Annie Fox for Teens... Hey, Terra!

Annie (AKA Hey Terra!) has been around long enough to have experienced a lot of what Life can dish out. But, it hasn’t been so long that she's forgotten what it's like to be your age. Check out some of the thousands of email questions teens from around the world have sent to Terra. You may learn something useful from her answers:

Me, Myself, and I:
“Am I a racist?”

Hey Terra,

I worry sometimes if I'm racist or not. I'm a white male, with blonde hair, so I'm guilty of being "at the top of the prejudice chain." I have several friends who are black, though, and they're pretty cool. Just, I kinda feel like racism, in and of itself, is WAY overused as a no-no, where if someone slips up and says something racist, then they are ridiculed, yelled-at and called "evil" and "despicable" for "spewing" racist "bile."

I definitely don't want to be that person. I love other cultures and peoples. But I feel guilty, since some things annoy me about other cultures. Like islands in the Pacific, and places in Africa and Southeast Asia I think make really ugly masks, and their music sounds like hitting a baby with a rattlesnake.

And the most shameful of shame: I tend to think that girls with a pale complexion are more attractive to me, for some reason.

So, what do you think? Should I put on a pointy white robe and burn a cross? I don't want to. I've noticed that out of my own fear, I've gone around and picked on people I suspected of being racists, accusing them when I was the one afraid. So here are the major points

  • I love diversity, but some things about really exotic cultures annoy me.
  • I tend to think pale girls are pretty.
  • I used to accuse others of being racist, but don't anymore.

Not a Racist

Dear Not a Racist,

You're certainly a very thoughtful individual... And I admire your attempts to understand your own motivations and actions.

Here's what I think -- in our culture it is impossible to grow up without some racist attitudes. Of course, some people are overtly racist and proud of it. But most of us are well-meaning people who've been tainted by racial prejudices. Where does that come from? From our history, attitudes of our parents, grandparents, etc., and, of course, from the media. Everyone in America is tainted (to one degree or another). Mistrust between races and ethnicities exists.

You believe that your "annoyance" with some aspects of other cultures is a sign of racism. I don't agree. People have different tastes in music, food, clothing... That's all surface stuff. Suppose you're a white American of Irish descent. Does that mean if you don't like Irish music or Irish soda bread that you are prejudiced against your own ancestors? Ridiculous! So why assume that if you don't embrace every aspect of someone else's culture that you're a racist?

Your attraction to "pale skin" girls is your own personal thing. It may mean that you don't find dark skin people "attractive" to you, but does that mean that you wouldn't engage a dark skinned person in a conversation with the respect he or she deserves? Some people are turned on by curly hair, some love full-bodied figures, etc. etc. The variations of appearance among humans is very wide, but is what you're attracted to the best measure of whether you're a racist? I don't think so.

If you believe that you are superior to others or that they, by the very fact of belonging to a certain race must have certain emotional or intellectual attributes... that's racist. In other words, if you don't judge people as individuals and can only see them as African American or Asian or Pacific Islander or whatever... Then I'd say you have some serious blinders on. And that's what racism is.

As for your last point, it's good not to be pointing fingers at anyone else.

Like I said to begin with, to one degree or another, all people have some racist attitudes (whether they're aware of them or not). The more willing you are to explore your own feelings (and by all means read up on the history of racism) the more likely you are to treat people as human beings, not labels.

Your thoughts?

In friendship,


Need some advice? Write to Terra. She'll give you a straight answer you can trust without any lectures.

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