Perspectives on Race & Racism #12: Kyle, The Curious Librarian

We need to have a conversation about race.

How would you describe yourself?

Kyle: White, mid-western, small town protestant upbringing who’s now a liberal New Yorker.

What frustrates you the most about racism and/or racists?
Kyle: When other white people take me into confidence, as if we’re on the same team, and try to point out an us vs. them thing (where us = good and them = not). For example: “you know how they are”, “I don’t need to be politically correct with you”… etc.”  Of course, what follows is usually completely racist.

The two that bug me most are “I’m not racist, but… [insert racist statement here]” and “Well, you know there are black people and then there are niggers”.

It not only drives home the point that there are still a lot of racist views, but deflates my impression of this person that may have been an acquaintance or sometimes even a friend.

Name: Kyle
Birth Decade: 1970s
Race: White
Ethnicity: Both sides of family have lived in the U.S. (or former colonies) for many generations, but mother’s side from Germany, Father’s side from Scotland.
Hometown: Ossining, New York + Chicago, Illinois + Ohio

Is there anything else you’re curious about regarding race/culture?

Kyle: I’m a librarian… I’m curious about everything! Nothing specific. 

Growing up, to what extent did your family educate you about your race and/or other races?
Kyle: Very little. There were very few non-white people where I grew up.

How regularly/often do you engage in conversations about race?
Kyle: I talk about race fairly often.  My wife and I are concerned about social issues, including how race / culture affect our world, plus we both enjoy learning about cultures and all kinds of different things.

Would you prefer to engage in these conversations more often or less often?
Kyle: More often, but baby now takes up most of our time!

How would you define racism?
Kyle: Well, that’s certainly a complicated question.  Let’s see… Yes, racism involves prejudice against another race, but what is race?  Really, it’s a socially constructed term that’s only been around for a few hundred years, right?

So, I suppose racism goes beyond mere prejudice and involves power and the systems in place to maintain that power.  That, of course, doesn’t mean all white people are racist on an individual level or all non-white people are not– although we all have our prejudices.  A poor and incomplete definition?… probably.

“I suppose racism goes beyond mere prejudice and involves power and the systems in place to maintain that power.  That, of course, doesn’t mean all white people are racist on an individual level or all non-white people are not– although we all have our prejudices.”

Does race matter?
Kyle: Yes, because it still matters in the hearts and minds of many people throughout the world.  Although race is ultimately a human construct, grouping different people based on mostly skin color is a deeply ingrained thing that is not easily dismissed.  Therefore, I believe we need to continue to talk about it and acknowledge how race affects many things, both at an individual level and systemically, especially in the U.S.

Does everyone in your immediate family feel the same way about race? If not, why don’t you think so?
Kyle: Yes, meaning my wife and me (and baby?).  No, if you count my parents.  My parents look at race more of an individual choice… you either choose to view race or not.  Therefore, success is brought about by hard work and personal choice, not handouts.

Choosing to like someone depends on their actions as opposed to things beyond their control (although what’s considered ‘normal’ or ‘proper’ tend to skew toward white protestant views). If you were to ask them, they would say they don’t judge people by race and that’s true on an individual level.

They are good people, but it’s sometimes hard for them to see the racism that is present in our society when they don’t experience it personally.  My wife and I tend to look at systematic racism, as well, which we believe affects many people without a specific person saying “I hate because you are x or y”.   Systemic racism can sometimes be more damaging than overt racism.  But back to the question…  I think ‘why’ maybe it comes down to exposure and how much you interact with people of another race/culture.

My parents look at race more of an individual choice… you either choose to view race or not.  Therefore, success is brought about by hard work and personal choice, not handouts.

Choosing to like someone depends on their actions as opposed to things beyond their control….

Systemic racism can sometimes be more damaging than overt racism.

If you’ve ever been treated differently because of your race/culture, can you describe any/all relevant situation(s)?
Kyle: I don’t think I consciously became aware of being treated any differently until I was in my 20’s.  Once able to see ‘white privilege’ for what it is, I could look back and see a number of times.  One example that stands out to me is, after having been laid off, I was eventually able to find a temp to (potentially) perm job.

Another person that was hired had previously worked at the same company as me in a similar department.  I remember toward the end of our contract she asked me (politely, as a friend) how much I made.  Although we were virtually identical experience-wise, she was making quite a bit less than me.  She was also a woman and African-American.

It was something that really upset me, but she wasn’t surprised. These and many other experiences really brought home just how differently people are (still) treated.

When (if ever) did you first realize that your race and/or cultural identity mattered?
Kyle: I guess in college through discussions with non-white friends.  There were a lot of things I ‘had no idea’ of that seemed common sense to people who had had different experiences.  Growing up in a predominately white area with a predominately white mainstream culture kind of insulated me from a lot of things.  This made for some frustration on their part and confusion on mine as we learned about each other.

In your educational experiences, did you learn anything about race? If so, what did you learn? What resonated with you?
Kyle: A few college classes taught me a little about race.  Science showed that humans are far more similar than outward appearance.   History classes on various countries or cultures gave me a different viewpoint on looking at the world.  I guess what resonated was just the fact that, oh hey… there’s a lot of diversity in the world and that’s not a bad thing.

To what extent do you discuss issues of race the same way they were discussed when you were growing up? Why or why not?
Kyle: Well, my 7 mo. old daughter doesn’t talk yet, so we haven’t discussed anything outside of grunts and squeals … but my wife and I have.  Since my daughter will grow up mixed-race (part white American, part Dominican [which means by default part Spanish, part African, part indigenous, and more]) she will not be in the same situation I was growing up.

We want to bring up race at a very early age by a.) exposing her to many different cultures, which is easy for us due to our family and group of friends and b.) talking about uncomfortable things that happen  to her (or may happen), in the news, etc.   My parents never really discussed race and it didn’t much come up, since there were very few non-white people in our area.  The first time I remember it coming up was when we were assigned a new pastor, who was black.  My parents had no problem with it, but were a little uncomfortable, if I recall.

Is there anything you’d like to share (regarding race/racism) about your home country?
Kyle:
I, as stated, am not from a different country, but I would like to point out what I’ve noticed in my wife’s country of Dominican Republic, since there are some similarities to here.

*Please keep in mind that this is my impression based on things I’ve seen and heard, and I don’t want to overstep.

For example, many conservatives don’t want Haitian immigrants coming over and taking jobs although the jobs they take are often menial and / or exploitative.  There is also a kind of underlying racism, not just against Haitians, but darker skin is not viewed as positively as lighter skin although most Dominicans have at least some, if not majority, African descent.  Things are perhaps not as blatant or structured as here, but it’s there.

“Yes [race still matters], because it still matters in the hearts and minds of many people throughout the world.  Although race is ultimately a human construct, grouping different people based on mostly skin color is a deeply ingrained thing that is not easily dismissed.  Therefore, I believe we need to continue to talk about it and acknowledge how race affects many things, both at an individual level and systemically, especially in the U.S.”

“The enduring hope is that race should not matter; the reality is that too often it does.” –Justice Anthony Kennedy in a prior ruling
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Thanks so much, Kyle! I appreciate you.

Author: Anj.

Hi! I'm Anj. Thanks for visiting my page. I'm an aspiring writer, former teacher, and Houston native. I've worked in education for more than 15 years. This blog was inspired by (1) my first year teaching experiences and (2) my lovely student loan debt. Feel free to connect if you'd like to share a story about race, power, or privilege.