By Christopher Bear-Beam
The other day I stopped at one of the local gas stations that I frequent often. I usually get my gas there. I got out of my car and was walking to the store entrance. As I was getting nearer the door, an African American man was pulling into a marking space in an SUV. I think that he parked just a little over the parking space line.
Also coming down the walkway, heading towards the entrance, was a European American male, most likely in his fifties, dressed in middle class clothing. As he approached the African American in the SUV, he looked at his vehicle as if he was inspecting the other man’s parking competency. What was strange to me, however, is the non-verbal communication on his face—a mixture of judgment and fear. Now I’m a European Male, and probably slightly older that this man doing the inspecting.
Next in this chain of events, came a surprising behavior on the part of the other white man, that I have never observed before. For the last sixteen years I have been co-facilitating community dialogues around race, and training all kinds of groups and individuals. I received my training from The Center for the Healing of Racism, Houston, Texas (http://www.centerhealingracism.org/).
So the next moment consisted of something that I could view academically, but had never observed experientially. With the fearful look in his eyes, the European American man stopped abruptly, and stepped back about one pace when he realized that this was a black man—in my own running story line, I asked myself if he would have responded this way if it was another white person. Personally, I don’t think so.
I even rationalized in my own mind that maybe he was OCD and since something around him was out of order, or “over the line,” so to speak, he had to either avoid it, or see if he could control it in some way. Yet considering the context, the non-verbal communication, and the fear in his eyes, I made the assumption that he was afraid of the man due to his “blackness.”
One way to define this is Silent Racism. Silent Racism has many names and generally affects us—European Americans—because we haven’t been on the side of what it’s like living as a Person of Color in this culture, and very often, we don’t even have to think about how a person of color has been exposed to many micro aggressions, which are insults, put-downs, and ‘we’re better than you so we’re superior to you.’
Silent Racism also may be termed Unconscious Racism, Unaware Racism, Indirect Racism or perhaps Aversive Racism. Most of the time when whites are engaged in this type of Racism it’s not due to any intentionality to be mean or cruel. Many European Americans have very good hearts, and they aren’t conscious of the fact that they still practice this type of Racism. It’s a very subtle and covert kind of Racism, and that’s why Modern Racism is much more insidious. It’s not the blatant kind of Racism perpetrated by skinheads, the KKK, members of the White Identity Movement or members of other hate groups.
As a multicultural trainer, I had not seen this before. I’ve seen a white woman move as far away as possible from an African American on an elevate, and physically protecting her purse. But this European American male was most likely functioning this way out of fear.
Fear and separation are two of the triggers that keep this type of Racism going in our culture. Most American whites don’t want to directly face how we have been conditioned in a racist society—that’s called denial—and I’m not talking about that long river in Egypt.
If you want to do personal healing around Racism, or you know of groups that would benefit from this kind of multicultural training, check out Sunbear Community Alliance at: http://www.sunbearca.wordpress.com/. This author is the Executive Director of this nonprofit, and we are always looking for allies, collaborators, and people with the vision of re-conditioning our minds, feelings and behaviors to a Multicultural Consciousness.
Another good website for information on Racism and Anti-racism is: http://www.racismreview.org/.
©Christopher Bear-Beam October 29, 2011