Many people, especially when they're young, absorb the ideas that are around them, but once you get older you have a responsibility to seek the truth and dispel oppressive ideology.
Here are some people sharing how they changed their racist beliefs.
Many thanks to the Redditors who responded. You can check out more answers from the source at the end of this article.
1. I used to be super racist, sexist, homophobic, the whole nine yards. Growing up I was kind of an entitled jerk, and once I started getting a platform (I worked on the yearbook and later the high school newspaper) I started getting really bad.
I distinctly remember writing a movie review for Inception where I said that "even Black people" could enjoy the movie (I assumed that they would get offended or something idk I was an idiot). I almost reacted violently when I found out that a girl I had a major crush on was actually MTF transgender.
It wasn't until I started realizing that I might be transgender that some understanding started to seep through, and after getting kicked out of my parents place at 17, struggling through a primarily Black populated workplace, and then eventually having to stay in a primarily Black populated homeless shelter that I started to see firsthand the sort of stuff a lot of Black individuals go through and I had to completely reevaluate my views on the world.
2. Car broke down on the side of the road in a rich area in Orange County.
Not one person stopped besides some dude who barely spoke English. Guy crawled underneath the car to tap on the starter with a wrench and got it working.
3. I grew up in the South, moved to Missouri nearly 10 years ago. I was never racist against black people because I was never taught to be. They were literally just people with a different skin tone and that's it.
But when I moved to a midwestern state, and I would mention where I was from, people would talk about how racist the South was...
Now maybe Kentucky just isn't one of the Southern states that's racist, or maybe I just grew up in a very good part of the state (Southeastern) but neither me, nor my family, nor anyone I knew was racist against black people...
Really the only way we are ever going to end racism is to stop making it an issue. That may sound stupid, but if we could all gain the mindset that I was raised with, which is just "That's another person with a different skin color", we could start ending the problem of racism.
I realize there's a lot to the race issue, but I think that would be a good start...
4. The recent presidential election. I have parents who lived through the Jim Crow south. I was told from a very early age that white people did not value me as a person from other Black folks and there were subtle anti-white jabs inserted by my own parents. At five years old, our family moved from the lower income inner city into a mostly white suburb. Although I never experienced racism directly, I was under the impression that anyone with an opposite political view was a racist. Republican=racist.
I vigorously studied politics and history in college. I even went to a conservative private university (Athletic scholarship). I learned so much and actually got to work with others outside my own bubble.
When it came to the election the generalizations, identity politics, referring to minorities as people of color (essentially calling us colored), just didn't sit well with me anymore. Seeing BLM, reinforcing the rhetoric that the Black community has pushed for years really upset me as well. I am not scared of the police or white people. I am not a victim regardless of what my parents experienced. Recently I was told by a Black friend that they couldn't believe I didn't accept the assertion that white people want to wipe black people off the face of the Earth. I vehemently disagree with him because I refuse to be a racist.
5. My parents were pretty racist, and kind of still are but have thankfully toned it down / kept it to themselves.
I used to be terrified of going anywhere but the small town I grew up in because I was told there were constant gang fights, shootings, etc in St. Louis. Like, I should lock my doors and not leave the car in certain areas, telling me Black men were gang members, etc.
No one ever told me otherwise and I never really met a non-white person until late high school, early college. I was really, really on-edge at college around non-white people. I was finally told I was racist by one of my friends but my instincts were a certain way. I didn't want to be racist but I was.
I had to try really hard not to move out to the other sidewalk if a Black man was coming towards me. I had a constant anxiety around Black men, like something was going to happen any minute. I had to try incredibly hard to break those thoughts, a few times I did give in and leave the area. I still give in sometimes when a sketchy-looking middle-eastern man with a beard gets on public transportation.
I still have stereotypes and think a decent percent of Black people are a certain way, but I know now that not all of them are that way and that they are human too.
The difference was just exposure and time. I met non-white people that weren't stereotypes, they were like me and I wasn't killed for going into "their areas".
6. I had a bit of a racist mindset from growing up with a parent that lived through apartheid (white parent) but once I started thinking for myself that changed and I think racism is just ridiculous.
7. I grew up in an atheist/Jewish household. My grandmother marched with MLK. Her older sister was an elementary school principal during World War II, and scrubbed her school's records of last names to try to make it more difficult to target Japanese students for harassment (this was before they were rounded up and sent to camps).
For her trouble, she received death threats until her retirement in 1980. She was very proud of them, and saved a half-brick that accompanied one of them through her bedroom window. On my mum's side, my great grandmother was among the first people to donate and raise money for the NAACP. Growing up, my parents went out of their way to make sure that I had black, Latino and Asian friends, and insisted that I speak Spanish (politely, with usted) with our Mexican-American neighbors. I am extremely grateful for the effort they invested, and I try to pay it forward.
Even so, my girlfriend still points out racist behaviors and attitudes that managed to sneak into my brain anyway. Mostly, it's in the negative space of my personality -- things that I don't think about because I don't have to. In many respects, I am still a racist, despite my best efforts and the efforts of the three generations of my family who raised me.
You don't really overcome racism. It's the background noise of our civilization, and none of us can escape it. The best we can do is grow faster than it eats away at us.
8. I'm not sure I qualify as a "former racist," but I'll give it a shot.
I immigrated to the states when I was 10, and before then, I had NEVER seen a black person. EVER. Not even on tv/movies. I guess the only "black" person I've seen were literally on those nature shows where they hunt down animals in the serengeti. So before I came to the states, I had a lot of my friends tell me random "truths" about black people, so that scared me a bit.
It didn't help that the first taste of America I had was Newark, NJ...and then we moved to South Philly...so there's that.
To those of you who are unaware, these aren't very safe places. Lot of gang violence, shootings, muggings, etc. So again, it didn't help my views that Black = violence.
Then I grew up around some really good people, and it helped out a lot. But I think it's all about culture. I have zero prejudice when it comes to color anymore, it's all about culture/education/social standing.
9. I was raised in a very racist environment and held those views for many years, but I got a job at a college and there was exposed to many different cultures. Now I kind of feel out of place around a lot of friends and family because I don't hold their racist views anymore.
10. I was pretty much told (and had met many which confirmed it :/ ) that white South Africans are entitled jerks. That changed when I found out a good mate of mine was a white South African. Super top bloke which made me realize I was out of whack.
It did not help the past 20 or so I had met were jerks, but I had just hit an unlucky run.
11. Mark Twain summed it up pretty well. Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.
I was racist, and also used to be a homophobe. I lived in a convervative town, and used to be super religious. (My dream was to become a pastor, now I'm an atheist lol) It was just how I was brought up as a kid. I lived in a very Asian dominant community growing up, and being Asian myself it was very easy for me to live in a "us vs. them" mentality in High School.
(BTW the same danger in believing in the "us vs them" mentality also persists in religion as well.)
Then, I left my hometown for college. Everything changed. I had more diverse group of friends, not only on race and ethnicity, but also on gender, sexual orientation, and political views. I realized they were't so much more different than me after all.
12. I think a lot of people who are racist don't realize it. There's a negative connotation with racism, so few people are willing to identify with the term.
As for myself, although I'm not consciously racist, I do believe I have slight subconscious racist tendencies. The reason for this is that I grew up in the whitest state in the union, so my general exposure to nonwhite people was limited. But I try to be open-minded about the people I meet, and generally this has worked out well for me.
13. This isn't my story but it's my father-in-law's. He's a Vietnam vet and said that he used to hate all Black people until he met one named Chris.
Chris and him were in the same squad. I don't know much of the story but it basically goes like this: they became friends and Chris eventually took a bullet for him.
My father-in-law still holds some "conservative" views but he's more open to different people now. Except gays. He has yet to change his views.
14. When I was younger my friends and I were all quite racist, we'd sit there laughing about Hitler, be pissed about immigrants etc.
One day though I suddenly snapped out of it realised these people are the same as me they just want to earn for their family. It annoys me when I see people who are like it now but I can understand they're hate and that they have just not woken up yet that we are all the same and should just get along.
15. I left my small minded town, joined the Marines, saw the world and many cultures, got out and went to college.
Completely changed my view of race/color/creed/gender all that.
I look back on my 16 yr old self and I am ashamed to have had the views I did.
16. I was brought up by a racist parent who had very racists friends that we hanged out with a lot. I thought of all minorities in my area as trash and less than human through most of my childhood. This changed when I got my first real job and had to work with them. Although I still think a lot of stereotypes about them are true in a lot of regards, now days I look at a person's actions and behavior more so than their skin color when interacting with them.