Subtle Racism

This post was written by both Coach & Elle

This may not be a topic that interests any of you in the D/s or BDSM world, but  racism also exists within that realm and recently we experienced a subtle form of it and it needs to be addressed because ignorance abounds.

It’s usually the subtle form of racism that causes problems. We’re pretty sure we all know what overt racism looks like. Racial slurs and blatant discrimination and prejudice offends any good and decent person, at least we hope it would. If it doesn’t you’re not a good and decent person, and if that’s you, please stop reading and get some help. You do not need to be wearing a white hood or have a swastika tattooed on your forehead in order to do and say things that are racist or at the very least extremely insensitive and seriously tacky.

Subtle racism – which can include social slights and ambiguous remarks that are hard to pin down – is more dangerous to mental health than overt discrimination, according to a study of 180 Korean immigrants living in Canada.

“We found that the subtle form of discrimination has a greater impact on psychological distress such as symptoms of depression and anxiety,” said lead author Samuel Noh, professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

The study, which appears in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health , involved a survey of mostly middle-aged Korean immigrants now living in Toronto. While the participants’ reports of overt discrimination related to moods that were less positive, only subtle discrimination showed a connection with actual psychological symptoms.

“It’s easier to shrug off overt discrimination,” Noh said. “You can attribute it to irrational behavior on the part of the other person. You don’t have to examine yourself or the situation too closely.”

Overt discrimination — such as racist remarks — is a clear form of prejudice, but subtle discrimination is harder to pinpoint. For example, if your colleagues invite others to dinner but not you, it is hard to know if it is because they’ve known each other for a long time, because they don’t like you or because they are uncomfortable with people of your race.

The study found that while the effects of overt discrimination related to simply experiencing it, the effects of subtle discrimination could influence how the person thought about what had happened.

“Subtle discrimination mostly occurs in interactions with people who are close to you —like colleagues, your manager, your friends — and it’s not very clear or explicit,” Noh said. As those experiencing the discrimination try to determine what is going on, they are likely to examine their social role, including whether people around them accept them truly. “If you are in a situation where you have to continuously appraise your abilities or your quality as a person, obviously, that would affect your self-esteem,” Noh said.

What really stood out for us in the above quote is the fact that subtle racism occurs mostly among people you know, which is something we have experienced (recently, as a matter of fact) and it’s a complete let down because when it comes from people you know, like friends, your guard is down. It starts out slowly and in your mind you hear it, but you brush it off. You want to give the benefit of the doubt that the people you trust can’t possibly be saying what they’re saying. So you move on to other conversation and then it happens again, but everyone is laughing because it was just a little joke and come on, don’t be so serious. Then BAM! Sucker punch number three and now you’re pissed, really pissed.

Here’s the problem people (so brace yourself) – a black man who gets mad can really offend some white people. Irrational fear? Absolutely. Mad doesn’t mean aggressive. Mad doesn’t mean force. Mad doesn’t mean yelling. Mad is just mad and everyone has the right to get mad, especially when someone says something racist – overt or subtle. Why don’t we call it “justifiable anger.”  It’s been said so many times before on this blog that Coach won’t yell and he makes sure he watches how he is because we’ve seen how some people get when they know he’s far from pleased with their attitude and behavior, but never has it been said that he doesn’t get mad, angry, disgusted, or annoyed. If you are deemed ignorant you will get a cold shoulder and if at any time you received at a cold shoulder from Coach it’s because he does not think highly of you and you must have done or said something(s) really stupid. But God forbid you have a black man angry with you. By the way, Doms can get angry (because they’re human), but it’s how they handle their anger that matters.

When confronted with racism many people don’t want to believe that they’ve said anything racist. “I’m not a racist!” You’ll hear them shout emphatically from their enlightened rooftops. Saying something racist does not mean you’re a racist, it just means you’re ignorant. 

While overt expressions of racism have declined significantly in the past 35 years, another, more subtle kind of racism has taken their place, says a UConn professor of psychology.

“Racism doesn’t disappear because laws change,” says Jack Dovidio, a social psychologist who has been studying racism and stereotyping for nearly 30 years. Dovidio says poverty, unemployment, and high levels of infant mortality among blacks led him to study the nature of prejudice.

Much of his research has focused on subtle racism.

“Old-fashioned racism was blatant,” Dovidio says, “while subtle racism is often unintentional and unconscious.” But the effects are nonetheless damaging, he says, and they foster miscommunication and mistrust.

Some important background about Coach:

“I am not from the south, I’m from the midwest. I did not grow up poor. I’ve never lived in the inner city, but instead grew up in one of the wealthiest counties in America. I lived in a beautiful house in a well-to-do neighborhood. I went to private school until 8th grade. My family (immediate and extended) is full of highly educated men and woman and high achievers. My mother graduated from high school a year early and in 1950 received her Bachelor’s degree in Education from a major university in Michigan. She became a school teacher. She comes from a large family and they all went to college. She was even on the men’s archery team in college and she went on to get her Master’s degree in library science. My father was a WWII Vet, earned two Master’s degrees (Chemistry and Civil Engineering), qualified for Olympic Trials in boxing, was Golden Gloves, and was Chairman of the Zoning Board where we lived. He went on to have his own Civil Engineering firm. My brother received his Bachelor’s in Mathematics from an Ivy League school, qualified for Olympic Trials in wrestling, became a Major in the Air Force and was a highly acclaimed radiologist before he passed away at the age of 36. My sister has a Master’s and is a retired school teacher. I received my Bachelor’s in Operations Management from a top-ranked university on the east coast. I played football under a Hall of Fame Coach and started as a walk-on, tried out for the Chicago Bears, but then tore my Achilles tendon. I was a graduate assistant and coached track while working toward my Master’s in Sport’s Marketing.

My parents had to deal with Jim Crow laws (which were still in effect when I was a boy) and extreme forms of racism (my dad marched) no matter how much education they had. Black people had to be wiser, and let’s face it, smarter and better than their white counterparts in order to achieve what they achieved. My father had to work at the post office for years before he ever got a Civil Engineering position because he was flat out told by many firms that a black man can’t have degrees like that. He never took a hand out and worked hard to take care of his family, doing what he needed to do. There was no such thing as Affirmative Action and yet they found a way to succeed. My brother had a dying man try to kick him because he didn’t want to be treated by a black man.”

We want you to know that not all black families in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s were uneducated. Remember how surprised some of white America was when The Cosby Show came on in the 80s and people had no idea that black families lived like that? We gave you all this background so you’ll know that we don’t play the race card and that race has never been and will never be a crutch or an excuse in our family. We don’t make assumptions that getting or not getting something is based on race. We believe in earned achievement and working hard and smart. We moved to our current location out west because it’s different here. Mixed race families are common and no one is surprised that Coach doesn’t sound ghetto. Coach doesn’t hear that he’s not black enough (whatever that means) either or that he sounds white or that a good black man got stolen away by a white woman. Oh, yes, you better believe we’ve heard those comments and much, much more. So you know, those kinds of comments are racist and we consider them borderline overt.

We’ve noticed that subtle racism (coming from a man) almost always starts off with an attempted pissing contest. I guess that kind of man needs to feel like he has a level of superiority. Maybe a really good looking, in shape, educated black man feels like a threat? Who knows? We recently had dinner with a couple and the guy started throwing out jabs about Coach’s Alma mater. It was borderline rude, especially since his own Alma mater wasn’t as competitive. The guy continued to do the usual bragging about his life and Coach didn’t feel the need to spar. Next thing you know, out of the blue, the dude feels the need to tell Coach that he has a black friend. Hello? Awkward! Ask most mixed race couples and you’ll find that most of us get this at one time or another. It’s usually a sign of insecurity with someone’s blackness. Maybe they want to feel like they’re on equal footing or that we believe them to be comfortable with our difference. Sometimes they want to tell us that they worked with a lot of black people, lived near a lot of black people, or that they even dated a black person. It’s always uncomfortable when the conversation starts to go in that direction. What are we supposed to say to you? “Welcome to the club?” “We think you’re cool?” Why can’t a black person be treated like any other person and not have race even brought up, especially in casual conversation with people we’re just getting to know? Yes, you recognize that someone has much darker skin, but can’t it just end at that? We’re all humans of different ethnicities. We even hate the word racism, because we’re all of the same race.

Homo sapiens, ( Latin: “wise man”) the species to which all modern human beings belong.

The next day we went hiking. We were going up elevation and it was an extremely rocky ridge that had some difficult maneuvers. The dude, yeah the same one, says to Coach, with a haughty tone, “You’re a sprinter, why don’t you run?” Yes, he said that. First, what a rude comment to make. What purpose did it serve? Second, you don’t sprint when you hike up rocks, dipshit. Coach was great because his reply was, “Who am I here to impress.” That shut the guy right up (who, by the way, needed to lose at least 60, maybe 70 lbs) and couldn’t sprint up those rocks if his life depended on it. We got to our destination and we’re taking pics when out from the dude’s mouth we hear, “I have a black man in my frame.” Coach did not say a word and he didn’t move out of the frame, either, but I knew it was over with that dude’s sorry ass right then and there. He would never have a chance to get in Coach’s good graces again.

We hate conflict. We want resolution and we always think that given enough time people will redeem themselves. We realize that we can’t force those kinds of resolutions. In this case, however, we should have been much sharper. It’s just that it all shocked us so much, especially because of the person involved. It’s taken a bit to process. We put up those comments for our Facebook friends to examine, many of whom are in mixed race marriages, and they were shocked. They were especially shocked at our restraint. Some of you may see nothing wrong with what was said, but that’s OK. Our reality and considerations are different than yours.

We don’t have room in our lives for ignorance. We are a mixed race couple with mixed race children living in a world that doesn’t make  things easy for us at times. We have to eliminate stupidity wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head. If you think that you are a friend of ours and you joke around using race has a qualifier, and then after it’s pointed out you you get offended, we’re SO done with you. However, before we cut it off we may give you the opportunity to see the error of your ways. Many will stay in their offense. It takes a person of unique character to want to take the opportunity to learn and change. Most will stay in their insulated bubble pretending to be accepting of all people for political correctness sake or because they don’t dare admit what really goes on inside their own heart.

We Could Have Been Arrested

On April 10, 1987 Coach and I met for the first time. The moment our eyes locked it was a done deal. I left NY to figure out my life after my x left me and Coach was there on a one-year missionary assignment. Of all places for a New Yorker and a Chicagoan to meet and fall in love…Virginia.

Exactly 20 years before our meeting, Loving  v. Virginia was argued, a landmark civil rights decision of the United States Supreme Court, which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. On June 12, 1967 the case was decided. The Court held, “There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.” 

In 1967, 16 states still had anti-miscegenation laws, Virginia being one of them. Richard and Mildred Loving were a brave couple who blazed a path by just trying to live their lives. We are forever grateful for their stand.