Alexandra Petri: I have no racist bones, but this exoskeleton has propped me up for decades

President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

To be clear: I have not a single racist bone in my body! My body is a cartilaginous mass.

I have no bones at all! I am a soft grub. I am a tender worm. If it were not for the enormous, thick exoskeleton of racism that has been constructed around me over the course of centuries, people would not keep accusing me personally of having this racist bone.

I am very sorry that they keep feeling the need to do so. I have grown as best I could within this carapace, and I, personally, carry no ill will toward anyone. I don’t see color!

(Actually, my perception is on a radiation spectrum that is somewhere beyond the colors glimpsed with the human eye. The verb "see" applies only imprecisely to how I perceive color or indeed anything.)

I know in myself that I am good. I mean no harm! It is this thing outside of me that has twisted me into this form and distorted my words. It is this thing external to myself — I, personally, am a tabula rasa! I did not ask to be born, and if I could have asked, I would have asked to be born without this exoskeleton, which does not represent me one bit, although it has only benefited me. I did not ask it to, and I think it quite unjust! I shake my fist at this society as best I can, within this carapace that encloses my entire existence.

You must know of the purity of my essence! You must understand what I mean, only it keeps coming out garbled, with a strange rattle to it. I did not ask for any of this — none of the rich jewels that came attached to this carapace, nor the intergenerational transfers of wealth encrusted in it by my forebears. I am but a writhing, helpless grub.

Were it up to me, I would refuse these gifts that come affixed to this shell; they allow me to travel in safety and comfort that I have surely not earned, but, they came with the shell, you see. Thus encased, I move through crowds in safety and comfort, never bumping against invisible tripwires as I traverse the world, as I hear others do. I am very sorry when I hear of this! Sometimes I cannot fully hear inside this shell. But I am trying my best to hear.

All these features are defaults, and I do not know how to remove them from the shell. I wish I could. No, don't pry at the shell, please! It is loathsome, but it is the only home I've ever known. People have come to know me by this carapace and they might not recognize me — or greet me with their usual assumption of goodwill — without it.

But I believe that if I were not in this exoskeleton, many things would still have gone right for me, and I am only sorry that I never got the chance to find out. I would very much have liked that chance. It is a pity we can never truly know each other, except through this hideous thing that is around me but that is no part of my inner self.

You would like my inner self, which has no racist bones at all.

Please do not attack this exoskeleton. Inside it, I am extremely fragile, and — although I hate it — I am not sure what I would do if it broke.

Perhaps it would be easier if I had bones.

Alexandra Petri | The Washington Post

Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of “A Field Guide to Awkward Silences.”