Maybe. Most of us would be lying if we said we’ve never thought or said something racist. But that isn’t really the point.

As Jay Smooth once said in this TED Talk, most people tend to think of racism like they think of tonsils – you either have them or you don’t – you either are a racist or you are not. But a better way to think of racism is through a dental-hygienist analogy. This model says that  bad habits and wrong beliefs accumulate over time (just like plaque) during our daily lives. When someone says something is stuck between your teeth, you don’t say that it’s impossible because you’re a clean person. Being a clean person doesn’t mean you can never get dirty – it means you clean when you do get dirty. Similarly, understanding racism means understanding that you are not immune to racist or prejudiced thoughts, actions or beliefs. It means you work on your imperfections everyday. It is less about if you are a racist person and more about how the things you do or say might be racist. It is about working to improve those thoughts and behaviors.

Back to the beginner’s guide to racial inequality.