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Why Subtle Racism is Very Real and Very Dangerous

Why Subtle Racism is Very Real and Very Dangerous

My best friend once asked me, “What’s subtle racism?’ If you’re wondering the same thing, it is defined as implicit or indirect racial discrimination and negative attitudes toward a group of people. This is pretty typical driveway talk for my best friend, my sister, and I, although it was interesting to hear our different perspectives and experiences with subtle racism. The topics up for debate were: is subtle racism real and is it really that bad?

Is it real? Truthfully, it’s hard to distinguish it as it’s something that is commonplace in our society. As being people of color and nearly twenty years old, all of us had, unfortunately, experienced at least one instance of blatant racism. Whether it be from a teacher or an old friend, any directly racist comment was followed by immediate hurt, anger, and resistance. Those were quite easy to call out and prove. Subtle racism, however, is something I had to carefully teach myself to recognize and react to. In the simplest terms, subtle racism is feeling unwelcome because of your race. But it extends beyond a distasteful look from a classmate or a tragic stereotype. Constant subtle racism will give a person the same feeling of direct racism, but the feeling will be spread over a much longer period of time and to the point where the feeling is almost untraceable to a specific source. 

Subtle racism exists in as many forms as direct racism. It exists in small, private moments and on the big screen. It can be heard in words: when a person speaks negatively about features associated with your race without directly insulting your race. It can be seen in action: when a professor deliberately and repeatedly gives white students more attention and space to speak. It can exist in the minds of friends: when they believe they are better than you because of their skin color but don’t just say it. It’s all around us.

But, are ingrained biases and negative thoughts really worth fighting over when direct racism is killing people?

Initially, my friend said, “no, it’s not a big deal because it [subtle racism] isn’t harming anyone, not really.” And she has a point. You can’t see the effects of subtle racism on a person. There are no scratches or bruises, no news articles, and no justice. But, would we be able to recognize it if we looked at the bigger picture? When I zoom out, I see that subtle racism acts as fuel for direct racism. It is so common in America that it is even referred to as ‘everyday racism.’ And because subtle racism is normalized, it is very dangerous.

By not pointing it out or not knowing when to point it out, our world becomes more divided behind the scenes. Friend groups become less diverse, open conversations stop being had, and change becomes much more difficult to attain.

It leaks into the workplace and affects who receives certain jobs and opportunities and changes the criteria for a respectable person. It changes people’s perceptions of the world.

Sadly, we see this in America and all over the world. The laws of a country can only do so much to change the mindset of its people. 

I had to tell myself I wasn’t overreacting or being overdramatic. It is crucial to think critically about any scenario where racism is involved. With that in mind, I find it easier to recognize and speak about subtle racism. The issue may seem small, but I don’t want to live in a world where I let people around me get away with believing others are less than them. We shouldn’t just have to dream about an equal world when we can use the power we have to make it a reality.

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