Subtle Racism: How do you know it’s happening?


“You just know.” Well, how DO you know? It seems that in the US minorities are well aware of both explicit and implicit or subtle racialization. But on the other side, dominant culture (White) folk are quick to point out that certain comments (“you are so articulate” to a Black man) might not be racist. Stupid but not racist. So, whose being over-sensitive?

The latest American Psychologist (63:4) has comments and author reply to a previous article by Derald Wing Sue et al on the topic of microaggressions(in vol. 62, entitled: Racial microaggressions in everday life: Implications for clinical practice). 3 of the 4 commenters were defensive of Sue’s allegations of these microaggressions. And Sue replied saying that their defensiveness is ample evidence that white people can’t take the reality of racism. They always want to find other reasons for racist activity (i.e., oversensitivity of minorities).

End result? No good dialogue; distance; defensiveness. One guy questions one of Sue’s hypotheses in his article and suggests an alternative (innocently portrayed). Sue replies and says he of course considered (and rejected) that hypothesis and that the guy has a problem because he can’t deal with the reality of racism.

What got the commenters up in arms wasn’t the science in the article but Sue’s personal story of being asked to move to the back of a small prop plane to balance the weight out when 3 late arriving white businessmen were not asked to move. In a personal story, we make ourselves vulnerable to attack because it is our perceptions that we state as reality that tempt others to challenging what we “saw”. 

Unfortunately, the inability to talk about microaggressions is based on the problem of defensiveness of both sides and feelings of invalidation when one questions our sense of the world.

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Filed under Black and White, Psychology, Race, Racial Reconciliation

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