“But I’m not racist! I didn’t do anything as bad as…”
And then comes the list of far worse things, which the person I’m talking to would never, ever do, nuh-uh, not them.
What they’re ignoring – either out of ignorance or on purpose – is that the standard for not being a bigot isn’t a fixed point.
This is kind of blindingly obvious if you think about it for a moment; “not racist” in 1800 in the United States is a whole lot more racist than “not racist” in 1920 which is a whole lot more racist than “not racist” in 1973, which is a whole lot more racist than “not racist” in 2015.
And it’s true, things have (mostly) gotten better.
But that doesn’t mean the work is done.
Look, here’s a simple example.
Farting at the dinner table is unpleasant. Taking a crap on the main course is a whole lot more unpleasant, yes, but that doesn’t suddenly make farting pleasant.
Let’s spell out what they’re actually saying:
When someone says they’re not “that bad” of a bigot, they’re telling you they think some bigotry is just fine.
The whole argument is based around the idea that there’s a degree of bigotry that is acceptable, and that they or their actions (supposedly) haven’t crossed the line of acceptability.
And that is some fine bullshit.
We could make excuses for them.
But we won’t.
We will not be silent.
We are their guilty conscience.
We will speak up, and call them out, and make visible not only the obvious bigotry, but we will also make visible the structures and institutions that perpetuate inequality.