Racism is so easily able to continue to spread because white people are taught that racism is bad, but not exactly what racism is, so they’re allowed to see the boundary as just past whatever it is they do. That’s why Southern white men can be friends with black men and play in bands with black men and give toasts at black men’s weddings, and claim all day not to be racist, but when those black men’s sons try to date their white daughters, give speeches about “crows flying with crows and doves flying with doves.” In their minds, racism is active hatred, so as long as they’re nice and friendly to people of color, as long as they don’t commit physical violence, as long as active attacks on people of color are deplorable to them, they can’t possibly be racist.
To white people, when defining racism, the thought process is this: “Racism is bad. I am not bad. Therefore, I am not racist, and whatever racism entails, it is out of the scope of my common actions or beliefs.” This goes for all oppressors on all axes. Nobody wants to see themselves as a villain, and so they forget that villains see themselves as heroes too, and that doing good requires making good choices based on good information. Being good takes effort, because when you have power over someone else, being villainous toward them on some level is a much easier path, even—maybe especially—when you don’t realize you’re doing it.