I have definitely fallen into the White Exceptionalism category. Oof. It's of course difficult now to admit that, but then again I'm so grateful to understand these concepts & have the chance to do much much much better going forward.
Since I grew up in a small town in the Bible Belt, racism wasn't exactly foreign to me, but I was raised to understand how wrong it was to discriminate against people of any type. When people made racist jokes, I was the one who called it out- BUT always in a joking, "don't make them uncomfortable" way. A lot of eye rolls, and "seriously?" type comments. I never let it go. I thought that was so brave of me.
When people used racial slurs I spoke up. When someone bullied someone different, I stepped in. But it wasn't as if I was encountering people of color on a regular basis, so it wasn't that hard.
Now I look back and I can't believe how much I accepted. There is so much racism all around us, and it didn't seem to bother me that much. I've said things like "I'm not really attracted to *certain ethnic group*" or agreed with stereotypes. I've been blissfully unaware of so many issues, and not cared to learn. I've been guilty of an enormous number of microaggressions. I've been defensive and stood my ground when I've been called out about racist beliefs I've held.
I feel shame but I also know I have to forgive myself in order to hold space for others who are struggling to work on themselves, too. I've also been working on anti-racism bit by bit, in a sort of stair-step way, over the past several years, so I've been lucky to not have it all hit me at once. Shame, guilt, embarrassment, and pride have slowed me down but they have also motivated me to do a LOT better, and to actively work to change things. So as terrible as it's been to feel these things, I know if I ignored them and shoved them away, I wouldn't be where I am today. I'm so much happier actively learning and trying than I was pretending I didn't need to do those things.
You see a lot of Toxic White Guilt and virtue signaling on social media especially....& I do not want to be one of those people. I want to focus my efforts on being an actual ally, advocate, and activist.