I am very sorry for this post. I know that I’m writing the worst post that has ever been on this forum. If you feel like you are in a very vulnerable state, please do not read this post. After I get advice, I plan to delete this post.
I remember kind of fearing that I would mess up passing black people when walking out in public and be a racist. I was afraid that I would get many people on the campus to hate me when I was in college. Sadly, I managed to do that in my later years of college, but I think that it is rare for such an event to occur. This happened under a stressful period of time, with more public awareness and feelings of distress about racism, especially police brutality. Also, it happened on a college campus, where people are generally more aware of and dedicated to stopping racism. It is much more often than black people are hated for the color of their skin, and black people are forced to live knowing that racism can happen to them at any moment.
I think my first memory about worrying was when I was watching a movie during my last year of high school. I remember watching a movie that was about notable black figures in the past who accomplished great feats through intelligence, persistence and bravery, despite the racism of the times. I remember really enjoying the movie and thinking that it was very uplifting! And I shouldn’t sound super proud or thankful about this, but when watching the movie I was not uncomfortable when watching the black characters. But one scene that I became uncomfortable was this part where a white person looked very uncomfortable when walking past the black person in the movie. I felt worried because I thought “what if I did that”? I would be extremely racist and I would harm that black person’s self esteem. I could screw up passing by a black person in public and be a racist. I don’t think the thought stuck for a while, but it made me unnerved. I remember visiting my sibling’s campus, and while walking to the dorm
I remember also visiting my sibling at college around this time. When walking to their dorm I would see students walking around, but when I saw black students I would sometimes get a racist thought. I would think “hey they look kind of like a thug”. Thankfully, I would notice that this thought was racist, but then I would get nervous. I would get scared that I would do the same racist thing that the white person in the movie I watched did. I also come from a mostly white town, and around that time I still had a “colorblind” ideology. I wasn’t aware that everyone has racist biases, so I thought that I must have been unusually racist for having such a thought come into my head. I remember kind of fearing that I would mess up passing black people when walking out in public and be a racist. I was afraid that I would get many people on the campus to hate me when I was in college.
I remember on one of the first college visit days for my own school having this strange moment . I remember being afraid of acting racist when talking to a black person at the desk. As they were giving me information about something (perhaps college finances or dorms?) all I could think of was the fear of looking like a racist while listening to them. Was I nodding wrong? Was I giving off nervous energy? As crazy as it sounds, I remember not making complete eye contact because I was afraid that if I made eye contact, I was going to do it wrong and be racist.
I got over this anxiety pretty quickly over my first year. I walked to class normally, and talked to people of different races without even thinking of the anxiety about being a racist. I think that the only other time when this fear popped up again that year was during an outdoors event with some of my friends. I remember one of the people giving instructions for a game was a man, but when I heard his voice, for some weird reason I thought it sounded like he was gay. So I remember being slightly afraid of saying or acting homophobic. I think I even remember saying “come out” somewhere in my wording when I was asking a question. I felt slightly embarrassed! But the anxiety about being discriminatory during that first year was very light, especially compared to the anxiety I felt over it during my later years at college.
I think my intrusive thoughts (not sure if they’re intrusive thoughts or not) become more intense and varied in content during my second year of school. My most gross intrusive thoughts are ones that imagine black people as an inferior race, or imagine black people looking like animals, imagining black people are thug caricatures, or imagining black people being more aggressive in personality. I think I remember seeing a racist comment on youtube and I was afraid that I would type out some of the words in that comment when I typed in the password to my computer. I remember also occasionally thinking of old racist advertisements when I see a black person, but this one didn’t seem to happen as often. At that time I also had thoughts that were less about “think about this racist thing” and more about “what if you do something that is racist”. Like what if I have a racist thought, what if I am naturally more inclined to racist reactions than most people are, or what if I look worried or uncomfortable when I see a black person on the screen, what if I flinch or twitch or eventually start panicking because I am looking at this advertisement with a black person on it for too long?
I remember become even more stressed and afraid of looking like I was racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, or disciminatory in any way. I was scared about my gross intrusive thoughts and I was scared of other people seeing these intrusive thoughts. I would get tense, hyperventillate, feel a little fatigued, sometimes stare at them for too long, if I got nervous about being portrayed as racist, homophobic or ableist. It was getting to the point where people would notice my discomfort (they would have varied reactions) but I was in denial that people would notice my discomfort. I remember one time seeing a black person sitting at a table in my peripheral, and I got very nervous that I was going to look racist. I probably started breathing unusually, and walking a little more strangely. They asked me how I was doing, and when I turned to talk to them, I realized that they were a friend that I knew. I didn’t feel that fear anymore (I did feel embarrassed that I panicked the way that I did) and I had a normal conversation with them before going on with my day.
If the person reacted to my discomfort by starting a conversation with me, I would tell myself “they were just checking up on me or being friendly”. If they had a negative reaction to my discomfort, I would tell myself, “they just are mean or think that I am weird”. I remember also around that time convincing myself that these nervous reactions that I am having were natural discriminatory biases that I had all along, and that I just needed to hide it. At that time, I’ve read that people could become aware of their biases, but not actually get rid of them. I felt like **** because I thought that meant that I was going to have this discomfort forever, and that I always was going to be super discriminatory. I also remember at this time struggling to hide a fear that random men I’ve seen across the hallways would think that I am sexually into them even though I’ve just met them. So I might hyperventilate and struggle to walk at a decent rhythm when I passed by random guys in the hallway.
I remember that I secretly liked going home for quarantine because I did not have to go through the shame of going out in public, getting fearful of looking discriminatory or creepy, and then going through the shame of someone’s reaction, and then trying to deny that the reaction was because of me. Staying at home was simply easier for me. Lots of the reactions towards my panic were understandably negative, which made me feel more negative about going out in public.
At the end of my summer, I remember feeling dread about the idea of going back to college for my third year, which was pretty unusual to me. I just felt like people were out to get me or something. When I first went back on campus for the year, I just remember feeling my fear of being a racist was higher than ever before. It was all that I could think about, but at least I realized that this was a problem that I needed to solve. I would try to read anti racism articles. I would try to read about how to walk out in public like a normal person. I even wrote quite bluntly on a search query “why am I acting uncomfortable around black people?” “Why am I acting uncomfortable around gay people?” quora forums asking the same questions would pop up. While some of the answers were understandably angry at the asker, other answerers mentioned that it may be from intrusive thoughts. At the time I thought that for my problem to be intrusive thoughts, that I would have to have my brain constantly telling me “say the n word to a black person” even if I did not want to do that, so I thought that I probably did not have intrusive thoughts.
I also remember around that phase of my life I saw someone wearing a gay pride t-shirt and I started panicking when I passed by them because I was afraid of acting homophobic. I also remember signing in at a desk and first feeling somewhat casual (or as casual as my anxious self at the time could be) but then I realized that the person at the desk was a person of color (not black, but a different type of racial minority, I don’t completely remember) and my face blushed at that moment. It was embarrassing and I felt super racist at that moment.
One microaggression I remember reading about at that time was the one where a white person instinctively clutches their purse when they see a black person. This happens because the white person holds a racist stereotype of a black person being a criminal. Through the microaggression, the white person is communicating to the black person that they think that the black person is a criminal. This definitely is hurtful for the black person’s well-being.
So I remember this period of time where I would get fearful that I would hold onto my purse in that racist way, but I was still committing that racist act? I think I remember 3 to 4 instances where I saw a black person, my brain said “don’t touch your purse”, and I still touched my purse. I knew that they were not going to steal from me, and I didn’t feel afraid of them stealing from me (unless I unconsciously had that fear). My purse has a long strap that goes around the shoulder, so for the most part I do not hold the straps of my purse or even touch it. So I would be walking, with my hands towards my side and with the hand that is closest to my purse I would move that hand (not reaching up or down) closer to me and softly tap on my purse for a second before lifting my hand from my purse. I would feel even more panic and guilt after I did this.
One truly awful time I did this I ran into someone I knew (they are black) and we started a casual conversation. I remember worrying about acting racist and then touching my purse and then feeling really bad about it. I’m not sure exactly what method I used to stop doing the purse thing or if the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy towards my anxiety did all of the work for me. I remember the purse thing being less of a worry over time though and instead I would worry about twitching my hand or moving it differently if I saw any sort of minority. I made it a habit to put my hands in my pocket, although I might need to find a better trick for when I go to the supermarket.
But then people at school started actually seeing me as a racist, and honestly I can see why. I would get really nervous about getting “found out” as a racist, so I would basically panic whenever I saw any black person. I would breathe strangely, my walking would become uneven, I think I would stare at them for too long too. And one time that I am extremely ashamed of was when I was running late to a class there were lots of people walking on the pavement, so I was fast walking to be polite towards them. I realized that if I walked through the grass, I could get to my destination in less time. There weren’t people on the grass too so I could save even more time and run without worrying about bumping into people. But I was racist at that moment because there was a black person standing there on the grass near the pavement, and I did my racist panic reaction where I stared at him, started breathing really weirdly. When I was on the grass and I knew that I wasn’t going to bump into him I ran across the grass. So it basically looked like I was running away from him out of fear! He was understandably angry and called for me, but I just kept going because at that moment I was in denial that I angered someone. That’s the person who I wish that I could apologize to the most, but I do not know who they are. At the end of that day I came to terms with the fact that I was wrong, and I tried writing in my notes what I could do next time so I don’t do something so racist. My ideas: don’t run when I’m late to class? I didn’t realize that it was my panic that ultimately made my action racist. If I didn’t stare at that person strangely and start panicking and breathing strangely, then me running across the grass would have been interpreted as me being class and not me being a racist.
But yeah I’m about 99% sure that people figured out that I was a racist. I don’t think I hallucinated any of the scenarios, because I never have done that before. Lots of random people that I didn't know were just acting more hostile towards me. I started even taking indoor routes and avoiding going to the dining rooms when lots of people were there because some people would shout at me or try to get my attention. I also remember people would turn to look at me and talk about me. Over time I think it got less bad, but I am not sure because of my avoidance strategies.
I remember also at that time hearing black people saying to their friends that I looked at them strangely, that I glanced at them or looked at them funny. When I started hearing this, I would spend lots of my free time googling how exactly I was staring at them so I could stop doing so. I now know that If you glance at someone for anytime longer than 1.5 seconds that people will think that you are staring at them, they may think that your racist/homophobic/ableist, or they may think that you are a pervert, or they may think that you think they are weird. So that’s how I finally learned that my staring thing was actually pretty racist. I’m ashamed of myself because I’ve been doing it for a while consistently to people, and I hate knowing that I was the person who gave others more racism and homophobia and basically ruined their day.
I think another thing that has helped me out a lot especially back then was learning (through Google) that I could smile or nod at people I passed through the hallway as a polite way of acknowledgement. This made me feel much better because even if my body language was the most ****** up thing in the world I could smile at them to signify to them that I wanted to be friendly to them, and that I perceive them as a friendly person. I still probably looked really racist/homophobic/etc., but it was an improvement from where I started. I remember at that time even occasionally greeting strangers across the hallways as a way for me to “come out of my shell”, and I even imagined it as a way to apologize to the people I’ve wronged. People thought I was loony when I did the greeting thing, so I eventually dropped that and would just smile or nod.
One of the things that I would do to try to find and apologize to the people I’ve wronged, but I did this only a few times because it was terrifying to me. If I guessed that someone did not like me or was gossiping about me, I would tell them that I wronged lots of people earlier in the year (I was pretty vague with this), that I wanted to apologize, and if they knew anyone who was wronged by me. If I could, I would try to ask these people while they were on their work shift without many other people around. None of them knew anyone that I wronged.
I also thought I am seeing people as racist abstractions, that maybe by talking to them I could see them as normal people. I remember also thinking that talking to black people would make me have positive experiences with black people, and making me associate black people with positive experiences would be a good way to undo my racist biases. I also remember really wanting to amend my reputation, and if black people notice that I am trying to be kind to them then they might think that I am not racist. Also, for anyone I’ve wronged, going out of my way to try to be kind felt like the least I can do, and being friendly and talking to them might give them the courage to tell me that I need to apologize to them (this unfortunately didn’t happen, but expecting people to bring up something uncomfortable to talk about on the spot is an unrealistic expectation on my part). I have no idea who any of the people I’ve wronged are, so talking to random people was the only solution that I could think of. Also, I also felt very desperate for some sort of positive interaction with others during that time, so this gave me a way to have positive interactions. I also would try to talk to people of other races so it didn’t seem strange that I was only talking to people of a specific race, but my reasoning for all of this was to talk to black people to erase my racism.
I used to get very anxious about the interactions I had when talking to black people and other POC. At first, my voice would often be very quiet and my face would blush, but eventually I stopped having that problem. Also, my Cognitive Behavioral Therapy aimed towards my anxiety has been a lifesaver for me. I’ve learned breathing exercises to help ease my anxiety. When I am out in public and I start to get nervous about the idea of doing something racist/sexist/homophobic/etc., I can use the exercises to center myself. The breathing exercises also help to establish a rhythm for me to breathe at, which helps to stop my panic about “breathing wrong”.
But overtime I then started thinking about how it is bizarre that I am going on such a long journey to undo my racism. Like, to act like a normal person to black people I suddenly have to talk to every black person I see, and intentionally listen to more black artists? My first year of college I never really thought of this and just was a normal person. I never felt a surge of discomfort from seeing a black person. I learned about racism, and would challenge my own trains of racist thought, but it wasn’t anything too dramatic. Last I checked, most people do not have to go out of their way and talk to every black person to not be racist. They just have to not be racist. Learn about acts of racism that happen (microaggressions, assumptions based off of stereotypes, etc.) and avoid doing them. Is it normal for white people to go through a phase in their lives where they consciously try to talk to black people to remove any sort of racist biases they have?
Today my “intrusive thoughts” (if that’s what they are) are less strong and more benign, less about “think about this racist thing” and more about “what if you do something that is racist”. Like what if I have a racist thought, what if I am naturally more inclined to racist reactions than most people are, or what if I look worried or uncomfortable when I see a black person on the computer screen, what if I flinch or twitch or eventually start panicking because I am looking at this advertisement with a black person on it for too long? I seem much more relaxed while I am looking at images/videos and I see a minority by myself, but I feel like (but it could just be how I interpret my memories and not the truth) when I am watching images/videos and I see a minority when I am with other people I am more likely to feel anxious and “what if you’re being racist?” type thoughts.
But I am not diagnosed, so I am not sure if these are actual intrusive thoughts or if they are me just self-diagnosing. Would these be intrusive thoughts? I noticed that if a black person and I are both waiting and next to each other (perhaps they are next to me in line or we are both in a waiting room) I feel a need to be friendly and talk to them somehow to “prove” that I am not hating them for being black. It can bring some genuinely good conversations sometimes, but other times it just makes me awkward. I’ve noticed that I do this a lot if I am waiting next to someone I think is gay, so I can avoid the possibility of looking homophobic to them.
If any of my friends or family knew any of this about me, they would never trust me again. I don’t think I could tell anyone about this. But what if they hear from someone else that I am a racist? If they ask me about it, then I would have to tell them the truth and I would lose them as a friend. How could anyone ever want to be my friend if they knew about this? What if I never get a job from this? What if everyone around me learns about this? It feels as if my life is over.
I am realizing that I was racist and homophobic, but especially racist.
I want to apologize to the people I’ve wronged, but I do not know who they are. Also, I am afraid of apologizing and then hurting that person again, since while I have gotten much better with this problem it is not completely gone. With my smiling and nodding that I would do to acknowledge people I passed in the hallway, I sometimes would act strangely towards black people still. I remember when there was a group of people and one of them was black, I suddenly would get nervous about being racist towards the black person and nod specifically at the black person. Which is kind of like singling them out? I think I came off as weird. I am also not sure how I would even explain everything to them. Before I really started considering the intrusive thoughts thing, I would have probably talked about how I had racist biases and how I should have talked to black people to get rid of those biases. But now I am not even sure why I acted the way that I did, and why I think like I do, so how could I explain myself correctly? And if it is happening because of mental illness, I don’t think that I could explain myself because it would be me using it as an excuse to morally bad behavior that harmed people.
I know it is selfish for me to say this, but I think that I need to go to a new college. The right thing would be to apologize, but I don’t think that it could ever be pulled off correctly. I now feel too ashamed when I am walking on campus. I put myself through lots of stress the first semester of this year when trying to get good grades while trying to make everything right again, but this semester I just gave up on all of that. Most of my grades are bad due to my neglect of studying. I barely ever walk outside of my dorm room, and I skip going to my in-person classes. Instead of studying, I would spend my time looking at colleges to transfer to and trying to figure out why my problem behavior exists and how to solve it. I don’t think I can ever completely “fix” my reputation at this school. All I really care about is at this point is how I can completely fix my behavior. I started reading about intrusive thoughts and OCD, and I am starting to think that I might have intrusive thoughts. Maybe I have Social Anxiety? Do I have an irrational fear of minorities? Have I internalized racist biases? Whatever it is, I definitely need to get it treated. I don’t want to step onto another campus again until I am sure that I will not be acting racist or homophobic.
I think that I need a year off of school to get whatever I have treated. I don’t want to harm any more people at my school. Perhaps I can work at a small place in a diverse area? I would have to be sure the business is small enough so there’s less risk of me acting nonverbally racist or homophobic towards someone, but it might help me get rid of my racism while getting money for school. I seem fine for the most part when talking to minorities, because it’s easier for me to convey that I intend to be friendly through conversation. Once I get to a point where I fix this problem, perhaps I should go to a new school for a fresh start?. I would really like the idea of going to a new campus with more diversity, thriving and making new friends, proving to myself that I can be a decent nonracist person and grow from my mistakes.
But even if I fix my malicious racist behavior, what if too many people know the old me? I don’t think I could ever explain my behavior, and as selfish as it is, the only solution I can think of is to try to avoid being recognized. Get a new hairstyle, and get my hair dyed. Probably also change my clothing and accessories. I hope my reputation wouldn’t be bad enough that I would have to move out of the state (I live in the U.S.). I just don’t think I can deal with people knowing me like this for the rest of my life.
What should I do to start getting the treatment I need? Should I get a psychological evaluation for any specific disorders? What disorders should I ask about? I’m thinking of trying to consult an OCD specialist. How do I get my life back together? Is it even possible at this point?
Thanks for reading, and I am sorry about all of the **** I posted here. I know that I messed up very badly.