Subtle Racism

From the moment the woman spoke the words to me, I knew I had to write about it. It all rolled off her tongue in a way that told me she has done it many times before. Second hand nature. Subtle racism.

A couple of weeks ago, I was spending some glorious kid-free time in Target. Women, you know what I mean. It was the kind of Target trip that relaxes instead of stresses the soul. I meandered from aisle to aisle, checking the various end-caps for clearance items I couldn’t live without, but previously did not know existed.

All was well when I found myself in the makeup aisle. I zigged and zagged between Revlon, Maybelline, and CoverGirl, not having any real reason to be there…just enjoying the peace and quiet of those glorious, well-lit, kid-free, responsibility-free aisles.

There in the makeup aisle with me was another, slightly older, middle-aged white woman. She was quiet at first, bending over and searching for something. She was talking on the phone. I was looking for a better eyeliner.

She hung up her cell phone and looked at me. “They stopped making it! MY favorite thing and I’ve used it for YEARS! They stopped making it!”, she proclaimed indignantly.

“Ugh. Don’t you hate it when they do that?! Just when you get to knowing what you like…”, I tried to sympathize. I don’t have regular products. I’m not a makeup connoisseur, you could say. Really, I am awful at makeup and have started watching YouTube videos like a 13 year old to give me tips.

She continued.

“They have stopped making all the good stuff. But you know who they are making all kinds of stuff for now? You know, don’t ya… the BLACKS…   that’s right. Ugh.”, She looked at me for confirmation as she whispered the words of her racism to me. “BLACKS” in a hush toned, so she could not be heard by the two black Target employees across the aisle.

I think I responded in a puff of air. A “huh”, and a half-smile. I did not say anything else and neither did she. We parted ways.

This event has stuck on my brain like superglue since it occurred. This lady that thought only people of her skin tone could have beauty products. This lady that saw me as some kind of superiority equal, enough to divulge her disgust to the shell of my white skin. She didn’t know me. She didn’t know what my beliefs where. She saw that I was like her, and therefore I was a safe place to lay her blatant racism.

And that’s where the subtle racism comes in. I accepted her thoughts without rebuke. Although I didn’t confirm her opinion or allow her to grow the conversation into a race-bashing session between two white strangers, I can’t help to think that I could have, I should have, called her on her opinion. I could have pointed out that, certainly, women of all colors should be afforded the opportunity to have multiple choices of bad lipstick colors and brow pencils that make them look like they have caterpillars on their foreheads. I should have said say, “Hey now, let’s not be selfish and pretend us white ladies should have all the makeup.” Or something. I should have said something.

But I didn’t say anything.

I just walked away and she walked away and I realized that I just participated in subtle racism. Inaction and ignorance. Very much a ostrich head-stuck-in-the-sand type response. See no evil, hear no evil, yada yada yada.

I want that lady to know that what she said was not okay, but I also want her to know that what I didn’t say wasn’t okay, either. The lines of separation between the races are built with these subtle racist nuances in conversations, built from the day most of us were born. Change begins with identifying, not only what was said, but almost more importantly, what was not.

Be the change you wish to see in the world… God knows I am trying. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to speak up in love when the world seems to be speaking louder in hate. But that’s our job.

Sometimes, we need to speak up in love to the voice in our head as well. It’s not the voice of your heart, but the voice of fear and ignorance from generations and generations before you were ever born.

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