I have never, ever heard a racist or ethnic-ist slur come out of anyone's mouth at any family gathering ever in my thirty years, not once. This isn't to say that someone in my family isn't racist - I've no idea what most of them might say in their own homes, away from the make-nice atmosphere of family gatherings - but considering the South that many of the older relatives were raised in, I'm supremely grateful for that. I'm not saying any of us deserve a cookie for that; I'm simply saying that I read about other people's families and the fact that they were raised not knowing that what was being said was wrong, and I'm glad that I never had to negotiate that particular minefield. The closest anyone is ever gotten to saying something untoward in front of me is when my mom and I had a running joke about me marrying a pygmy when I was younger, and mom one time said "As long as they're a white pygmy." And even then, I knew she didn't mean it; if I'd brought home a person of color, they might have blinked a bit, but they would have been fine, quickly.
So I was raised to treat everyone the same, and to get along with everyone, and that everyone was equal. And I'm grateful for that. But, perhaps because of that, I also grew up thinking oh, it's all better now, that any incidents of racism were just personal level incidents from people that were raised not knowing any better, that they're dying out, that our generation is better. And as an adult and as a social scientist, I know better. I know that racism is still institutionalized deep in our society and our laws and our customs, that we're sending generation after generation of young black men to prison unless they're lucky enough to be able to play ball because their economic opportunities systematically just aren't there, that black men make less money than white men and black women, even less than that. There's three people of color (all black, no Hispanics or Asians or anyone) currently in classes in my program (there may be a couple of more kicking around who only have their thesis left). There are a lot more white people than that.
It's easy to flop about when you don't know how to fix things, when you don't have the first clue how to fix things, and I think that's the problem with a lot of white folks. (I'm not seeking to make excuses here, just pick apart the situation.) It's easy to say Well, I'm not racist, my family isn't racist, I love my black friends and my Asian friends and I'd love my Hispanic friends if I had any of those, I'm going to vote for the black guy next year, I'm not part of the problem. But, until things are fixed - decades and centuries from now - we're all part of the problem; the problem is bigger than any one of us. Which also means that we don't know how to fix it, but we need to figure it out. And most of the fixing is going to have to come from white folks, because we're the ones who still have the privilege and the power and the sheer numbers, in government and law and society.
We live in a black neighborhood. It's something I'd hadn't explicitly mentioned before, because, well, it hasn't been relevant. There's the old white couple across the street that's like, 800 years old and has probably seen the demographics of the neighborhood change 27 times over the years, and there's a family on the corner with the teenage girl that's always mowing the lawn, and that's it. There's projects at the end of our road. We got a few funny looks when we moved in, and it took awhile for people to start talking to us, but now our neighbors say hi to us and we say hi to them and they ask me how school's going, and when my family pulled up on July 4th, our next door neighbors saw the big surgical boot on one of them and asked if they needed help inside, and we get along. And I like to think that I'm making my corner of the world a little better, just by being here and getting along, by smiling brightly at people who ask me how the neighborhood is and saying Oh, it's fine, we love our neighbors, it's a very quiet place, good folks, but, it's just one little drop in the bucket.