Yes, we swim in a sea of racism. Yes, we pick it up. Yes, we even continue it. But we are human adults with minds and (I believe) the ability to choose different behaviors when instructed and led based upon what are (to my mind) better values. When someone raised me as a kid to be “good,” it meant being kind and honest and giving and caring. I don’t know if I already was “good,” and that was just instructions on how to do it, or whether I really wasn’t “good,” and the practice I did to follow the external rules molded my character.
In either case, I turned out to be the kind of person who listens to new information, tries to understand how it affects me, and tries to change. It is very, very hard because the lines fall into familiar patterns, and it is very easy to revert to easy behavior.
But whether it is hard or not to change, whether it is hard or not to not be racist, whether it is hard or not to to confront personal racism–you still have to do it. You can’t go on until you do.
Pretending it isn’t bad, or pretending that you’re ignorant, or pretending that because you were _raised_ that way you can’t help it–is just stupid and selfish and dishonest. You might have been _raised_ that way, but _no one is forcing you to act that way_. Unless there is some mental disease of compulsive racism similar to Tourette’s or to OCD, you can choose to _act_ better or different. You really have no excuse.
Have I been racist in the past? I’m pretty sure, even though I don’t want to admit it. At the time it seemed innocent, and to me I was innocent. But upon reflection I raise my eyebrows and think “How could I be so ignorant?” Now I know better. I can’t expunge that past. It was me, doing it. I just don’t like doing it, not anymore, and I choose not to.
Choosing not act racist when you are raised that way means you will probably make mistakes and fail. But you have to _try_. You have to be _aware_. You have to see the people around you as human beings with the same kinds of deep feelings and the same hope for meaning as you have. You have to see them as wanting to be recognized as actually existing.
Sorry for the long long post. I feel bad for Paula Deen for blowing up her career, but she’s had 40+ years to become self-aware, and she apparently never has. And apparently there isn’t much grief on her part for all the people she’s treated as insignificant.