Does a racist dream mean I’m well and truly racist? Please, no!
Have you ever remembered a dream but wish you didn’t? That would be me, this morning. Some dreams are so weird that I can’t stitch them back together even if I remember parts of them, but this dream was very specific, tied to real places and possibilities, even if the other people were not actual people I know.
I went to bed last night thinking of going to Ballard with a friend today. She wanted to go to a Scandinavian shop that has a lot of specialty items, especially Christmas decor and food. I happily agreed to accompany her, and I’m guessing those plans set the stage for my dream.
In my dream I started out at a Danish bakery in Ballard, one of my favorites. It had a few tables for people who wanted to stay for a cup of coffee with a pastry. I took an empty seat across from an Asian woman I knew with long black hair. (My real Asian friends do not have long black hair, just for the record.) I purchased some bakery items and coffee and sat down with her. We chatted, and when we were leaving, I went to the counter for a moment, leaving my phone on the table.
I left with my items and went on to a different shop. When I was ready to pay at that shop, I realized I didn’t have my phone that had my credit cards in it. I was explaining to the shopkeeper that I’d just had coffee with this Asian woman I knew, and that maybe she had picked up my phone by mistake. (In real life I can’t imagine identifying my friend as Asian.) “Did you really know her?” the shopkeeper asked. “What?” I said. “Well, they all look alike, you know.” “No, I said, they don’t.” But her question unsettled me? Had I really been talking with my friend, or was I just talking to a stranger who was Asian, a woman I couldn’t tell apart from my friend, a woman who had taken advantage of me to steal a phone and credit cards?
Still dreaming, I began reflecting on my conversation and realized that a lot of it didn’t make sense. I had just ignored the incongruities, though. Maybe the woman wasn’t actually my friend; maybe I really couldn’t tell the difference. Then my mind went swimming about in a sea of Asian faces as I tried to convince myself that I could actually tell the difference between one Asian person and another. Surely, I could recognize my friend? Surely, I wasn’t that racist? I woke up in a worried state still unsure of my ability to recognize an Asian friend from all the other Asian people I see. Ugh.
So now my question for you is this: does having this dream mean that Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo are right? Am I hopelessly racist because I have white skin? Was I totally unable to move past the racist attitudes of my parents?
I remember being viscerally uncomfortable with my family’s racist policies as a kid. Policies, you say? What family has “policies?” Well, my dad owned several rental properties; when one was vacant, he’d put an ad in the paper, and once I was able to start answering our phone, he taught me to say clearly, “No, ma’m, we don’t rent to colored.” Usually, I didn’t have to say it all because a black person would ask right off the bat, “Do you rent to colored?” So, all I’d have to say was, “No.” But I hated it. When I say I was viscerally uncomfortable, I mean it. My whole body would just clench up.
That’s just one example among many, but I really did not ever accept my dad’s version of race once I could see it in action. I could go on and on about my experiences with “BIPOCs” (Black, Indigenous, People of Color, for those of you not yet schooled in woke jargon). I don’t deny the ugly parts of our history. How could I? I did some of it! But I don’t believe we’re only the ugly parts. I lived through the civil rights era of the 50s and 60s. I saw every one of my relatives – except my parents – change.
Fortunately, I don’t put a lot of stock in dream interpretation. Most dreams that I remember at all are just a mess of images and events and people that don’t hang together as a story as much as this particular dream. But what a disturbing story to wake up from!