In the words of one of the best and worst lyricists of our generation, “Racism’s still alive, they just be concealin’ it.”
Say what you will about Kanye, he’s never been more right than he was right there. As I’ve often mentioned, I was born in South Africa during Apartheid, to a mixed-race family. So I have some fairly intense history and experience with racism, both institutionalized and otherwise. But I also remember when my family immigrated here in an effort to flee Apartheid and escape the State of Emergency. I remember being surprised and disappointed — even as a child — to learn that racism was pretty prevalent here as well. But we also had moved to the Boston area, the Northeastern United States, a bastion of liberalism and friendly white people. That’s part of what made it so surprising. There’s often this vein, this quiet undercurrent of racism that pervades American life, that we never really got a grip on until recently. It was casual racism, unwitting ignorance. Often stemming from what we now have a word for — privilege”.
Racism is a funny thing. If you’re not a person of color, you can go your whole life without experiencing it firsthand. Or rather, you can go your whole life without even realizing you’ve experienced it firsthand. It’s a strange, insidious thing sometimes, popping its head up in unexpected places and in unusual ways. I remember when I was in college, sitting outside half-drunk one night with a bunch of friends (all of whom were white — this was Wisconsin, after all). And some drunken shitbird came staggering by and said “You know what sucks? When a nigger says shit to you and you can’t kill ‘em.” And my friends were stunned. I mean, totally shocked.
I find that kind of innocence amazing. Those were people who’d never seen racism up close and personal, never experienced the casual, quiet, dark bubbling up of prejudice that pervades our lives. But once your eyes are open to it, you start to see it around you, you start to understand it. You start to see race and privilege show up in shitty miscast movies, supermarkets, in Facebook posts by news anchors, in conversations with your grandparents, in articles about yoga, for god’s sake (H/t to Classic for the head’s up on that shitshow).
So let’s talk about your experiences with racism. I don’t mean the overt kind. I know about that. I’m not interested in tales of cross burnings and swastikas scrawled on walls. I mean the subtle stuff, the passive-aggressive, the venal and veiled racism that you don’t expect. What have you seen? Were you confused by it? How did it make you feel about yourself, about the person responsible? No judgments (HA), just genuinely curious.