How Racism Goes Unchecked

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

Writing at Salon, Roxane Gay explores modern-day racism and dismisses exhortations by whites that blacks simply "get over" it. She asks how this implausible request can be accomplished when racism is flourishing and silently condoned by some whites.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Dallas Fort Worth airport with a long layover. I spent the time on my laptop, catching up on grading. Out of nowhere, a white man sporting a camouflage baseball cap and a khaki rucksack hitched over one shoulder began pacing back and forth in front of me, muttering "nigger." I rarely type that word out, I try not to ever say it, but sometimes, you need to say "nigger" instead of "the n-word." Sometimes, you need to represent the world as it really is despite the discomfort that reality may cause. 

I thought I couldn't possibly have heard that man correctly. It was the middle of the day. The year is 2013. The terminal was crowded. Then this man looked right at me, raised his voice, and said, "Fat ass nigger." Yes, he was talking to me.

We often have grand ideas about what we'll do in such moments but I was stunned; I was frozen—angry, scared, humiliated. I wanted to cry or disappear but I couldn't do either. I couldn't let that man see how he had found a vulnerable place. I couldn't let him see how, in too many ways, I am a barely healed wound.

Not one person said anything; I was surrounded by people.

At the time, I mentioned the incident on Twitter and people told me to alert security. That is, of course the rational response to irrational behavior. I didn't want to move, though. I didn't want him to take further notice of me. I didn't want him to hurt me. I was scared because here was an angry man, who was either mentally ill, or comfortable enough in his racism to speak this way to me in plain sight. If he would simply, unprovoked, call me "nigger", there was no telling what else he might do. That's what is always fascinating about racism—how it is allowed if not encouraged to flourish, freely, in public spaces, the way racism and bigotry are so often unquestioned.

Read Roxane Gay's entire piece at Salon.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

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