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?

Photo Daviniodus/deviantart.com

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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. 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.

  2. 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).

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. TASCHA PASSION says:

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

  12. 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.

  13. 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 ?

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

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

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] At The Good Men Project, we love nothing better than a good story. And we’re particularly thrilled when stories beget stories. Even when they are about racism. Scratch that. Especially when they’re about racism. These were excerpted from our comment section on Jackie Summer’s post: The Most Racist Thing That (N)ever Happened. [...]

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  3. [...] topics far beyond the realm of romance. Before I knew it, I was deeply engaged in discussions on race, gender, class, and a plethora of other incredibly difficult subjects. Having already discussed [...]

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

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