I chatted excitedly with my friend as we placed our books on the lunch room table. The usual tenth grade gossip and insecurities were exchanged while we promptly filed into the line for hot lunch. We were the new girls at school, both beginning in the middle of the school year. Having the commonality between us, we clicked and quickly became close friends. Sharing the same bronzed skin and dark colored hair strengthened the bond between us, giggling every time we were mistaken to be sisters.
With our lunch trays in hand, we returned to the table where we had placed our books. Our books were no where to be seen and the once empty table was filled with boys a year younger than ourselves.
“Hee-eeyy!” came the response of my friend.
“Where are the books that were here?” I questioned.
“They’re over there where they belong,” one towheaded boy pointed.
“Yeah, you need to sit with the other brown people,” came the explanation from a dark haired, and now noticeably, light skinned boy.
Racism is not always so clear. The bias against others based on their ethnic group to which they belong can take several forms.
This would be my first notable experience with blatant racism. I was lucky to be well into my teens before the event. Children as young as 7 are able to understand and report experiences of racism and discrimination (Warren, 2018). A 2018 study shows that those experiences potentially lead to detrimental effects such as increased risk of smoking (Matthews-King, 2018). Blatant racism is easily identifiable by most. It is obvious, differential and negative treatment based solely on the individuals perceived race/ethnic group to which they belong (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012).
Little did I know, but another example of racism would be soon to follow.
I heard the phone ring and rushed to check the caller ID. I saw that it was a friend of mine from school. More specifically, a male friend- whom a call from was much anticipated. My uncle, who was also my legal guardian, came out of the back room; and he was livid. He called me to sit down at the kitchen table and my aunt followed suit, always supportive. He told me that I was to never to have someone like him call the house ever again. I was confused. After more discussion, I eventually understood. I was to never let “a black” call the house like that again.
“But… he’s Puerto Rican…” as if my explanation justified the behavior I was witnessing.
“That’s just as bad,” my church going uncle retorted. I promptly was a raging fire. Through tears I explained my own personal experience of being treated differently due to my skin color and was disgusted that my aunt and uncle, allegedly followers of love, could behave in such a way. My uncle told me that it didn’t make them bad people, there’s simply reasons I wouldn’t understand as to why I was not permitted to affiliate with people who were not white. Confused, of course, because my Filipino heritage places me in the “not white” category.
Aversive racism is often trickier to pin point, because the individual is in denial of their racial biases (Schneider et al., 2012). My uncle’s chortle when I pointed out their racist behavior proved that he was oblivious of his own racist actions. He continued smoothly to demonstrate symbolic racism, using the tried and true racist expression, “There’s nothing against them, but …”. Symbolic racism is similar to the aversive type because the racist beliefs are not acknowledged. They indirectly demonstrate their racist bias by claiming to not see other races as lesser, but the topic at hand is where their feathers ruffle. In actuality, it is not the topic, but the race that they have a bias against.
Racism is something that has plagued our society for many years. It continues to do so, in both obvious and subtle forms. Aversive and symbolic racism, although assumed to be indirect, remain to be defined examples of racism. The denial needs to be called out and addressed in order for the behaviors to be eradicated.
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.
Matthews-King, A. (2018, January 24). Young people who experience racism more likely to take up smoking, study suggests. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/young-people-racism-smoking-cigarettes-tobacco-racist-abuse-victims-a8176461.html
Warren, J. (2018, October 22). Study: Children as young as 7 suffer effects of discrimination. Retrieved from https://news.ucr.edu/articles/2018/10/22/study-children-young-7-suffer-effects-discrimination