As a species, humans are programmed by evolution to prefer their own communities, which often boils down to “people who look and act like me.” Now, while this may have been a useful impulse thousands of years ago, when the tribe over the next hill was a threat to resources and life, it now manifests itself in a particularly ugly social ill: racism. But though racism is pervasive and has never really successfully been conquered on a large scale, it is possible (and, I would argue, critical) to overcome it on a personal level, as we find in 15 these stories from AskReddit threads:

1. Reevaluate 

I used to be super racist, sexist, homophobic, the whole nine yards. Growing up I was kind of an entitled jerk, and once I started getting a platform (I worked on the yearbook and later the high school newspaper) I started getting really bad.

I distinctly remember writing a movie review for Inception where I said that “even Black people” could enjoy the movie (I assumed that they would get offended or something idk I was an idiot). I almost reacted violently when I found out that a girl I had a major crush on was actually MTF transgender.

It wasn’t until I started realizing that I might be transgender that some understanding started to seep through, and after getting kicked out of my parents place at 17, struggling through a primarily Black populated workplace, and then eventually having to stay in a primarily Black populated homeless shelter that I started to see firsthand the sort of stuff a lot of Black individuals go through and I had to completely reevaluate my views on the world.

2. Auto Breakdown

Car broke down on the side of the road in a rich area in Orange County.

Not one person stopped besides some dude who barely spoke English. Guy crawled underneath the car to tap on the starter with a wrench and got it working.

3. “I…got to work with others outside my own bubble”

The recent presidential election. I have parents who lived through the Jim Crow south. I was told from a very early age that white people did not value me as a person from other Black folks and there were subtle anti-white jabs inserted by my own parents. At five years old, our family moved from the lower income inner city into a mostly white suburb. Although I never experienced racism directly, I was under the impression that anyone with an opposite political view was a racist. Republican=racist.

I vigorously studied politics and history in college. I even went to a conservative private university (Athletic scholarship). I learned so much and actually got to work with others outside my own bubble.

When it came to the election the generalizations, identity politics, referring to minorities as people of color (essentially calling us colored), just didn’t sit well with me anymore. Seeing BLM, reinforcing the rhetoric that the Black community has pushed for years really upset me as well. I am not scared of the police or white people. I am not a victim regardless of what my parents experienced. Recently I was told by a Black friend that they couldn’t believe I didn’t accept the assertion that white people want to wipe black people off the face of the Earth. I vehemently disagree with him because I refuse to be a racist.

4. “I didn’t want to be racist”

My parents were pretty racist, and kind of still are but have thankfully toned it down / kept it to themselves.

I used to be terrified of going anywhere but the small town I grew up in because I was told there were constant gang fights, shootings, etc in St. Louis. Like, I should lock my doors and not leave the car in certain areas, telling me Black men were gang members, etc.

No one ever told me otherwise and I never really met a non-white person until late high school, early college. I was really, really on-edge at college around non-white people. I was finally told I was racist by one of my friends but my instincts were a certain way. I didn’t want to be racist but I was.

I had to try really hard not to move out to the other sidewalk if a Black man was coming towards me. I had a constant anxiety around Black men, like something was going to happen any minute. I had to try incredibly hard to break those thoughts, a few times I did give in and leave the area. I still give in sometimes when a sketchy-looking middle-eastern man with a beard gets on public transportation.

I still have stereotypes and think a decent percent of Black people are a certain way, but I know now that not all of them are that way and that they are human too.

The difference was just exposure and time. I met non-white people that weren’t stereotypes, they were like me and I wasn’t killed for going into “their areas”.

5. “I started thinking for myself”

I had a bit of a racist mindset from growing up with a parent that lived through apartheid (white parent) but once I started thinking for myself that changed and I think racism is just ridiculous.

6. “None of us can escape it” 

I grew up in an atheist/Jewish household. My grandmother marched with MLK. Her older sister was an elementary school principal during World War II, and scrubbed her school’s records of last names to try to make it more difficult to target Japanese students for harassment (this was before they were rounded up and sent to camps).

For her trouble, she received death threats until her retirement in 1980. She was very proud of them, and saved a half-brick that accompanied one of them through her bedroom window. On my mum’s side, my great grandmother was among the first people to donate and raise money for the NAACP. Growing up, my parents went out of their way to make sure that I had black, Latino and Asian friends, and insisted that I speak Spanish (politely, with usted) with our Mexican-American neighbors. I am extremely grateful for the effort they invested, and I try to pay it forward.

Even so, my girlfriend still points out racist behaviors and attitudes that managed to sneak into my brain anyway. Mostly, it’s in the negative space of my personality — things that I don’t think about because I don’t have to. In many respects, I am still a racist, despite my best efforts and the efforts of the three generations of my family who raised me.

You don’t really overcome racism. It’s the background noise of our civilization, and none of us can escape it. The best we can do is grow faster than it eats away at us.

7. “It’s all about culture”

I’m not sure I qualify as a “former racist,” but I’ll give it a shot.

I immigrated to the states when I was 10, and before then, I had NEVER seen a black person. EVER. Not even on tv/movies. I guess the only “black” person I’ve seen were literally on those nature shows where they hunt down animals in the serengeti. So before I came to the states, I had a lot of my friends tell me random “truths” about black people, so that scared me a bit.

It didn’t help that the first taste of America I had was Newark, NJ…and then we moved to South Philly…so there’s that.

To those of you who are unaware, these aren’t very safe places. Lot of gang violence, shootings, muggings, etc. So again, it didn’t help my views that Black = violence.

Then I grew up around some really good people, and it helped out a lot. But I think it’s all about culture. I have zero prejudice when it comes to color anymore, it’s all about culture/education/social standing.

8. Exposure

I was raised in a very racist environment and held those views for many years, but I got a job at a college and there was exposed to many different cultures. Now I kind of feel out of place around a lot of friends and family because I don’t hold their racist views anymore.

9. “I was out of whack”

I was pretty much told (and had met many which confirmed it :/ ) that white South Africans are entitled jerks. That changed when I found out a good mate of mine was a white South African. Super top bloke which made me realize I was out of whack.

It did not help the past 20 or so I had met were jerks, but I had just hit an unlucky run.