Last year, I had occasion to take several Implicit Attitude tests and found that apparently I have a slight preference for black people over white people and an equally slight preference for whites over Asian-Americans, a result I did not report to my Asian-American then-girlfriend. (Until, you know, now.) That's not why we broke up; that had more to do with her good taste and (in the non-racist sense) discrimination.
As the brilliant musical Avenue Q pointed out, everyone's a little bit racist. Evolution and natural selection explain the origin of racism and xenophobia: our hominid ancestors who trusted others and welcomed them with open arms didn't survive to pass on their genes. Those who hated outsiders and killed them got to take their stuff and make plenty of little stuff-rich babies. (I'm sure fundamentalists also have a compelling explanation for racism, probably involving their interpretation of a magic book.) Denying your racism doesn't help; it'll come out eventually. (Check out, just e.g., these news stories. Let's not even talk of Paula Deen, okay? Especially since no one will even remember her name in a few years.) Anyone who says, "Now, I'm not a racist, but... " is a ginormous racist-y racist and is about to say something horrendously racist. On the other hand, admitting that you maybe harbor some racial animosity and consciously wrestling it down does help. Admit it, fight it.
In fighting it, I suggest that if you're not African-American, don't ever--EVER--EVEREVEREVER!!!--use "the N-word". No, really. Don't. I don't care what you think you want to say, I don't care if you're quoting, I don't care if the group you belong to suffered at the hands of the Nazis or the Turks or the Shriners (You murderous tricycle-driving bastards!), don't. That's not just a rule, that's a natural law, right up there next to f=ma and E=mc2 and he who smelt it dealt it. You would think everyone, Latvian goatherds and incubator babies and some especially-smart dogs would understand this perfectly. "Oh, of course you shouldn't," they'd say (less understandably on the part of the babies and dogs, and, sure, for those who don't speak Latvian, the goatherds too). "Why would you ever?" This one word reminds African-Americans of four centuries of murder, torture, rape and oppression. Using it is like referring to a Holocaust survivor by his tattooed number.
"But black people say it!" Okay. So? You can't. They've earned it, just by swimming through the giant lake of shit white people force them into. They've reclaimed that word, as LGBT people reclaimed "queer." You think that's unfair? Tough. Also unfair: you don't get to become Miss America (unless you are, in which case, my apologies) nor stomp Donald Trump's rodential toupee dead, much as we might all wish to. You want to start redressing all the world's inequities with this? To make this the hill you die on? In a country where a man could get thirteen years in the pokey for writing nasty things about Bank Of America in kids' washable chalk, this signifies free speech to you? You make me sad.
Another thing: accidental racist, you say? I call bullshit. If you wear a confederate battle-flag t-shirt, that Starbucks counter guy should give you the fish-eye, because it didn't just randomly appear in your dresser one day. You've probably got a special confederate battle-flag t-shirt drawer. And the reason? Is you're a racist. It's not accidental. You celebrate the regime that seceded from the United States to defend their right to own people. And hey, they lost, so get the fuck over it. They were horrible horrible people and they lost. Our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, kicked their racist asses. Learn a lesson from the Germans, who utterly repudiated their Nazi past, with a few trollish exceptions whom other Germans regard the way they'd regard dog shit they'd stepped in. That flag flew over the defenders of slavery, and slavery and its aftermath represented a genocide that rivals the Holocaust (and perhaps surpasses it -- no one bothered to keep accurate track of dead slaves) and took place over four centuries. You know, by accident.
If at this point you, my white friend (well, Facebook friend), declare "My people weren't even here then," or "The Irish had it just as bad", I must ask you: have you ever been stopped or arrested for being Bulgarian? Did you have to duck gunfire on your way home from school in your Italian neighborhood? (Well, maybe in Jersey.) Do you make less because your family came from Belgium? (Payment in the form of waffles counts as pay... delicious pay.) Or did you go to a nice shiny school with plenty of equipment and books, while down the road African-Americans went to a desperately underfunded cockroach motel? Also: was your family here in 1955, when racists brutally murdered Emmett Till?
African-Americans say that they have to work twice as hard to get half as far, and from what I've seen that might be an underestimate. Being white gets you all kinds of privileges, and I'm not even counting "White People Eat Free Night" at Paula Deen's restaurant. (I know: I said I wouldn't but then I did.) So are you obliged to care that the Supreme Court has allowed former Jim Crow states to deny African-Americans representation, making the infamous 3/5 compromise seem almost generous? (Texas started doing just that two hours after that dread(Scott)ful decision.) Do you have to think about the fact that African-Americans earn 70 percent of what whites make? Must the fact that 2½ times more black babies die than white outrage you?
No, of course not... unless you don't want to be a racist.