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.
What is implicit racism?
According to encyclopedia.com implicit racism is not the opposite of explicit racism but a different, yet no less harmful, form of racism. It refers to an individual’s utilization of unconscious biases when making judgements about people from different racial and ethnic groups. It is an automatic negative reaction to someone who is different.
That’s what makes it so insidious. It can be easily dismissed by the perpetrator. And the person on the receiving end can think they are being too sensitive or overreacting, even when they are certain something crazy happened to them. But this type of racism is often outside of the person’s awareness and they could easily and enthusiastically deny any overt racist beliefs and ideologies but display implicit racism in their everyday interactions.
Implicit racism can look like this from the perspective of a person of color: when exchanging cash at a cash register the cashier doesn’t want the cash placed in their hand; fast moving lines that seem to stop when it’s your turn; being followed by police cars for long periods of time when you are doing nothing wrong; being seated at bad tables in restaurants when better tables are available. These are subtle instances that can be blamed on something else but imagine having this happen to you numerous times no matter where you are.
So, you might respond, “So what, we all have our preferences.” And you’re right, we do. The difference is that those preferences often only apply to people who are different from you. In the Project Implicit Study conducted by researchers from Yale, Harvard, University of Virginia, and University of Washington internet tests were given to look at participants implicit preferences for one group in comparison to another. Researchers found four main results; People are unaware of their implicit biases, biases are pervasive, implicit biases predict behavior, and people differ in their levels of implicit bias.
How can I deal with implicit racism today?
This blog won’t be covering the legal steps to take when you have been subjected to implicit racism. Instead the focus of the rest of the article will be on how to handle the feelings you are having so you are able to return to a normal state. Yes, the anger you feel is completely normal and expected. But remaining in a state of anger won’t help you get centered and enable you to move beyond it. It can also be very harmful to you in the long run.
Figuring out how you feel, beyond anger, is also critically important for you to be able to decide what you want to do. Acknowledging the hurt that accompanies the anger will help you to come to a real conclusion about the issue. Hurt is harder to deal with because we don’t want to admit that implicit racism got past our carefully erected barrier to stop them before they get too close.
Here are some questions that you can ask yourself as you initially try to move past the episode of implicit racism:
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you are the only person to have had this experience with this person. It’s important for you to look for support within your community to help you as you move through this experience. Look at your personal and professional connections and see who you can talk to about the incident.
Ask yourself these questions:
These are questions you can process with your community of support so you can gain more clarity and determine what next steps you should take.
Finally, please know that this experience doesn’t define you. While it is a shock and jolt to the system, it could also be the silver lining in the cloud. If it happens at work and your employer doesn’t respond appropriately, this may be the sign you have been looking for to tell you its time to move on. If at a shop or restaurant, maybe its time to try a new place and expand your horizons. Try another place of business, there is always more than just the one place. You are not without options or power but you must move past the emotional state so you can think and be strategic about what you want to do next.
So, what did I do about my own experience of implicit racism at that bank? I changed banks the next day. I couldn’t completely close out the account immediately, but I did open an account at a bank more aligned with my business needs now that I have been in business for a while longer. I have a much better situation now and I would not have made that change if that teller had not decided to treat me as less than the white woman standing behind me.
It wasn’t a change I was looking to make, but rather than fester in the unfairness of it all, I made the decision to change and landed someplace much better. You can too.
Are dealing with implicit racism? Do you need help processing your feelings and figuring out what to do? Schedule a free 20-minute consultation call with me, Melissa Watson-Clark, by filling out this form.
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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.