Excerpts from “The Most Racist Thing That Ever Happened to Me”

The Most Racist Thing That Ever Happened to Me” (published at the Atlantic.com) draws from novelist, journalist, and “MSNBC personality” Touré’s new book, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? In the article, Touré shares excerpts from interviews with 105 individuals on the subject of “the most racist thing that ever happened to you.” All of the stories are worth reading, but I was most interested by the passages that described what Touré calls the “subtle, nuanced, slippery beast” of modern racism.

“Modern racism is a much more subtle, nuanced, slippery beast than its father or grandfather were. It has ways of making itself seem to not exist, which can drive you crazy trying to prove its existence sometimes. You’re in Target. Is the security guard following you? You’re not sure. You think he is but you can’t be certain. Maybe the guard is black, so if you tried to explain it to a white friend they might not understand it as racist, but the guard’s boss isn’t black. Or maybe he is. Maybe what you’re feeling are his ashamed vibes as if he’s sending you a silent signal of apology for following you. Or maybe . . . now you’re looking for the Tylenol for migraines when you all you needed was toothpaste.”

“I asked my 105 interviewees, What is the most racist thing that has ever happened to you? The response I received most often was indicative of modern racism: The answer is unknowable. “I imagine it’d be a thing I don’t even know ever happened,” Aaron McGruder said. “It would be that opportunity that never manifested and I’ll never know that it was even possible.” A decision is made in a back room or a high-level office, perhaps by someone you’ll never see, about whether or not you get a job or a home loan or admission to a school. Or perhaps you’ll never be allowed to know that a home in a certain area or a job is available. This is how modern institutional racism functions and it can weigh on and shape a black person differently than the more overt, simplistic racism of the past did.”

Similarly, other individuals reflect on the difficulty of assessing how, exactly, racism has affected them:

“The poet and Yale professor Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, who read an original poem at Obama’s inauguration, said, “The most racist thing that ever happened to me would likely be a continual underestimation of my intellectual ability and capacity, and the real insidious aspect of that kind of racism is that we don’t know half the time when people are underestimating us. We don’t know half the time when we’re being cut out of something because someone is unable to see us at full capacity. And so I presume that that happens, and has happened, a lot.” She presumes this racist miscalculation of her brilliance happens quite often even though it never makes itself plain. How tragic.”

“What’s scary about prejudice is that it’s not a measurable force,” Malcolm Gladwell said. “We just know that it’s all around and it matters sometimes a lot and sometimes it doesn’t matter as much but we don’t really know how much.”

LIE readers, what do you think? Does this resonate with you? If racism is indeed becoming more insidious and difficult to pinpoint, does that change how we raise our children to address it?

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