30 Ex-Racists Share What Honestly Changed Their ViewsInterview With Author
Despite all the less than savory aspects of humankind and the prejudices we hold, there’s still hope for us, I feel. People can change and, sometimes, they change for the better. And that’s a dollop of light and magic in these dark and uncertain times.
Former racists opened up about what made them change their ways in a thread on r/AskReddit, and their stories give an important glimpse into how nobody’s ever beyond redemption. Scroll down to read their stories. When you’re done, let us know in the comments if you know anyone who has ever renounced their racist mindset in a similar fashion and why, dear Pandas.
I reached out to redditor u/Gamerbrineofficial, the author of the r/AskReddit thread, to get their opinion. They were kind enough to answer my questions. Scroll down for Bored Panda's interview with them.
My father's side was very racist, but it was a black neighbor who helped feed us when we were very poor.
As I got older, I realized she didn't even like us very much, but she was a mom who hated seeing hungry kids. That had a profound effect on me when I was small. How could black people be bad if they were giving us food? I decided my father was wrong at around age six.
Saddest part, I don't even remember her name. I wish I could thank her.
The author of the r/AskReddit thread, u/Gamerbrineofficial, told Bored Pand about the inspiration behind the question that they asked. "I had just watched a YouTube video about an ex-Nazi and a Jewish person talking about their lives when I got the idea for the post," they shared with Bored Panda what got them thinking about life.
The redditor believes that exposing ourselves to new cultural experiences, whether through volunteering, travel, or other ways, can help make us more accepting of other people. "I think by embracing other races and cultures as human, we can work towards a better world."
My story is a bit different from the others here. I was a skinhead since I was a kid..about 13. We ran in a gang and listened to both racial music and also nonracial music. We were a bit mouthy etc about race, but the place we grew up in was totally white. There was one Chinese lass out our whole school..about 1,200 people. It didn't take me too long to realize that the "they took our jobs" talk was a load of s**te as there were no ethnic people..and no jobs. So I did grow out of the racist thing myself pretty quickly.
It was only really when I went to university that I actually encountered different races. I got to work beside black and Asian guys, played football with Africans and Greeks and generally had a great time and met great people who I still keep in contact with. I think even though I didn't consider myself racist..I couldn't imagine me having black friends..or going on holiday with a group that included several Muslims, which I did do a couple of years back.
Wee funny story before I end about prejudices. I went to live in another city, and was just myself..talk to anyone. One night I got a cab. The driver was a Muslim in full Pakistani cultural gear. Skull cap, long gown etc. I thought, people are people and have the right to do or dress how they want, but I don't think we are going to have a lot o talk about, not much common ground. I gave him my address and sat back to chill out.
Guy turns round..you a Scot? I said yeah mate. Then he starts chatting about when he first came to England in the 60s before the majority of Pakistanis, he used to get picked on at school. The other guys who were picked on were Scots and Irish. So they formed a gang of the eight of them. From that day they could go watch football, go out at night, and generally stick up for each other. He said, that was a long time ago, and I still get a shiver when I hear Scots or Irish accents. Now he teaches kids at the mosque not to dislike white christians, and the best ways to mix and interact. We sat for 20 minutes when we arrived at my house and just shot the breeze.
I think that's when the last bit of bigotry left me.
Not me, but my dad was quite racist to the local native group. My dad was a woodsman and felt the native land agreements were unfair, and didn't agree with their hunting and fishing rights/treaties.
At age 18 during my last year of highschool I was doing a lot of community volunteer work and my dad helped out managing a youth program with me. The parent group above us arranged for an event at the local reserve.
My dad begrudgingly went with me to the event to supervise the younger kids.
It was a transformative experience for him. We were invited to take part in a drum circle, did a bunch of ice breaker activities, listened to talks, met elders, and were served amazing food.
The band gave my dad a t-shirt and he proudly wore it so often after that, someone actually asked him if he was native. (he does have darker skin colouring from being outside but is still as white as they come)
Now my dad speaks out a lot against racism directed at native/indigenous folks. He's become very passionate.
On the one hand I'm really glad he improved but on the other I think it's sad he needed a personal experience of such magnitude to have empathy. It places the burden on THEM to educate US. But I suppose it's still better than him being racist the rest of his life.
I also wanted to get the redditor's opinion about modern-day racism. "I agree racism is alive in the 21st century (unfortunately) and has been alive since other races first started interacting with one another," they told Bored Panda. Despite the fact that there are people fighting for more tolerance in the world, u/Gamerbrineofficial doesn't believe that racism can ever be fully eradicated. "I do not think, sadly, that racism will ever be fully gone from the human race. It is a sad reality that there will always be hateful people in the world."
Previously, I spoke about accepting everyone, no matter our differences, with award-winning human rights activist and writer, Elizabeth Artif-Fear. She told Bored Panda that at the core of acceptance lie empathy, communication, listening, dialogues, and compassion. We have to strive to expand our social circles and move out of our own echo chambers and comfort boxes.
"It's important to meet, socialize, work with and get to know people from a variety of different backgrounds—people from different ethnic backgrounds, age groups, faith traditions, nationalities, etc. This helps us to learn about different views, beliefs, experiences, and values,” she said.
This story is difficult to share. I am typing this at the request of my son.
I was raised as a racist. We lived in Southern California near a lot of minorities. My father was a union leader and I think his hatred of minorities came from his job, because the union was mostly white guys and they saw the minorities as trying to take their jobs. Whenever we would drive around and see them in the street, my dad would always point them out and talk s**t about them.
I grew up and had kids of my own. I was doing the same thing to them without realizing it. One day I came home and caught my 14 year old daughter screwing around with a black kid. I threw him out of my house and beat him in my driveway. The cops were called and I went to prison for assault. In prison, I saw how ethnically divided everything was, but my counselor was the one who basically shook me out of it. She helped me realize that continuing this hatred would really only hurt my own life. I tried to avoid the racial groups in my prison. I stayed on my own and earned my GED. In my classes I met a lot of minorities who had also never graduated high school. I listened to my counselor and got to know them and realized what a hard life they had. Before, I thought that they were just lazy and sold drugs for easy money. We went through a lot of the same struggles in our education.
When I got out, I started a construction company. I make an effort to hire both former cons and also minorities. I am trying to make up for the kind of things I have done in the past.
I met a holocaust survivor. He was a child at the camp in Sobibor. It was a life changing experience. Without it, I’d probably have ended up being part of the alt-right. Instead, I got a real wake up call and have taken to being a major supporter or human rights.
I was skinhead adjacent during high school. It offered me identity and a sense of belonging and purpose. Started becoming more extreme, identifying more with the idea of white oppression by “the Jews”. Then I had this sudden realization that my best friend was a Jew. And his family offered me more acceptance and belonging than I’d ever find in the movement. It was an amazing aha moment. To think that I was teaching myself to hate the people who showed me the most love was a little heartbreaking but it was an important moment in my life. I’ve never looked back.
According to the human rights activist, volunteering and travel are two ways that can help us learn more about the world and how different people live.
“That's why initiatives in our local area such as volunteer projects, inter-community groups, interfaith projects, and social/youth clubs which enable us to meet as many different people as possible are so important. Authentic travel is also important but not affordable or accessible to everyone. Funded schemes, fellowships, and intercultural exchange programs may offer more affordable and accessible ways to engage," she told Bored Panda.
Lets pretend you’ve never seen a platypus. But you’ve heard about them. You’ve heard that they have a bill and webbed feet. You’ve heard that they lay eggs. You’ve heard that they have a tail like a beaver. But you, yourself, have never seen one. You take for granted that these things are true because EVERYONE around you says they are.
I grew up in a super tiny farm town in the middle of nowhere. All 300 people in the town were white. My parents were racist. My friends were racist. My friend’s parents were racists. Even the vast majority of teachers in our k-12 school grew up in or around my town, and were racist. Guess what? With literally every single person around me telling me that black people were inferior, i thought black people were inferior. I took for granted that it was true, because it seemed unlikely that EVERYONE was wrong. Just like I currently take for granted that a platypus lays eggs.
When I was 10 I went to a summer camp a few hours north of me. There were black, hispanic, and asian kids there. Hell, I even shared a cabin with a black kid. I honestly thought I would get attacked at night. By the end of the third day of camp, I realized that other than talking a bit different, my black cabinmate was no different than my white cabinmates. And the talking a bit different thing didn’t bother me. I had family from other parts of the US that talked different from me, and it didn’t matter much.
This started a slow but steady realization in me that maybe my parents were wrong about things, and maybe people were just people. I’d like to think that I treat everyone with the same level of respect today. I sincerely hope I do, anyway.
Still not sure about platypus though
A lot of my old racist tendencies were subtly taught through culture and peers. I didn't start changing until I finally realized what Dr. Martin Luther King meant in his speech: don't judge people by the things they had no choice over, judge them by the choices they make.
It's never somebody's choice to be born black, asian, middle eastern, Hispanic, gay, bisexual, or transexual. It's totally somebody's choice to want to see them wiped from the face of the Earth.
I was 1 of 3 native people in a school with 300 people. I was harassed daily, got called a chug, squaw, dirty Indian and was told to go back to my rez. I've had food, bottles and other things thrown at me. My cellphone was stolen and smashed days after my parents saved up to buy me my own. Girls would try and physically fight me for no other reason than that I didn't look like them.
By the end of highschool I HATED white people. I thought they all hated me so it would be fine if I expressed the same kind of resentment and anger, even towards strangers who hadn't done anything wrong.
All it took to change my mind, was a trip to a national park with my dog. People were so friendly and kind. I couldn't believe it, people from all of the world were interacting with me and my dog. I was receiving nothing but kindness and love, especially from white people and children who wanted to pet my dog. That's all it took, was a dog to undo years of my racism towards white people. Surely if my dog could love any human he encountered, why couldn't I?
"If we only ever meet, see, and talk with people of exactly the same backgrounds we miss out on the varied nuanced diverse experiences of life. In such a context, we can't work to understand other people's needs, wants, views and experiences as best as possible. We're all neighbors and our diversity should be celebrated,” Elizabeth said.
“Learn a new language, volunteer at a non-profit organization supporting people from different backgrounds, and go out there and meet people and visit places (when safe to do so!)," she suggested some ways in which anyone can broaden their minds.
I fell hard for a guy of color. Made me question everything - every thought I ever had. And while it didn’t work out I’m forever grateful for him and his compassion and patience.
I teach film to kids some times, and we come in and make a film with these kids in a matter of days. This one kid I had in my group recently was known as coming from a racist household, mainly against refugees (a big point here in Europe right now). He made some remarks here and there, and when watching the news got very focal against refugees.
We were going to show a short documentary about refugees, and the teacher was preparing me that this kid could be triggered by this and be annoying. The documentary we watched was from the point of view of a kid just a few years older then the kids in this class. You saw him struggling to learn our language, living in close quarters and most importantly living far away from his parents. A big part of the film was about him trying to get permission to get his mother and sisters, whom he had not seen in years, here.
At the end of the film the refugee family was not reunited. After trying for years to no avail. The kids in the class were all devastated, but most of all this one ‘racist’ kid. He insisted on signing the petition to help the boy in front of the whole class, and was noticeably upset about the situation the boy lived in.
It warmed my heart to see him go against the hate he had been taught. Kids aren’t racist. They are just copying their parents. The empathy in a child is such a wonderful thing.
Being born in a brown family you'd think there's nothing to be racist about. I mean, we're already of colour who are we racist about? Well, you're wrong. Brown parents are racist of every other race. Black, Asian and even white people (yes, that's also racism as it is discrimination because of colour). So as children of brown parents we're also brought up thinking that any other race is bad, for whatever reason. (Not only colour but brown parents also discriminate because of religion, just wanted to add)
Anyways, in highschool I had a few friends who were a little darker in colour than the rest of us and my parents told me to stay away from them. But they were genuinely nicer than many other fake friends (it's highschool) so I liked hanging out with them. That's when I realized that it was a genuine wrong thinking and also that this will always be normal in my brown household so I chose to move to another country. I mean, there were many other reasons for me to get to this decision
My parents were both closet racists (racist behind closed door/out of earshot) but we were taught other races couldn't be trusted as kids. I can remember my mum deliberately not inviting a Pakistani kid to a birthday party that sort of thing.
I was stereotypical angry white kid, around 15yo I started listening to Eminem that progressed into black artists I heard him duet with.
I genuinely give credit to rap music for making me realise my parents were wrong. Biggie, Snoop, Dre, Kanye and 50cent opened me up to a different path in life which ended me up with a Japanese partner so all's well that ends well.
I started a construction job. Hispanics are some of the nicest, funniest people you’ll ever meet. The language barrier even adds to the hilarity. It was an eye opener that these guys are just trying to make a living and go home, just like me. Landing this job has changed my view on ALL races and I’m very happy it did. You can’t just HATE someone for their distance from the equator.
This isn’t a former racist thing, but I realized early on that color isn’t “only skin deep.” If you grew up in the late ‘80s and ‘90s this was a thing people said. Color is only skin deep. My friend cut his knee in gym class and it started bleeding. After they got it all cleaned up I saw that his skin color only went down like 1/16 of an inch. It’s only a couple layers of your skin. Under that he was as white as me. So yeah, that’s when I realized we’re all the same color under the first couple layers of skin. It isn’t skin-deep, it’s just the outer part of the skin.
Sesame Street. I'm not even joking.
Was raised in a slightly racist household in a pretty racist state.
Seeing kids of all colors playing together made me wonder why my mom wouldn't let me play with certain people.
It kind of snowballed from there.
I used to be pretty racist. I would say things like “I’m not racist, I just think black Americans have a culture problem”, or “I’m not racist but why don’t they listen to cops?” Just things like that. Like always making excuses for the oppressors but never allowing a single excuse for the oppressed.
What got me out of it was just working in retail and being exposed to other people and ideas. I learned to put people first. Put people above culture, put people above tradition, put people above current systems. If you do that, really learn to value human life, you will end up a progressive every single time
I met, fell in love with, and married a black woman. I was extremely ignorant and did not believe there was a race problem in this country. Then again I grew up with an extremely comfortable privileged life. Then once I started getting the same looks and stares and comments from being with her, yeah trust me it’s a huge problem.
My friend was an on again off again Trumper last year and kept posting about how "hero" Luke Skywalker and a few of us told him Luke literally had a school of jedi of all different races and backgrounds and sexes, you root for him as a fictional character but support the Emperor of real life and he got real quiet.
Growing up I was told that all the woes of my state were caused by those ( ethnic slur)s. We would drive through the poor area of town and it would be pointed out to me that " they make everything worse. they are like cockroaches". Something about these claims just didn't sit right with me and when I was old enough to look things up online I realized everything I was told was truth was just regurgitated Fox News. The more I looked things up, the more lies I saw. Nobody would listen to me when I tried to show them. I think they know deep down, but racism is an easy scapegoat for the world's problems.
My parents were/are racist. I grew up in a “Christian evangelical” household. Despite living in a diverse city (London) my parents would say the most disgusting things. And of course, I said the same things. I didn’t know any better - until I educated myself. Now I call out the racisms and homophobia - but it’s exhausting being the person who made mum cry again. My mum died a while ago, and although I do miss her and have fond memories of her - my overruling memories of her is when she was toxic and racist/homophobic. My dad is the same, but is less vocal about it.
My parents were the typical I am not racist I have black/Asian friends. I always used to say, what do you think your black/Asians friends would say if they heard what you said behind closed doors.
One time - I moved country. And I was really new to the country so didn’t speak the native language. My mum FaceTimed me and was complaining about how she is fed up of not hearing English in the streets and all these immigrants taking our jobs.. blah blah blah. I couldn’t believe she was saying that - to me, an immigrant who didn’t speak the language. Racists are just f**king stupid. There is zero logic in their way of thinking.
Little nervous posting this, ngl. I served Marine infantry for four years and deployed to the middle east. I got out about 6 years ago and idk if racist is the right to describe me then, but its pretty close. I hated everyone from the middle east. Didn't matter religion, age, gender - I hated all of them. If they were born in the US, I had no feelings against them, which is why idk if its racism or "regionalism" or something. Maybe I'm trying to shift blame, but I feel like it was not all my fault. We were trained to not think of them as people, and seeing them in country wounding and killing my fellow Americans really had a way of warping my opinion.
I got out of it by growing up and experiencing diverse cultures in college. The world is a huge place. If I can go out of state to this university and meet people from other states, other countries...they are good people from places I've never heard of. It just makes sense that there must be good people in the middle east as well. It took a few years of softening up, but the hatred wore off. I look back and im at least a little disgusted with myself. I never acted out against someone or committed a hate crime. It simply wasn't fair of me to think the way I did. But tbh a lot of things aren't fair to a poor boy from the middle of a flyover state fighting in a war. I'm glad I changed. I'm not glad I was ever that hateful in the first place. Its not one of those "im glad I experienced it so I could grow" situations. It was just bad.
I was a lower case r racist growing up. Not a cross burner or anything like that, but I had biases, I made tons of jokes and comments, and as shallow as this sounds I wouldn't even watch porn if it featured anyone of color.
what broke it for me was my early adult life. I worked s**t jobs and dealt with occasional homelessness. I ended up having to spend time with people of color. A lot of it.
It's hard to stay angry and bitter when you work with people for years, alone with them for hours at a time every night. You find common ground even if you try and fight it.
It starts with overhearing them talk about s**t you like too, smelling their dinner while they're on break and going "damn that smells delicious.", seeing s**t in the newspapers and hearing them express similar feelings.
No matter how much you try and dehumanize them, you just can't fight the eventual realization that they're just like you, with maybe a few quirky differences.
Travelling. To actually experience the culture of other people is a brutal eye-opener.
Echo chambers and lack of diversity. I grew up in the 90’s in an area with a tiny black population. The older people were racist, and the younger people just repeated what the older people said and didn’t have any experiences with black people that could have changed their minds. Not to mention it doesn’t help when the news blasted black crime all over the television every night to help fuel the divide.
I started thinking for myself and learned to judge people based on the person they are. I read books, and philosophies, and simply educated myself. I also started noticing that the white supremacists were always the least supreme looking of the white race. Trash breads trash.
Interacting with other races. Was racist against Mexican people because the first one I spoke to was a d**k. Loved black people cuz one of my best friends was black. Then I worked with the laziest slobbiest black guy, and the most honest hard-working Mexican dude. Then I remembered that a lot of white people were d**ks, and a lot of us were lazy. And then I met this Indian dude. He smelled. Awful. Every day he smelled terrible. I also am capable of smelling awful and I've been a d**k to people, and I've been lazy at some jobs. I'm a person, everyone else is also a person, really doesn't matter that colour they are or what they believe in. I'll disagree with some people and I'll agree with others. We're all people.
I was raised in a close family setting and didn’t have many friends. Went to school but never really did anything. Made good grades. Dropped out 9th grade really went full on conservative and racist. I mean my whole family still is so it was just casual talk for us.
Then I went to college, met a lot of people, did a lot of finding myself. I knew I was a lesbian years ago when I was 18. But when I was in my late 20s early 30s I went to college and really found myself. Realized that’s not how I wanted to live. I was socialized with lots of people from lots of different backgrounds and lots of new perspectives. And found out that within myself I was an angry person due to my past traumas and didn’t like that part of me. And almost changed overnight. I don’t laugh at my families racist jokes anymore, I don’t hang out with them much unless they come to my house, I’ve moved past it and have grown up and matured.
I’m not perfect but I’m no longer a racist. And I no longer blindly say all cops are good. Husband and I argue quite a bit over that. He was a police dispatcher for 20 years. He sees the bad ones but says it’s only a few. And in recent years we’ve both realized it’s more than just a few.
I realized that I didn’t dislike black people for being black...I disliked pretty much everyone regardless of color. Just lived in a s**tty area and everyone was s**tty. Left and everything got better.
Leaving home. My mom is Japanese and raised me Japanese, racism and all. I left my house late 17y/o and now that I’ve lived on my own, I grew to be myself, and with that, grew up mentally.
I come from a non-practicing Christian background and grew up in a small town where everyone was white as well. Though I never personally experienced outwardly racist sentiments from my family, I did not personally meet someone with different skin color than mine until I was 19. That's 19 years of development and never personally interacting with someone of a visibly different race. There was 1 black family that moved to my town when I was about 11 and I found out years later they sadly had to move due to racism. I'm sure that was very isolating for them. Thanks to a weird, archaic, low-tech device called a 'television' I was exposed to African Americans by way of Family Matters, The Cosby Show, and 21 Jumpstreet. Carl Otis Winslow's outbursts cracked me up. I never much cared for Urkel and his antics, Carl was my 'average dad next-door' hero. Theo Huxtable was an early tv crush, and as I got a little older, I adored Judy Hoffs! She was the coolest cop chick on tv and wanted to hang out with her at that modified church headquarters. I still watch the show just for her character, and to recognize filming locations and scenic backdrops from Vancouver. Not to mention some of my favorite vocalists are Mixed Race/African American/Jamaican or from the Bahamas. Through the entertainment I consumed, I just accepted that there are people out there, vastly different than myself that I was always curious about them. I just always assumed people who weren't having vile racist poison poured down their gullets and had access to cable, movies, and MTV would experience different people the same way. It's nice to know there's hope for people to come out of that. I'd like to believe that racism, is one small jagged fragment of the human condition that has never taken hold in my mind and I hope it never does.
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