrington offers with a solemn expression. As if on cue, the little Teacup Yorkie on the exam table dances up on two legs to receive a hefty dose of ear scratches and muzzle kisses from her owner.
“I know you would,” my wife, the vet, smiles as she hands Mrs. Arrington a rather expensive heart medication. “You always have.” Laura gives Belle a loving pat on the rear. “This sweet little thing is lucky to have you.”
And she is, too.
Without a doubt, that animal receives better care, love and attention than most humans I know. Diagnosed with a sneaky heart condition several months ago, Belle is now doing great, and her heart seems to be responding well to Laura’s veterinary care.
After receiving medication instructions, Mrs. Arrington stows the tiny fluffball into a bedazzled crate, which she carries out to her car and secures into the backseat with a seatbelt and several pillows.
As I watch Mrs. Arrington drive away, I’m again reminded of the tender affection so many of our clients give their pets. However, I have never seen an owner hand a pet the keys to the car and expect them to drive home.
That would just be silly. Pets can’t drive.
“Do you know how racist that is?”
My friend looks at me as if I’ve just slapped her across the face, and I immediately regret the harsh tone in my accusation.
Pointing out someone’s racism is probably best done with some delicate tact if you really want them to consider the charge. However, even a gentle suggestion of “you’re racist” comes chained to a host of unspoken attacks, such as … hateful … ignorant … selfish … horrible person!
“I,” my friend stabs a protesting finger at me, “am NOT racist!” Then, in the sing-song drawl of our Appalachian dialect, she completes her defensive stand. “I like ‘em!”
To be honest, I can’t find the words to respond to that complicated declaration.
That conversation (which took place several years ago) continues to humor and haunt me (mostly because my friend is, indeed, a very loving, caring individual). However, her defiant statement reveals the perverse lifeblood still flowing from our peculiar past.
Almost always, we equate racism with hate. However, that’s too simplistic. Just as my dear friend clearly stated, many racist attitudes are more complex and harder to remedy because they’re often twisted up with good intentions.
I am NOT racist! I like ‘em!
For a moment, consider your most beloved pet, Diogi. You feed Diogi the best food you can afford; take him for walks twice a day and regular veterinary visits; you even skip nights out with friends so you can purchase Diogi’s heartworm and flea meds. That animal gets the best of everything, because you love Diogi.
One evening you’re settling down with Diogi to watch Animal Planet, and there comes a knock at the door. You open it, and a stranger jams a finger at you and screams, “You hate that dog and want it to die, don’t you!”
Can you imagine?
Friends, this is exactly how some of our white friends and neighbors feel when we point out their racism. They’re dumbstruck by the mere suggestion, and the defenses are raised.
Mrs. Arrington loves Belle. She wants the best for Belle, and she will do whatever it takes to ensure Belle’s health and comfort. She could never hate Belle or her breed. However, Mrs. Arrington still holds a deep belief that Belle is less than human.
Likewise, much of America’s racial injustice is kept alive by well-meaning whites who regard people of color much like Mrs. Arrington sees her beloved Belle.
You can care about people while carrying racism in your heart, and that’s problematic.
I’m not racist! I like ‘em!
History students recall the Age of Imperialism, when European nations fought to expand their global footprints throughout Asia and Africa. Fueled by a White Man’s Burden and carried out beneath the banner of white superiority, Europeans sought to deliver civilization to the world’s poor, ignorant savages.
For many, it became a noble—even Christian—endeavor to care for the ones Europeans regarded as being lesser sorts of humans. In short, their care for other people was a deformed type of love … and it was racist to the core. Many European imperialists saw dark-skinned foreigners just as we see our pets.
Sadly, that same, disturbing heartbeat still pumps its poison through the veins of America’s cities and towns.
I’m NOT racist! I like ‘em!
Dear ones, no matter how much you care about someone’s wellbeing, no matter to what extent you’re willing to express your loving heart, you’d do well to recognize when your noble intentions are crated up in good ol’ fashioned, bedazzled, imperialistic racism.
As a white, middle-class American male, I would be lying if I said I don’t wrestle with racist attitudes. It’s no easy task to unswallow hundreds of years of racial poison, but I am trying so very hard, and I suppose it will take me a lifetime to become a better man.
I’m okay with admitting that. Confessing my racism doesn’t make me an awful, hateful person. It just means I’m someone who wants my heart to be healed.
Perhaps that’s exactly where we should begin … with the simple acknowledgement that racism isn’t always fueled by hate, that it—in fact—can exist in a loving, caring heart. But that heart is touched by an illness and requires some attention.
Perhaps the first step toward healing is peeling back the layers of our own bedazzled emotions and good intentions so we can see the truth for what it is.
Racism sometimes has nothing to do with hate, and that can make for a deadly disease that’s hard to diagnose and even harder to cure.
If we could all just admit we’re sick animals and in need of a good vet …
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