Real-World Strategies for Dealing with Implicit Racism Today
Implicit racism has always been around, but what is implicit racism today? Here’s an example.
Last month I went to the bank as I normally do every week to handle the business that I have to do in person. I was rushing and arrived in the parking lot at the same time as another customer. While I normally get my deposit ready before going to the teller, this time I was rushing and knew I was going to have to get the small deposit ready at the window.
I had resolved to be a nuisance and so I rushed in so I could go first. I will admit that it may have been a juvenile move, but I was in a rush and had to get home before my next client. Now here are two facts that I have observed in the 18 months that I had been going to that bank every week. First, they have deposit slips at the window that the teller will give you if you need one. Second, I have never seen the tellers complain or ask someone to wait for someone else to go who is already prepared.
I knew I was in trouble when I ran in, went to the first teller and asked if she had any slips and she pointed me to the desk where the slips are kept. I grabbed one and took it to the second teller and this is when I got kicked in the gut. She looked at me and said “Oh, you’re not ready?” She both looked and sounded very annoyed with me. Then she said, “You should have waited to go after someone else who is actually ready.” And she pointed to the well-dressed white woman behind me.
I said to her “Well I didn’t realize that it was required for me to be ready when I came to the window”. She looked at me with that tight little smile that exuded annoyance and said, “Well you could wait for someone who is ready already….” I looked at the customer and asked her if she was ready since I didn’t see anything about her that indicated that she was. She didn’t answer my question, just looked uncomfortable. I turned back to the teller and asked, “How do you know she’s ready?” She didn’t respond.
Things moved quickly after that. The first teller who pointed me to the desk invited the white customer to come to her window and the teller I was standing in front of gave me attitude and hostility for the duration of my transaction. Did I mention that she was white? Up to that point we always had pleasant exchanges and I never suspected what lay beneath the surface. I was angry. But even more profoundly I felt hurt and humiliated. My hands were shaking throughout the rest of the exchange and I could barely keep my thoughts together.
You might wonder why I felt humiliated. Well for one thing, it was embarrassing. She scolded me for not letting the white woman go first. Second, and this is the most humiliating part, if the white woman had said she was ready I may have stepped aside and let her go first. I have great shame admitting that. I would have let that teller make me feel small enough to step aside and let the preferred person go first.
Do I think the teller’s actions indicated a racist brewing beneath the surface. I don’t know if that’s true. I think its deeper and hence more problematic than that. I believe that I was subjected to implicit racism. That’s a form that’s harder to see and can be difficult to explain when it happens to you. When it does, it can often lead you to a “WTF just happened?” response as you know you feel like crap but when you say it out loud you sound petty.
Melissa Watson-Clark has been practicing as a psychotherapist since 2010. Working primarily with clients suffering with anxiety and depression she focuses on the power of nature to bring healing and restoration to her clients.