The Most Racist Thing That Ever Happened

Jackie Summers has identified the most troubling thing about racism these days: no one ever admits to being racist.

I’m 17 years old. I’m visiting the home of my friend Chris in Staten Island. We read comics, and his mom makes us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut diagonally. The next day, someone paints on his garage–in big red letters–”nigger lover.”

This is not the most racist thing that has ever happened to me.

♦◊♦

I’m 28. I’m working on Wall St., in the energy sector. It’s 10 A.M. and I’m just settling into the stack of reports requiring my attention. The news sweeps through the office like a tsunami: OJ Simpson, not guilty. The Senior Analyst of the Oil and Gas group comes up to my desk and asks, “Is it okay for white people to start looting now?”

This is not the most racist thing that has ever happened to me.

♦◊♦

I’m 30 years old. My date looks like she put on her dress with a spray-can. We’ve finished playing pool, and now we’re having a drink at a pub. Her mouth is writing sweet, filthy promises that I believe her body has every intention on cashing. The large burly gent next to us seems to be having a good time as well; so good in fact that he–quite accidentally–bumps into my date. Her gin and tonic splashes all over her new dress, ruining it, and the mood.

“You goddamned, stupid, fucking nigger” he spews. “Do you have any idea where you are!?” He’s drunk and angry and looking for trouble. It’s clear I’m about to get some action, just not the kind I had in mind.

I tap “Burly” on the shoulder. “I see you’re having a good time with your friends,” I say, “and I don’t want to interrupt. But you–accidentally–bumped into my date, and spilled her drink all over her new dress. I’d appreciate it if you apologized.”

“You goddamned, stupid, fucking nigger” he spews. “Do you have any idea where you are!?” He’s drunk and angry and looking for trouble. It’s clear I’m about to get some action, just not the kind I had in mind.

A minute later and the five of us are outside: myself, my date–who just wants to go home and is cowering behind me–Burly, and two of his friends. “Okay you stupid fucking nigger” he shouts, “what are you going to do now? There are three of us, and one of you.”

“This is easy” I say, pointing at his friends. “I can either beat all three of you up, or I can just beat HIM up. You two are free to go.”

His friends–who’ve clearly been pressed into “take-care-of-our-drunk-loudmouth-friend” service before–apply the better part of valor, and leave. While I’m taking off my coat, Burly throws a haymaker in my direction. My martial arts training kicks in; thirty seconds later and I’m sitting on his back, his wrist–agonizingly twisted the wrong way–in one hand, and a fistful of ginger hair in the other. He’s spitting venomous epithets at me when it occurs to me that, should a police officer wander upon the scene, I’m likely going to jail, despite not being the aggressor. I end the fight and leave.

This is not the most racist thing that’s ever happened to me.

♦◊♦

I’m 32 years old. I’ve just left my car–a canary yellow 1972 Buick Skylark convertible–at my mechanic in the Bronx. I’m walking to the subway when three police cars screech to a stop around me. Six officers jump out of their cars–guns drawn–and suddenly I’m trying to think clearly enough to answer the questions that are being yelled at me as my legs are kicked apart and my face is shoved into a wall.

I’m calm. I’m polite. I think of the (then) recently deceased Amadou Diallo, and curb my genetic tendency towards sarcasm. The officers check my identification and make sure there are no warrants for my arrest. After it’s been determined that my story checks out, I ask the officer closest to me why I was stopped. He tells me that I “matched the description of a suspect,” and as he answers, he notices me taking note of his badge number.

Without explanation, I’m handcuffed, unceremoniously stuffed into the back of a police car, and taken to Central Booking, otherwise known as “the Tombs.” I descend a staircase deeper than the pits of Avernus and am placed into a holding cell. It’s unclear if I am being arrested; in fact I’m never told what’s going on. There’s a phone but it’s out of order. Four hours go by. I’m surrounded by genuinely dangerous people, who for reasons beyond my comprehension, are leaving me completely alone.

Eight hours pass. By now I’ve missed work. Twelve hours after I drop my car off at my mechanic, an officer comes down with a stack of papers and begins to call off names. I’m being released; apparently no charges were filed against me. My property and my freedom are returned. I receive no explanation and no apology.

This is not the most racist thing that’s ever happened to me.

♦◊♦

The wonderful part about the experiences I just described is their overtness. Once, racism was men in hoods burning a cross on your lawn. It was separate entrances and separate water fountains and the back of the bus, and if people didn’t know their place, it was okay to remind them who’s in charge. The great thing about those folks was: at least you knew where you stood. A man with a noose has clear intentions, about as easy to spot as a harvest moon on a clear autumn night. In a best case scenario, with a bit of discretion, you could avoid these people entirely. In a worst case scenario, you could at least defend yourself.

The problem with today’s racism is: nobody ever actually admits to being a racist. Refusal to acknowledge a problem is in fact, tacit compliance.

Modern racism is the insidious undercurrent that keeps classism aloft. It’s city planning that isolates certain neighborhoods, depriving them of civil services. It’s public schools in “low income neighborhoods” with overcrowded classrooms and dangerously outdated facilities. It’s the bank loan for the new business that you don’t get even though your credit is good, because you’re “high risk.” It’s using Jay-Z, Oprah, and Michael Jordan as examples to prove race-based income disparity no longer exists.

Modern racism is the insidious undercurrent that keeps classism aloft. It’s city planning that isolates certain neighborhoods, depriving them of civil services. It’s public schools in “low income neighborhoods” with overcrowded classrooms and dangerously outdated facilities. It’s the bank loan for the new business that you don’t get even though your credit is good, because you’re “high risk.” It’s using Jay-Z, Oprah, and Michael Jordan as examples to prove race-based income disparity no longer exists.

If overt racism is a noose, institutionalized racism is carbon monoxide: just as lethal but more pervasive and far harder to detect.

♦◊♦

My best friend in the world happens to be an insanely wealthy, drop dead gorgeous blonde. Not long ago, I was conversing with her husband about a recent case in Auburn, Washington, where a (black) man was arrested for attempting to deposit a bank check made out to him. “Your wife,” I said, “has walked into a bank, kindly explained to a teller that she’d forgotten her identification, and walked out with pockets full of cash.”

“That’s true” he said, “but you can ride the subways at 3 A.M. and not have to worry about being attacked.”

“That’s probably true,” I conceded. “Want to trade?”

♦◊♦

Touré, a novelist, journalist, MSNBC personality, and contributing editor at Rolling Stone, currently has an essay on The Atlantic entitled “The Most Racist Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” Unsurprisingly–at least to me–when 105 interviewees were posed this question, the most common response was, “the answer is unknowable.”

I’m wont to agree.

A brief perusal of the comments sees the vitriol this topic provokes rise to caustic levels. The (perceived) anonymity of the Internet emboldens cowards; opinions are frequently expressed online that would otherwise never see the light of day. Personally, I try to avoid engaging such individuals in pointless argument. As my Mom would say, “Never wrestle with the pig. You both get filthy, but the pig enjoys it.”

Instead, I’ll simply ask: what’s the most racist thing that’s ever happened to you?

Be the Change You Want to See

Photo Daviniodus/deviantart.com

About Jackie Summers

Jackie Summers is an author and entrepreneur. His blog F*cking in Brooklyn chronicles his quest to become a person worthy of love. His company, Jack From Brooklyn, Inc. houses his creative and entrepreneurial enterprises. Follow him on Twitter @jackfrombkln and friend him on Facebook

Comments

  1. Lisa Hickey says:

    Jackie, I wanted to thank you for this. When people tell stories, just tell the stories, without hatred or anger, and let the reader form his or her own insights, something amazing happens. Like all great storytelling, this post changed me. And such a great demonstration of who you are, as a person, as a man. Kudos.

    • @Lisa-
      Yes the stories are compelling, but the point is that so often racism DOESN’T come with a story. It’s the daily microagresssions that lack narrative that drive modern prejudice.

      • Lisa Hickey says:

        Totally agree Katelin — and thanks for pointing that out. I do get caught up in the stories because that is my (our) way of making sense of the world. But I absolutely got Jackie’s point that it is the “racism without the stories” that needs to be addressed. We will continue to do so.

    • Lisa, holding onto the anger would dilute the ability to learn the lesson and move beyond. GOOD stories have power; people will remember the moral long after the protagonists are lost to antiquity.

      JFB

  2. CandidCutie says:

    The most racist thing to happen to me assuming that I need or want “white” America to apologize. There have been a lot of great debates about race on this site and this hit home. i don’t need help, or special treatment, but somehow being called a racist has become worse than being a racist.

  3. Well done. Well done.

    Pretending that racism is over and done with, and no longer affects people in unfair ways is a travesty. I think that those of us who have been victims of it must acknowledge that it still exists, draw attention to it, but help young people to succeed in spite of it – as others have done.

    • Eric, I agree 100%: if we teach young people differently, perhaps a new generation will be born that has BETTER THINGS to fight over. Seriously, as a species, we”ve got to be smarter than this.

      JFB

  4. I wouldn’t even know where to start. Walking near my college campus and having “Nigger!” yelled from a car? A company email that went out and asked that none of dress too “gangsta” for upcoming company photos? Being told I hate white people because I wear my hair naturally? Or being around the people who simply refuse to acknowledge that I’m in the room, because my very presence makes them uncomfortable.

    I don’t know which is more racist. I’ve spent much of my college career, coming from a predominately black high school to a predominately white university, trying to understand how some people believe racial disparities don’t exist and why it’s so hard for some people to talk about these things.

    Good Men Project has done a stellar job of promoting these conversations. I’m enthralled and so happy people are talking about these things. Please continue. Don’t let this be “Oh, that one time we discussed race.” Because none of us are living in a world where race only matters sometimes.

  5. Thank you for this article.

    I find the biggest barrier to modern racial education for white folks is their tendency to believe that racism is all about burning crosses and hate crimes. They figure, as long as they’re not yelling epithets, then they’re fine. They are too blind to the institutionalize system of privileges they enjoy–and cling vehemently to.

    Thanks again. Will def pass along on our weekly link round up.

    • Katelin, we are trying to have difficult conversations here on GMP. I believe the term you’re referring to about the small offenses is “micro-inequities.” Time did a piece on it here:

      http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1172212,00.html

      My question to you is: what barriers do black people face in attempting to include white, asian, latin and native Americans in the conversation about racism?

      JFB

      • Yes! I am very familiar with that concept, though have always used the sociological term ‘microaggression’ (Sue et al, 2006): http://tiny.cc/e8r5a. From what I can tell they characterize similar phenomena, yes?

        As to your question, yikes! Complicated! I will speak to the barriers to conversation with white folks since that is what I am most familiar. The problem I encounter is the utter silence among white folks about race (http://tiny.cc/wgl0z). We never talk about it negatively OR positively.

        The temptation is then to think that because it is never talked about, that the problems no longer exist. Then we become surprised and indignant when informed of the reality to the contrary. Through our silence, we are allowed believe that ‘colorblindness’ is the ideal, rather than part of the problem. From this silence (and therefore lack of education), come innumerable missteps, which then ratchet up tensions during dialogue for justice and reconciliation.

        Knowing this, my strategy has been to increase the visibly of healthy racial discussion among white folks, and to attempt to educate white-to-white in a manner that may forestall some of the classic hurtful statements of ignorance that occur during interracial discussion.

        This is where I am, anyway. Your thoughts?

        Lastly, #BTSF Friday Round Up is now out: http://awe.sm/5Vahj. I will be talking you up throughout the day on Twitter (@StrngeFruit).

  6. I love your writing Jackie. Love it. This was stellar.

    And regarding your question, I have to answer “not applicable.” I’m a white, middle class guy living in the suburbs. I have not ever dealt with racism. I’m sure that makes me spoiled and it certainly means I see things with rose-colored glasses. Because I’ve never witnessed racism up close it’s tough—actually, impossible—for me to know how it affects someone like yourself. While reading the descriptions of some of the things that have happened to you, I have to admit it’s a little hard to believe. I’m not calling you a liar, I’m just saying it’s beyond my comprehension and experience that something like that would happen to a person.

    Regardless, I’m looking forward to more of your pieces. Truly great stuff.

  7. funny thing i was married to a white guy who physically verbally mentally abused me for 16 years YET a year ago I started a relationship with a wonderful man who i the love of my life, we will grow old together, he treats me like a princess, opens doors, takes me to the finest places to eat, buys my daughters gifts just because he can!! We live in seperate cities die to business if he cant get to me he brings me to him. My sister died he came to be with me he offered his credit card to pay for the wake and any expenses (I declined) people dont see that they just see color! even been told its just not right!! We get stares, snide comments I dont get it~~~~~My assistant is a twin her twin boyfriend white her boyfriend black the twins man beat her, stalked her, went awol from the army. Her boyfriend attends an elite college, volunteers is the model person. her parents love him her gramma NO WAY cant bring him home. I was raised to respect all cultures i raised my children the same YET my sister is the biggest racist I know thankfully this did NOT rub off on her son!!! why is this still happening?!?!?!?!?

  8. Kaycee, that is a great question. Much credit–good or bad–goes to parenting, but every child has their own unique genetic predisposition. There’s no telling why one child raised in the same house by the same parents turns out so differently. It is only on us to raise any children we bring into the world with this awareness, and attempt to give them the tools they need to conquer the problems we’ve left for them.

    JFB

    • oldfeminist says:

      A lot of “nature versus nurture” arguments founder on this. But it’s not only parents, it is the peer group that has a strong influence on people’s opinions. Some peer groups can be particularly toxic.

      The peer group effect is especially strong when you’re at an age where you’re trying to differentiate yourself from your parents.

      It can be for the good, too. Kids whose parents are overtly racist often find friends who are not racist or are of another race and learn better. There is hope!

  9. Tom Matlack says:

    Jackie thanks for this gut-wrenching piece. I agree with you. My parents risked their lives during the summer of 1964 in Mississippi to combat the overt racism of the South of that time. I just find it so frankly bizarre that as a country we were ultimately able to rally around civil rights as a cause and yet were unable to follow through on the promise. In many ways the brutal facts of racism today are just are bad, but no one really wants to hear it. “We solved that problem already,” is the response. I talk about prison a lot because to me it’s the end result of the current system of poverty, education, and family life that is separate and unequal. When I say there are 2.3 million men in prison, over half minority a common response I get is, “they deserve it. they did the crimes. they are guilty.”

    Honestly, I view this whole complex of issues as far more important to our national security than hunting bad guys in the middle east. We have to deal with race and poverty in our country or we are going to implode. The smart affluent guys I know fall into two camps: the Warren Buffet types who are ready to admit that this isn’t fair and we have to fundamentally change the system and the guys who are preparing for the battle ahead by buying guns, gold, and land in New Zealand. Unfortunately I know more who are preparing for battle than those ready to see that even completely selfishly the only way forward is to admit how unfair the current system is.

    What’s the most racist experience I have ever had? Walking through Sing Sing, hallway after hallway of bars and cells and concrete, just like out of some horror film, and seeing almost all black and brown faces. It brought tears to my eyes.

    • Tom, you’re one of the good guys; willing to be occasionally crucified for calling attention to gross social inequity. What your folks did was not in vain; without their efforts I might not be able to express this voice today. We do still have quite far to go.

      While I absolutely believe those who break the law should suffer its stated consequences, the cost of education is SIGNIFICANTLY LESS than the cost of incarceration. I’m not saying there should be a reward for those who commit crimes; there will always be a criminal element to society. I believe we could drastically reduce our inmate population through redistributing resources currently slated towards punishment towards education.

      As for the people buying guns for the upcoming class war I submit this parable: One man compliments another on what a fine house he owns, and what beautiful, resourceful land it’s on. “I’d love to live here” he says. The second man thanks him. “I appreciate your kind words” he says, “but you can’t live here. This house and this land have been in my family for generations.” The first man, curious, asks how the second man’s ancestors came to be in possession of such a fine piece of property. The second man answers “My great-grandfather fought for this land.”

      The first man responds “Great, I’ll fight YOU for it, right now.”
      JFB

      • Tom Matlack says:

        Very funny/sad Jackie. One of these guys, who literally takes massive amounts of drugs every night because he is so anxious, recently sent me cartoon. In it one neighbor had put up a sign which read, “I have a shitload of guns don’t fuck with me.” Then there is a big arrow pointing to the next door neighbor’s house and the sign continues, “But this idiot has none.”

        I find the fear/panic/hatred of those who are part of the 1/2% who have profited while the world has not to be intellectually just fascinating to watch. I don’t understand it. But it’s palpable. And truly sad.

        • Tom, what is sad is: fear of scarcity impacts those who have the most to lose. When those who have nothing to lose go against those who have everything to lose, it’s like the force of stones on eggshells. There weren’t enough guillotines to cull the French Revolution, and god forbid, there will not be enough bullets to stop class warfare, should it erupt.

          I am glad you don’t understand it, you’re a special agent working on the inside for change. At the end I’m left with my father’s words: Do what good you can in the world, and teach the children well.

          JFB

    • But Tom, we also have to deal with sexism and poverty. I find it quite irritating that you don’t point out the parallels between racism and sexism.

  10. The most racist thing that ever happened to me was when a black woman working at Walmart ran her cart into my body and then called me a racial epitaph because I dared to be white in a predominantly black community. I had not done anything to her – in fact, I didn’t even notice she was there until she was ramming her cart into my back. I had not done anything to anyone, I was just shopping. But I was white, so I was a target.
    This was quite the learning experience for me, coming from an area where little to no racially motivated crime occurs, and then being moved to the South by the military to an area where we would threatened and assaulted just for being there.
    Another event was when I was babysitting my (white) friend’s (black) son. He and I were sitting in the lobby of my daughter’s dance class waiting for her when a group of black women came in and began calling me nigger lover and various other terms for (apparently) having a mixed race child. My son’s friend burst into tears (he was 4) and I said to him, don’t worry dear, ignorance isn’t catching.
    Surprisingly, being a white woman, I have been the victim of racism many times. I don’t care what race anyone is, but I will say that I haven’t experienced racism from any group except black people, and then almost exclusively women. I would like to chalk it up to the fact that women tend to be nasty to other women anyway, but it strikes me that if a group of people want to stand up and say they should be treated equally, they really ought to make an effort to treat OTHERS well.

    • Kathy, this sickens me. It does not, unfortunately, surprise me that you have been a victim of racism. It respects no color boundary; bigots come in all colors. You are correct; injustice never justifies more injustice.

      I believe the cure for ignorance is compassion. We are long on the former in this world, and far too short on the latter.

      JFB

    • oldfeminist says:

      Your last sentence is based on a fallacy. The people here standing up to ask that they be treated equally are not the woman who ran into you with a grocery cart in Wal*Mart or the women who made comments to your friend’s child.

      A “you first” mentality isn’t going to help anyone. The people here aren’t hypocrites asking for understanding while slapping you in the face. Two (or a dozen) wrongs don’t make a right.

  11. I was severely beaten by 5 black guys, called a ‘cracker’ and various other things because I happened to look up and catch the eye of some young black kid with a chip on his shoulder. I hadn’t said a word, hadn’t known I’d done anything wrong but it got me jumped and beaten, kicked in the head and robbed.

    • Anon, I hope the guys who jumped you BURN IN HELL.

      I know this is no consolation, but I can’t tell you the amount of times I was in race riots while attending public school. If anyone has any ideas how we STOP THE CYCLE OF VIOLENCE, now would be the time to chime in.
      JFB

  12. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    Jackie, thanks for this heartfelt essay.

  13. Hey Jackie,

    Great article. I’m really happy to have discovered your work. I, too, believe in the power of storytelling and since you asked about others’ experiences with racism, I’ll share just one such experience: being physically charged, without provocation, by an enraged neighbor wielding a lead pipe who threatened to kill my white motherfucking ass and my wife’s white motherfucking ass and our two children, as well (one of whom was two weeks old – that was a good time, and it actually happened twice over the course of a week). Those of us, of any race, who have spent enough time amongst different races, certainly have a litany of such stories to tell of racism, both overt and subtle. Racism is common throughout humanity, though I agree that there is a key distinction with regard to race in America:

    While racism has adversely affected my life on an anecdotal level, on numerous occasions, nothing has limited my freedom in any meaningful way nor has it handicapped my experiences as a student or a professional or a citizen. The failure to recognize this distinction remains a key obstacle to progress. Part of the problem in recognizing this is so often the starting point for such discussions are with white people having to accept their privilege, denounce their racial identity or accept blame for the sins of American history. While there is validity for this requirement, the very idea of mandating someone’s self-incrimination, as a starting point, is a tough sell and, in many cases, prevents the meaningful conversation from even beginning and jump starts those ugly internet exchanges you and I (and many others) abhor.

    An alternative to this model is the example of storytelling, which so informed your provocative article. The narrative art form allows for insight and empathy without burdens placed upon the audience. Storytelling allows for reflection at one’s own pace. We need more of it, from storytellers in all forms from all races. I, for one, am already on board.
    Best Regards,

    Andrew

    • Andrew, I read this and all I could think was: what the hell is wrong with people?! You give evidence once again that no sole group owns the rights on racism; every shade of the rainbow is capable of producing racist assholes.

      I believe you’re right: a powerful narrative can evoke empathy and self-reflection without indicting mass groups of individuals. I laud you for having the courage to share your story.

      Jackie

  14. Toure – thank you for the very well written article. You are a pleasure to read.

    My own thoughts are that nearly all “overt” occurrences you described was one of someone treating a black person poorly and unfairly. I did not have the impression that the person was victimised he/she was black, but because that person just happened to cross the way of an evil person. Had a non-black person been treated differently in identical circumstances, I would fully agree that these people are racists.

    • A, I fail to see how someone painting “nigger lover” or screaming “goddamned stupid fucking nigger” in my face is an incident that can te attributed to anything besides racism. Non-blacks are treated differently every single day, as evidenced by the gentleman who was arrested for attempting to cash a check made out to him. The fact that you used quotation marks around the word “overt” only displays your myopia in this regard.

      JFB

  15. Jackie, who might I contact to request permission to use this article in my English classroom? I teach using a Social Justice lens, and have many young urban students who I believe would get something useful from reading and discussing it.

  16. Well, I had a whole long post written but when the page auto-refreshed, I lost it. I grew up as a poor white kid in a predominantly black urban ghetto and I was the victim of racism from virtually every side. From the refusal of the people in my apartment building to open the door if I was carrying groceries or the closing of the door in my face, to the people who would refuse to help me with groceries on the top shelf or knock it on the floor to “help” me even after I asked politely (as a kid, mind you) to the spitting, the pushing, the shoving, the glaring, the trash thrown in my direction, etc. I suffered beatings, I was ostracized and kids wouldn’t even be friends with me — even ones that wanted to — because some of them had parents telling them not to and others were unwilling to suffer being ostracized along with me.

    No one ever stood up for me because if you stood up for the white kid, that was just as bad as being white. People who weren’t openly racist towards me were accused of being race traitors.

    The circumstances of my childhood were bad enough, but it was made exponentially worse by the fact that I was living in a black neighborhood. There was no where that I could go because the community I lived in had almost no white people, and I was guilty of the crime of being white in a black neighborhood.

  17. Metaphors are wonderful tools for people to be detached from what’s going on with them and to get their own synaptic connection so they get the learning on all levels for themselves.
    I was working in Far North Queensland with children in the child protection system and got so over being called a white mother F*&^%$G C*%T by the Aboriginal and Torres Straight children (it also taught me it’s learned hatred) so one day I just said to one of the children who was giving me a mouth full of very discussing language…close your eyes, now what colour am I ? She said black I said GREAT now let’s just keep walking forward. This simple act stopped the way they had been conditioned to hate colour. I say no shit sherlock I am white however it does not affect they way I love you and the greatest honour that I got out of working with all those beautiful children is then being called Auntie…We all have the power to go way beyond the colour of skin…look into your and their hearts and see everyone for the perfection of who and what they are.
    Namaste Lou Lou xo

    • Louise, it brings me comfort to know that, despite your undeserved ill-treatment at the hands of the parents who entrust you with their children’s education, you choose a higher path. Deconstructing hatred is one of the most challenging things anyone can do, yet you handle it with dignity and aplomb.

      Thank you for this gift of hope.
      JFB

  18. I was still a night student at City College of San Francisco. I got out of class at about ten o’clock one night and headed down to the BART station to get home. BART trains are usually between 4 and 10 cars long, and the station escalators are located near the middle of the platform. The 10 car trains span the platform when they stop, but the 4 car trains stop in the middle of the platform. I knew from experience that the cars at the ends were usually more empty (everyone mills near the escalators) and I would stand a better chance of getting a seat, so I walked down to the end of the platform. When I was almost there, I looked up and saw that the next train only had 4 cars, so I turned around and headed back towards the middle.

    A minute later a man came up to me and said “Hey, you don’t have to be scared of me.” I was confused, as I had never seen him before in my life. I asked him to repeat himself and was told “I saw you, you walked to end of the platform looked up and saw me, then turned around and headed back the other way. You know you don’t have to be afraid of me just because I’m black,”

    I explained why I had actually turned around, but the message was clear: because I am white, I must be a racist.

    • Sigh. Mike, it’s true: paranoia over racism causes misunderstandings. History proves that without white people–like Tom Matlack’s parents–there still would be no civil rights in America.

      Absolute proof that racism isn’t inherent in black or white people: biracial twins born in London:
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/7524319.stm

      JFB

      • Jackie — one thing I’ve noticed is that black-white romantic relationships appear in both British and American movies, but only in American movies is race part of the plot. Even if Britain isn’t really like that, it’s nice to see displayed a world where race is simply irrelevant to people’s interactions.

  19. You are an incredibly talented writer. When I was in highschool I never quite understood why my hispanic and black friends were so leery of police officers until I saw how often they were hassled or pulled over compared to me (in the exact same places and times).

    When we’d play hoops at the park I would get called “white boy” a few times- it wasnt a big deal.

    My friends were worried about being hassled or arrested for nothing more than their race. I had nothing remotely similar to worry about.

    • CW, when you make your way to Brooklyn, look me up. We’ll hit Marcy courts and grab some pick up games. If anyone hassles you I’ll shoulder-check them.

      JFB

  20. Anonyous Male says:

    I think one of the most amazing things about racism is that it is clearly still operating but no one says they’re doing it. The vast majority of people would say racism is horribly wrong, it must be stopped, but we can’t find it anymore somehow. It is such a terrible accusation to be accused of racism that even people who are clearly racist are offended by being called racist. People from the Aryan Nation, KKK, etc., usually get deeply offended when they are labeled racist – even they think it’s a negative label.

    I do think in many cases white people are uneasy about interacting with black people or talking about race issues because many whites are afraid to do something unknowingly racist. Many of us supposedly enlightened white folks know that we are probably racist in ways we are not even aware of, so better not risk the offense. The result is just another kind of offending, by keeping one’s distance. We also know that drawing attention to someone else’s race is also kind of racist. And it could be racist to treat everyone exactly the same, because then that’s denying the fact that racism exists. Not making excuses here, just that sometimes white people are truly trying to be anti-racist in clumsy ways that come across as racist.

    • My friend Kelly (MochaMomma) has been discussing how we talk about racial issues over on her blog.
      http://www.mochamomma.com/2011/08/13/this-is-not-really-about-cake

      Here’s a comment I made over there:
      In one of Don Miguel Ruiz’s books, he says we have an emotional body that is as real as our physical body. The emotional body gets wounded, and many times we don’t deal with the wounds correctly, so instead of healing, they get infected and painful. Then someone bumps into our emotional wound with a word or a look or an assumption, and we react in what seems to be an outsized way to what the bumper sees as an accidental touch. But they bumped our sorest spot, and it makes us scream.

      This is how I see our issues of race and privilege. So many wounds, so much covering up, so little examination or attempts at real healing – just a desire to move on without cleaning up. Those of us who have privilege go around bumping into those wounds, often cluelessly, sometimes thoughtlessly, sometimes from a geniune lack of care, and then when the yelling starts, we say “What? I didn’t do anything! You’re reacting all out of proportion.”

      So our other solution is to avoid avoid avoid. Don’t bump, but don’t make any meaningful contact at all. Because no one wants to get yelled at, no one wants to take blame.

      I said on twitter I have my own prejudices and you complimented me, Kelly. But here’s what happened the other day – I heard on the radio that a school in my old neighborhood had won some kind of award for student achievement, and I thought “That’s because it is such a white area.” NOT “That’s because it is such a rich area” or “That’s because the schools are so well-funded there” or “That’s because there is so much parent involvement.” A white area. That was my thought, and I hate to admit I had it. But that’s the kind of crap that still lurks in my brain and that I have to take a hard look at. It isn’t pretty and I can’t defend it. I can only say I’m willing to admit it and try to change it.

      I lo

  21. sensitivity says:

    I am a fan of this site because of this kind of high quality articles.
    It touches subjects that most not many other places would touch.

    In my opinion, I think incarceration is a business. Since jails are mostly private,
    those jail owners make a lot of profit the more persons get in jail. They don’t
    really care if people are innocent or not, they just want more people jailed.
    If the jails were state owned, there wouldn’t be 2.5 million persons in jail.
    It makes no sense, unless you see the greed of the system. Who is paying
    for those in jail? All the taxpayers. If the cops started jailing white
    persons for no reason, you would certainly see lots of media attention, manifestations,
    and many forms of legal action against these practices. That is why only black
    or Latino guys go to jail to feed the greedy jail owners.

    Racism concerns everybody, even the most favored class, since it can become a big
    deal for everyone the least you expect it.
    Lets remember the words of Martin Niemöller when the Nazi party came in power:

    “””
    First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.
    “””
    [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came%E2%80%A6]

    Every time you see racism, and you remain silent, you are just being part of the problem. And someday,
    when something unfair is being done to you by someone or by the system, you’ll get the same silent
    treatment from those around you.

    Instead of trying to teach kids creationism, schools should make an effort to address evolution, and explain
    that every single human, no matter what their race is, is 99.999% genetically equal.

    White’s racism against blacks, and black’s racism towards are two sides of the same coin, called racism.

    I remember a trip to Austin, Houston, and Dallas, where I was going to visit some researchers, and a friend studying his PhD. I remember going at bus station in Austin, and carrying around a very heavy bag. I went to
    a hotel behind the bus station, and when entering the reception, the white woman told me there were no rooms. I don’t
    think the hotel was cheap, but it was a very tall one, and had a big parking with all the parking places empty.
    I just really didn’t believed her that there was not a single room available. I had to go back to the bus station
    and ask a friendly hispanic woman working there where could I get a hotel, and she told me that I had to cross a highway [walking]
    to get to a Quality Inn. That highway had traffic, and there was no other way rather than running across it. It was a very frightening
    experience, but I did managed to run with my heavy bag and get to the Quality Inn. Fortunately, the girl on the front desk was Hispanic,
    and I had no issues to get a room. On Dallas, I remember going to a pizza buffet restaurant, and those who were attending were white kids.
    I paid for my buffet and also for my beverage. I paid what was required, they gave me my change, but they didn’t gave me a ticket nor a cup.
    After eating a couple of pizza slices, I got thirsty, but couldn’t find a cup for drinking form the soda fountain. I then I went with
    the kids, and asked them how could I get a cup for drinking soda, and the guy told me “DUH! Pay For it!”. At that moment, I felt really bad,
    and I had no way to prove them that I did paid for my beverages, so, I had to pay for my beverage, twice. I had more small experiences
    with discrimination on this trip, but I don’t want to extend more.
    The only persons with which I was able to have a conversation, was a black woman working at a Subway [very friendly], a black woman
    working as a bus driver on Houston [very kind as well], and Hispanic woman working at the bus station. I also had a conversation
    with a white gay man at the UTD, and a guy from Zimbawe.

    I did had a good gesture from a white man. The day I arrived at Dallas, at 3 AM [I’m from Mexico, and was my first time alone on a trip], I was outside the dorm of my
    PhD-studiying friend, I was knocking at his door very hard, but my friend was still sleeping. I went through all the campus seeking}
    for a telephone to call him, but I couldn’t find any. I asked guys that were awake at that moment, but no one knew where a public telephone was.
    I was getting worried about my friend not being at home [where I was going to stay]. And then after walking around the campus, and not finding
    anything, I walked to a private building, where there was a guard, and I asked him where was a telephone, and he offered to lend me
    his cell phone, and I was very thankful with him, and explained him my story. I offered him money as a way for thanking him , but he
    refused totally. When I left, he even told me “Buenas Noches”. I found this a very kind gesture, and he really helped me fix my problem.

    Nevertheless, I really don’t think I’m ever going to Texas again. It is not very tourist friendly, and not even Hispanic tourist friendly.

    This was the first time in my life I experienced discrimination, on a small level compared to the rest of the guys on this article and comments. But,
    when you are all alone by yourself, carrying a big heavy bag around, and not knowing anyone, those small events can make a big difference.

    • Sensitivity, I really don’t think that racism is an issue of creationism vs evolution. Evolution can be manipulated to state that the most fit people created the most wealthy and powerful societies, and that’s why the world is how it is. I’ve heard this argument made. Creationism can be used to argue that all people are made by God and are, therefore, equal. Neither of these ideas is incapable of being manipulated by racists for their own sake.

      • sensitivity says:

        Hello Rick,
        ¿What color is God? ¿What gender is God? I can tell you, at least for the west world, he is white, and male.
        Why is god a He and not a She? Why is it only white, and nor brown, or black? Does this sounds politically correct?

        My point about evolution vs creationism, is that, if you teach children to believe blindly in something, such as creation,
        they will be vulnerable to believe blindly in racism. They won’t exercise their critical thinking, and instead, they use their magical thinking.
        Those kids will buy the white supremacists ideas, or the white-hating ideas, and never make the mental effort to answer the question “Why?”.

        The creationist schools teach your kids “God made the world in 10000 years ago” and “God created mankind”,
        and they tell them that they should trust this ‘fact’ blindly.
        If kids do question this statement, they get the answer “because God did it that way”. Kids are genuinely inquisitive,
        and that inquisitiveness should be encouraged in order for them to be able to judge ideas, such as, getting drugs or not,
        being covertly racist or not, and so on.

        On the other hand, those going to schools where evolution is taught, get the idea that the world was made 4.5 billion years ago.
        That mankind is the product of millions of years of evolution, from the formation of the first cell in history, to more complex and
        advanced organisms. There is geological evidence about the earth’s age. There is fossil evidence that men evolved from other previous
        forms of life. We are 98% genetically identical to chimps. Each human being is genetically 99.9% identical to each other.
        Kids don’t need to believe this: then can find it out by themselves. They can examine the fossil remains of homo rodesiensis,
        homo mauritanicus, and homo ergaster, and see for themselves how similar are to the human skeleton. They can go an see for themselves
        how the earth is constantly changing in Hawaii, which little by little changes it’s shape. They can go to a genetic sequencing lab,
        and see for themselves how DNA sequencing is done, and analyze for themselves how their DNA is 99.9% identical as the DNA of their
        classmates, regardless of their gender or ethnicity. We need to teach kids to think for themselves [critical thinking],
        and to trust only things that they are given enough provable evidence. If they are critical thinkers, they will be able to refuse
        lousy ideas like “white is better than black/brown” or “man is better than woman”, because, they will know that their genes are 99.9% identical
        than any other human being.
        [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_evolutionary_genetics]

        Teaching evolution instead of creationism is a good start for teaching critical thinking .

        Analyzing mitochondrial DNA, scientist have found that , there was a time in the human history, that due to a severe global
        cataclysm [either an Ice age, or a volcano ashes covering the skies], human kind were almost going to face extinction. Only
        a few thousand families on Africa were able to survive those harsh times, thanks to the mitochondrial mutation that these families had,
        they were able to survive. When the climate got better, humans migrated to Africa and Asia, and eventually, to the rest of the world. So
        technically, our ancestors were black/brown. If kids they get told that “White is better than black/brown”, they can tell them, “well, yeah, I’m black/brown,
        buy you know, your ancestors were also black/brown”.
        [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitochondrial_Eve]

        You say: “Evolution can be manipulated to state that the most fit people created the most wealthy and powerful societies,
        and that’s why the world is how it is.”
        You can state that a knife can be used to kill a person, and that will be true. I can also state that a knife can be used to cook,
        , cut a person open in order to make a surgery, or create a work of art on a wood piece. A knife is a tool,
        just in the same way that evolution is, it is a tool to help us describe where we come from.
        Also, evolution is used to describe Biological processes, not Economical processes. Wealth and powerful
        societies are not biological processes, are human created processes. If humans didn’t existed, there would be nothing like “power”
        or “wealth”. Economy is a very complex subject, and evolution can’t be used to describe it or justify it.
        Yes, “evolution” is a word that many areas of knowledge have used it to describe how processes change, but when I mention evolution
        in this comment, I refer to the Biological Evolution Theory [and in natural sciences, a Theory it is the most
        advanced state that a science can achieve. Yes, in Physics there are laws, but we are not that fortunate to have laws in many other areas].

        When you say: “Creationism can be used to argue that all people are made by God and are, therefore, equal.”
        Then I say: good for them! The sad thing is that, not teaching kids to use critical thinking, will let them vulnerable
        to magical or illogical thinking. Just as an example, George W. Bush said “God told me to invade Iraq”, if kids don’t get critical
        thinking, they can be easily manipulated into doing something when they grow up. Bush told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,
        then Saddam got killed, and Iraq invaded, and such weapons of mass destruction “magically” disappeared.

        “Neither of these ideas is incapable of being manipulated by racists for their own sake.”
        And I’m not saying the contrary. I’m just saying that creationist schools don’t emphasize critical thinking as much as an evolution teaching school. Teaching them evolution is a good start for critical thinking

    • Sensitivity, are you sure you’re not the racist in your stories from Texas? You didn’t prove that the hotel had vacancies. You used the circumstantial evidence of a not-full parking lot & a white employee as the basis of your conclusion that you were discriminated against because of your race. What if they really didn’t have any empty rooms? Your accusation of the employee based on her race make you a… ?

      The pizza restaurant story is more ridiculous. In case you haven’t noticed, teenagers don’t have the best attention spans. If I purchased something & wasn’t given the item or a proof of purchase to retrieve the item later, then it’s my fault for not pointing it out. I can’t burden their employees with remembering the purchases of my not-necessarily memorable self. In fact, the point that they didn’t remember you or your purchase makes it less likely that you were singled-out by your race in a grand conspiracy to make you pay for a soda twice.

  22. I grew up in the Bay Area. My high school was probably about equal parts various kinds of white and various kinds of Asian. There was a sizable Hispanic minority as well, though almost no black students. To us, race was just a joke. It was a way for friends to poke fun at each other. They called me “egg” (white on the outside, yellow on the inside) for having Asian friends and studying Chinese; I told them not to eat my dog. Etc. I joined the military and for the first several years experienced more of the same (though it was odd being around so many white people, and I did have to learn that not all people grew up with the same give-and-take that I did and that, therefore, race could be a no-go issue even among friends talking trash).

    I did a job switch within the service and began encountering far more people from regions of the country which would not surprise anyone when I tell you that they were shockingly racist. The assumption seemed to be that because I was white, I was in their stupid racist club, and so I was exposed to bitching about the “goddamn cotton pickers” liking rap (because singing about your F350 is better than singing about your Escalade, of course) or white girls who have sex with black guys or whatever. I’m sure the conversations still happen but not usually around me anymore. Because I have gotten pretty heated and confrontational and, interestingly, most people didn’t fight back when I called them “dumb fucking rednecks” or anything else….they just tried to defend themselves as “not racist,” and then eventually shut up when it became clear that I wasn’t about to be conciliatory about their bigotry. (Not that I’ve never remained silent when I should’ve spoken up…)

    So I disagree that racism going behind closed doors is a bad thing. Brutally shaming anti-social behavior and beliefs (like racism or sexism or homophobia or whatever) might not change hearts in the current generation, but most people experience enough different races that the issue isn’t ignorance anyway. It’s simple, naked bigotry. And forcing people to hide that fact about themselves will hopefully make it harder to be passed on to the next generation. And maybe, if people have to “act as if” long enough, their behavior will change their hearts in spite of themselves. There are, of course, the occasional amiable dunces who just don’t realize their behavior is offensive or contrary to reason and human decency. They can be taught. But I think that defeating prejudice generally requires a very confrontational approach.

    I also don’t believe systems themselves can be prejudiced about color. The people in them can be prejudiced and it’s important to confront those people and start shaming/ostracizing/belittling the racism right out of them. And it’s important for otherwise well-intentioned people to honestly examine their own motivations (good luck getting that to happen). But I think that making the “system” the enemy is counterproductive. The enemies are prejudice and the attitude that race should be anything more than an irrelevant difference.

    Anyway, Jackie, I really enjoy your writing and I’m also really sorry for the novel. Look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

  23. Anonymous Male says:

    I lived in China for a few years and traveled to a lot of the less cosmopolitan parts of the country where it was still very rare to see a Westerner. Many people stared at me, called others outside to look at me (“hey mom, come look at the foreigner!”), and even dragged their children over so their kids could see me up close. People followed me around in the grocery store, not to make sure I didn’t steal, but just to see what kind of strange stuff I might buy. Some places charged me higher prices than they charged Chinese people who made more money than I did. When I spoke Chinese, admittedly with a horrible American accent, for many of them it was like they discovered a talking ape. (Okay, I admit I was relatively hairy). For the most part I didn’t let it get to me, and I found that many of the nicest, friendliest, most generous people were the same ones who couldn’t help staring. But, for a white American from a very white part of the country it was a tiny glimpse of life as an ethnic minority in a very race-conscious place. If I were blonde or dark-skinned (or both) I would have gotten even more attention.

  24. THe most racist thing that is constantly said to me: “well luckily you look white” or “at least you don’t look Black, why do you even knowledge it?” ….yep ever since I was a child. I’m half Italian half West Indian/African. I do “look” Italian admittedly but I’m West African born so this has always bothered me especially since I get it from whites and Blacks.
    I also get “I thought you were Black because of your name, maybe you should change it or use middle name”. It’s amazing what people will say to you. The name thing I even get from HR people. It’s sad.

  25. Whoooaaaaaa. Excellent essay.

  26. MorgainePendragon says:

    An inspiring and thought-provoking piece, both because of its content and because of the quality of the writing.

    A number of the comments, also, are equally poignant.

    Thanks to all for some truly powerful stories.

  27. Probably not the most racist (that is, anti-semitic) thing that’s ever happened to me, but this one happens all the damn time, and good crap is it annoying.

    We all know what Jewish men look like, because we’ve seen them on TV: mousy, shorty, scrawny, stringy-armed, frightened rabbits. Skin, bone, chest hair and thick glasses. Woody Allen, right?

    I’d be happy to meet someone, anyone, who admitted to believing this stereotype even a little. Instead what I run into is a whole world that refuses to believe a muscle-bound 6’3″ dude like myself is Jewish. He simply can’t be because, well, that’s not what Jews look like. Everyone knows that!

    So the first question I invariably get upon my religion coming up in conversation is either “really?” or my personal favorite “are you Jewish on both sides?”

    Translation: “Well, you call yourself Jewish, so maybe one parent is, and you were raised that way, but I’m just going to invent a non-Jewish half that can genetically account for the height and the strength. Yeah, that sounds right.”

    Makes me want to snap someone’s wrist with the steely, thick arms that Hashem gave me.

    • Z, my best friend in 8th grade, David Schlossman, was captain of the basketball team and had arms like tree trunks. Clearly what I thought of the “typical” Jewish male varies significantly from your experience.

      If I’m ever in another bar fight, I hope you’re on my side.
      Jackie

  28. Its not racism if I talk shit about everyone.
    I counter some of your arguments with logic.
    1. Races stay together. Older generations of races don’t want mixing of other races. The second part is a whole different conversation. The first part, is where they live, shop, and go to school.
    I got my ass beat because I was the only not black kid in my neighborhood. I was 7 years old. It happened on a regular basis. We didn’t speak english and were new to the country. You should go preach this stuff to the right crowd
    2. Technically I shouldn’t even be a college graduate because of the statistics that Census has. This taught me 2 things. No one cares if I succeed or not besides me. And if I really wanted it, I will get it.
    3. MY parents started with nothing. Less than nothing. Less than black people in poor neighborhoods. They at least spoke english. They worked hard. Really hard making minimum wage with 2 kids. They saved and we moved out of the shitty places.
    4. If people who come here with nothing can make a life for their families, why can’t the people that have lived here? Living in low income schools is a shitty excuse. My parents taught me to read at write at 5. Where are these parents of these kids? Working? Or not?
    5. The truth is that I may be an exception and I may be lucky. But really, its because my family has worked hard.
    7. Someone tell me why even my black friends say that there’s a difference between black people and niggers. Is that racism? Can you be racist towards your own race? Is agreeing with them racist? Is saying all asians are terrible at driving racist? Or that jews have big noses? Really? because stereo types have come from truths. And there’s a difference between stereotypes and racism. Racism is when you use the stereotype to discriminate.
    8. Maybe we should be telling people not to perpetuate stereotypes instead.
    9. I agree with Morgan Freeman. Get rid of Black history month. You aren’t special. White history month would be racist. We should get rid of Gay pride. Straight pride is prejudiced right? People would feel more connected to each other if others didn’t try to separate themselves from the collective group.
    10. How do we get rid of racism? – Stop talking about it- Morgan Freeman

    • Bob, some points:

      1. Scarcity of resources made families form tribes. Tribes formed cities, who banded together to form city-states, based, once again, on competition for resources. The concept of race–distinguishing one from another based on skin color–is a social construct, designed to justify things like slavery, for the purpose of maintaining economic disparity.
      2. Not knowing what state you live in, the census reference is moot, but I’m glad you fought beyond your obstacles to receive an education.
      3. My dad was a jazz musician during the depression. He raised and supported a family of five on a jazz musician’s salary, during one of the worst economic crisis in this country’s history. He still couldn’t drink out of the same water fountain of the people he entertained, or even enter through the same door.
      4. My parents taught me to read before entering elementary school as well. This gave me a tactical advantage educationally. Clearly, good parenting makes a difference.
      5. Hard work counts. Luck counts too. Funny thing though; hard work can’t make you lucky.
      6. You forgot 6.
      7. Of course inter-racial racism exists. Yes stereotypes have some basis in truth. Yes racism is using stereotypes to discriminate.
      8. I’m curious as to how “Jews with big noses” could avoid perpetrating the stereotype. Maybe Z (see comment above) could assist you with this one.
      9. Every month is white history month. Black history month won’t be necessary when people of all races are equally represented in the history books. That is, unless you already know who the first person to die in the American revolution, the inventor of first clock invented in America, or the first person to successfully perform heart surgery.

      An ostrich sticks it’s head in the sand when it detects danger. Choosing to be blind doesn’t eliminate the problem. Morgan Freeman is wrong.

      JFB

      • **applause**

      • Wow! Your writing is mesmerizing and your eloquence hits right between the eyes. Thank you. I agree with you: You can stick your head in the sand, but that won’t stop the wind from shifting the dune around you. Instead of silence or apathy, vengeance or generalization, we should all look in the mirror and realize none of us are perfect. The sooner we all let go of the past and see each other for who we are today, merely human beings trying to live in an imperfect world, the sooner we can change our collective path from one of division and potential demise to unity and potential promise.

  29. I grew up in a large city, but moved to a small mostly white town through high school. One of my first days of my freshmen year I overheard twoguys having a conversation about how “all Mexicans were inbred because they all were named Gonzalez.”

    I turned around “Yeah, just like all White people are named Smith right?”
    It’s not much, but hopefully at least one of them started thinking.

  30. Richard Aubrey says:

    The idea that we must all admit to racism or we’re racists is ludicrous. Self-serving.
    As to schools, most of the big city inner city schools get a hell of a lot more money than the average. Various minority organizations in LA recently took out ads accusing the schools of failing their kids. Teachers, under their breath, are saying, “bring us kids who show up regularly, don’t assault us or their fellow students, don’t interrupt class, and do their homework, and we’ll talk”. Of course, they can’t say that out loud,but the underlying fact is correct.
    If you can get a bank to deny you a loan because you’re black, you have the CRA to fall back on and they’ll make sure you get a loan if you demonstrate you’ll never be able to pay it back.
    Your gin-and-tonic encounter would have happened if you were white, except for the “nigger” epithet. The guy’s a butthead.

    • The idea that NO ONE is racist anymore is ludicrous. As for the gin-and-tonic encounter, the second he invoked the N word, it became a racist encounter, butthead or not.

      JFB

  31. Wild Rebel says:

    I’ve had racism aimed at me before, but it was mostly minor annoyances and not anything too serious. As far as I know I haven’t been passed over for jobs yet due to being white for affirmative action/equal opportunity reasons (I do know at least one person who was flat-out told in an interview they weren’t getting a job because the employer needed “a white woman”…racism and sexism at the same time). I usually don’t tell my race unless it’s for descriptive purposes. My mother works at a place where most employees are black and has had things said and done to her that would have gotten her fired years ago if she did them in reverse, and probably gotten her beat down too, but fortunately there are enough people there who don’t judge by race that she’s been able to make it fine.

    (One other interesting note from my mom: she’s noticed many of the people who gripe and complain about how white people treat them will often turn right around and bash Hispanics and Asians mercilessly. Irony defined…or maybe hypocrisy fits better).

    The biggest issue I have to deal with involving racism is that I’m a white Southerner and therefore automatically racist according to many people. Interestingly, most of the people who accuse me of that happen to be white Northerners, not blacks or other people who would qualify as minorities living around here, although that does happen once in a while. I guess they’re trying to feel better about themselves. You do have to wonder about the legitimacy of people who fight one form of bigotry with another. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never met white racists, as there are a few in my own family, but most people aren’t that way.

    On that note, the reason no one admits to being racist, besides the fact it’s not exactly a popular opinion to hold anymore, is because in this day and age, if you wait around long enough (about 10 minutes is usually enough time–obviously an exaggeration but you get the idea) somebody else will come along and tell you you’re racist for you, whether you are or aren’t actually racist. There really isn’t a reason to claim to be racist when other people will undoubtedly do the work for you.

    • Jae Daaboul says:

      Maybe you should do a little reading on what racism actually is before you talk about your experiences. I don’t have the energy or desire to explain it but there is about difference between racism and prejudice, and in America, white people cannot be victims of racism. Affirmative action is not racism. It’s an attempt to keep things equitable, which it should be if we actually lived in a system of meritocracy and not classism closely linked to white supremacy. Misguided as it is, it’s not an example of racism.

    • Jae Daaboul says:

      That’s the central point he’s making. Modern racism is more dangerous because white people don’t feel themselves to be racist, while at the same time benefiting from an unequal system. And when the gloves come off, most white people do turn out to hold racist beliefs or attitudes. Also, internalized racism is a manifestation of the racist system, but colored people who are prejudice against other colored people do not benefit from their attitudes the way that white people do.

  32. Funny, I just was talking to someone about this today. First and foremost, the way President Obama is being treated is totally racist. And the victims of this racism are the American people. Nothing good can come from bad feelings. I love your writing style and what you wrote. People need to see people for who they really are, not just the outward skins in which we’re temporarily clothed. I retired and moved to Texas 13 years ago and applied for a job teaching art at a Baptist school. I was asked if I was a Christian and said that I had no problem with people of any religion and that mine was just to get as close as I could to the path that would help the most. She looked at me and repeated her question. I told her I’m Jewish ethnically but follow my own spiritual proclivities. Basically, I was told I couldn’t take the job. But it was to teach art, not religion! I was qualified to do that! A few months later, I went to a church to audition for the pastor to play piano for the choir. Again, qualified. I played for about 15 minutes and he asked the same question as the Baptist lady. I was stunned. I’d only be playing piano, not advising people in a religious capacity. He said that my name sounded Jewish and I told him it was. He told me that I played beautifully, but he couldn’t hire a non-Christian. Why are these people so afraid of us? Do they think that I have the right answer and will infect his parishioners with the truth? There is no truth, just perception.

    • Wild Rebel says:

      Not to be a jerk here, but shouldn’t common sense tell you that religious/faith based organizations expect their members to be believers of (insert faith here, in this case Christian)? That’s especially the case in a church. As a Christin myself I wouldn’t expect to find employment in an Islamic organization, for instance. Since this was an article about race, I find it a little bit analogous to how minority organizations expect their members to be someone of that minority ancestry (for instance, the Black Caucus political group wouldn’t let in a white politician near here despite the fact he represents a black-majority voting district).

      • Jae Daaboul says:

        Again, you’re falsely conceiving racism as being a two-way street. White people can’t singlehandedly spearhead ethnic movements or organizations because they are not members of that group; but if America claims to be a land of freedom and equality, we should include minorities in the nation’s affairs as well as white people. There would not need to be ethnocentric groups if American society and (anti-)culture was not eurocentric.

  33. Nice piece.
    But the line: “you can ride the subways at 3 A.M. and not have to worry about being attacked” is false. Black men are far more likely to be victims of crime than white men, or women. Even on the subway at 3 a.m.

  34. I am 5 years old 1957 … my teacher is African American and day 3 in school my mom notices who MIss Hyde is inside the school…. we go home and mom tells dad …. He says ANOTHER NIGGER ! Mom says NOW DAD… THEY’RE colored… she turns to me and says YOU BE SURE AND CALL HER COLORED I answered I CALL HER MY TEACHER …. this is not the most racist thing happening to me 843-926-1750 @AtheistVet

  35. The latest one to appear on BBC News in England, is the whole town who won’t admit to being racist. A black woman had to put a sign outside her cafe to warn people that she ‘doesn’t bite”. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-23260860

  36. Tom Brechlin says:

    According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 31 percent of blacks think that most blacks are racists, while 24 percent of blacks think that most whites are racist.
    Among whites, according to the same Rasmussen poll, 38 percent consider most blacks racist and 10 percent consider most whites racist.
    Broken down by politics, the same poll showed that 49 percent of Republicans consider most blacks racist, as do 36 percent of independents and 29 percent of Democrats.
    29 percent of Americans as a whole think race relations are getting better, while 32 percent think race relations are getting worse.

  37. Tom Brechlin says:

    Most racist thing that ever happen to me was in high school where I was beat up in my Freshman year by three other students. I kinda figured that it was planned because strangely enough, a “friend” of mine offered to carry my books that day. He disappeared and left them on the ground. That was back in 1969. Once fellow students got to know me, things changed after that. Sophomore year they nick-named me “The Great White Hope.” Didn’t I mention that I’m white and I went to a predominantly black school? We often laughed back then about how I made the “mixed choir” mixed because I was the only white in the choir.

  38. Even though I am not a POC, I was given a taste of racism, and it took me five years to figure out. Not that ‘reverse racism’ crap, but genuine racism, because I was perceived to be a POC.

    My boyfriend is Latino, and has a hyphenated last name, consisting of his parents’ names. One of them is French in origin, and he told me he will fill out job applications using the French name only, and he will get many more callbacks, because he will not be read as Latino. It made me think of a stretch of time, when I was unemployed for months, and living in an area with a lot more racism. Though I am not Latino, my last name is Italian, and I am often asked if I am Latino. I didn’t get a job until I applied further out, and in areas where diversity is more accepted.

    This is how easy it is to be racist, and hide it.

  39. So I’m just going to share a story from the other side of this equation – having an “Oh snap, I said something racist!” moment.

    I’m about 20 years old, 2007, working in a newsroom as a web content producer. The newsroom has a very open layout, and on the night shift with many cubes empty, it’s pretty quiet – we’re accustomed to shouting over cubicle walls to each other.
    My assignment that night was to compile a photo gallery of the red carpet at the NAACP Awards – always good for clicks. It was wintertime and bitter cold in Ohio. As I downloaded photo after photo of celebrities in sleeveless gowns and sandals, I shouted over my shoulder to a coworker, “It must be so nice and warm in LA for them to be able to wear things like this. I wish I were there.”
    Coworker said something benign like “That would be nice.”

    I continued on, with no forethought, “Oh, but I don’t think I could go to the NAACP awards, with how pale I am I’d stick out like a sore thumb.”

    In the next cubicle section, one of the copy editors, a black man, cleared his throat very loudly and deliberately. And I must have turned every shade of red.

    Being a redhead, I’m totally used to referring to my ultra-fair skin in casual conversation. I even semi-advocate for good skin care for everybody, based on what I’ve had to learn to prevent sun damage myself – I’m always the one in the group who’s harping about everyone having sunscreen. I don’t say this to excuse my comment, of course, just kind of explaining why I might even say anything like that in the first place. In my head it wasn’t automatically a racial thing, but referring to the actual shade of white that I am.

    That might not be the most racist thing I’ve ever said, but it’s a memorable one. The only comments I ever get about my outward appearance relate to my red hair, I’ve been asked if I’m Irish countless times (not really racial) and have heard some red-headed stepchild/bastard jokes – when my family was out in public, people often winked at my red-headed dad and asked “Oh, where’d those kids get that hair from?” and my dad would sometimes reply “The milkman, obviously!” But seriously, that’s the worst I’ve got, and again, not really racial at all.

    I do own that I’m at least a little racist but I don’t wear it on my sleeve, I’m ashamed of it and try to catch myself, and educate myself. Articles like this, I really enjoy and feel I benefit from. Thanks for writing it!

    • I think this is part of the problem as well. You didn’t make a racist statement. You probably have racial bias’ – it’s almost impossible not to in this country. What would have been more helpful if the gentleman just spoke what was on his mind.

  40. Christine says:

    Your writing is powerful. Being white, the only way I can relate is that I am a woman. But, mostly that I am loathe to admit I am a racist. Humans are meaning making machines. It seems impossible to remain innocent.

  41. TASCHA PASSION says:

    Let’s eat those white gummy bears!! :)

  42. I noticed this once I went through a feminist phase, I realized that I had been sexist against myself. So, i took that thought and realized that I was also racist (including against myself – I’m a quarter south american with none of the culture and the rest of me is assorted sources of white). So I manned up (so to speak) and started saying I was racist, it’s helped a lot. First admit that you have a problem, then you can fix it. I really sincerely believe that people that want to fight racism need to start sharing their stories about how they overcame some small bit of their own internalized racism.

    I guess the most racist thing that could have happened to me, is not getting a job because of my last name on a resume. So when I got married, I changed it to my husband’s name, not because I believed I had to for the “sanctity of marriage” but because I wanted to eliminate the possibility of that extra bit of racial discrimination. I actually regret it now for a number of reasons.

  43. One of the funniest questions I was ever asked came from a black woman who said, “I don’t want to
    sound racist, but why do white people need so much ammo?” I was accused of being anti-Semetic
    because I questioned foreign aid to Israel. My response was that I feel the same way about Iraq,
    Afghanistan, South Korea and Colombia. Does that make me a racist ?

  44. This is a great read. Really wonderfully written and thought provoking. Personally, I’m white, I don’t know what it’s like to experience racism toward myself. I did however live with racism in a way and that has made me resent the concept that everyone’s racist.

    My father is a stereotype of what everyone expects racism to be. Hearing the constant berating of absolutely everyone because of their skin color, religion, financial status, sexual orientation, life decisions etc. You name it, he will very vocally tear it apart. The kinds of things I heard daily are things that most racists say behind closed doors. I remember being 10 and my mom telling me how she wanted to date a black boy when she was young and her mom told her that her belongings would be on the porch when she came back from her date. That stuck with me, and as I grasped the concept of my father’s racism as I got older, I asked my mom if my dad would hate me if I dated someone of a different race. She told me he’d never accept it and he’s “have a problem” with it.

    They call themselves Christians, they believe they are good people, and in a lot of ways beyond their personal opinions they are. However, that upbringing really made me a different person from them. I find myself in absolute disgust with the things they say and I’ve learned to speak up against what they say, to the point that they just don’t say anything around me now. I wish they could see how damaged their views are, but the problem is they don’t and they probably never will. The only good that came of it was I learned to find my own opinion separate from theirs, really I deciphered right from wrong in my own heart and I do everything in my power to help my kids understand acceptance and a compassionate disposition.

  45. It’s not that nobody ever admits to being racist, but that those generally accused of being racist (mostly whites, sometimes justly in individual cases) have decided that racism no longer exists — ever, under any circumstance, unless in the reverse — and that they collectively don’t want to hear about it anymore. Any discussion of racism is generally shut down immediately with statements like “well, that’s happened to me a bunch of times”, “look at all the programs dedicated to fixing this”, “oh, hear we go again”, or “this is PC run amok!”. To be fair, those too quick to deem certain things racist have no doubt worn some people down overtime, but I’m not sure that excuses the notion we’re now seeing increasingly that racism is over and that all discussion of the subject is just whining and bitterness.

  46. I am white and male. That pretty much puts me statistically at the top of the American food chain. I enjoy boatloads of unearned privilege and am quite aware of how that privilege comes at the cost of others who are not like me. I admit to being a racist because of this unearned privilege. I never have to worry about wearing a hoodie, walking my daughter to school; finding foods at the store that are ethnically and culturally white; or having to worry when a white police officer stops me. I regret that we live in the most unacknowledged racist society probably in the world. I’m aware that 9-11 million children from Africa will die this year due to AIDS or malnutrition. If this happened in Wisconsin or France, do you think more would be done than what is happening in Africa? I’m about leveling out the playing field…and at times am at a loss of how to do it. Knowledge, Wisdom, Truth and Compassion appear to be the best we whites can do. Unconscious racism is perhaps more toxic than the overt kind. I can’t imagine what it is like for any minority…black, brown, red, gay, bi, trans, women, handicapped, and class…etc. Thanks for pushing the conversation forward and I know that this article has a cost too.

  47. Great article! Quite the experiences and the your ability to describe them was masterful.

  48. Great article. I do find that in terms of daily life racism has improved, but I think because of Facebook, more racists feel empowered to speak their minds. Anybody can make up an account with little or no personal information and spew ignorance. I have been trying to ignore these people. I’ve also found that more and more people want to ignore it by saying ‘I don’t see race – just the human race’ etc.

  49. s3rndpt says:

    It bothers me that I still see color. I try to tell myself that I don’t, but it has been so ingrained in me, and our culture, that it happens without me consciously noticing. And when I realize that I am judging that young black man on the street simply because he is a young black man, I am completely ashamed because it is against everything I believe. But, there are things that give me hope. I picked up my 4-year-old daughter from daycare the other day, and spread out in front of her was a variety of small dolls. Babies and adults and children. The first thing I notice it that they were of all different colors. And she said “look Mommy! I made a family!” because the only thing she saw was mommies and daddies and grandparents and babies and kids. It made me feel ashamed, again. But I am thrilled that so far, to her, there is no difference. They’re all just people.

  50. I’m 26 years old. My boyfriend is black and I am white. We’re killing time around the corner from the movie theater, looking at magazines at the corner grocery. The aisle is about 8′ wide and a woman strides down the aisle and bumps into me, even though I’m very far off the center, nearly leaning on the magazine racks, reading. I smile and say, “Oh! Excuse me, I’m sorry,” kindly but my warm response is met with a scowl. My boyfriend lurches upward, stiff and angry and frowns at this woman who says, directly to him, “I don’t know why all you good black men are wasting your time and your heritage with white women.” She walks away and my face is flushed, my mouth agape. He is furious and wants to chase her down, but she’s walking to meet her husband. They’re dressed in their Sunday best, clearly have just left church.

    This is the most racist thing that has ever happened to me.

    Thank you for writing about this. Thank you for continuing to create dialogue surrounding racism. I’m listening. I want things to be different.

  51. PARDON MY CAPS. JUST THE WAY I TYPE. I BELIEVE THAT MY “GOD” MADE US ALL EQUAL. SO WHO GIVES A DARN. WHAT RACE , COLOR, OR CREED YOU ARE. SOME OF MY DEAREST FRIENDS GROWING UP WERE OF A DIFFERENCT COLOR SKIN THAN I HAD. WHEN I GO OUT SHOPPING I CHAT WITH EVERYONE. WHY NOT. DO YOU THINK THERE GONNA PULL OUT A OOZIE AND SHOOT YOU DOWN. RIDICULOUS ! SOME OF MY BEST DANCE STUDENTS ARE FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD. AND BY THE WAY. I’M A DEMOCRAT. VOTED FOR MR. OBAMA AND I’D DO IT AGAIN. SURE HE’S MADE ERRORS. DON’T WE ALL? BUT……………….HE’S A HECK OF ALOT BETTER THAN WHAT WE HAD.
    SHOULD ANOTHER BUSH GET INTO THE WHITE HOUSE. I’M VERY SERIOUS I’M MOVING TO “BELIEZE”
    FONDLY AND WITH DUE RESPECT

  52. Well put. Thank you.

    You’re right, modern racism is hard to spot. Here’s a quick guide to help people spot if they’ve said or done something ‘casually’ racist: http://alltogethernow.org.au/news/10-signs-of-casual-racism/

  53. The Most Racist Thing that Happened to Me: In Portland, Oregon, three young white males pull up next to me at a red light. I’m alone. The passenger turns to me and says, “White Pride…kill everything that isn’t white.” They wait for a reaction. I don’t give them one. I drive away.

Trackbacks

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