The Gift Trayvon Gave All of Us


In a piece for Loop 21, contributing editor Keli Goff hopes that Trayvon Martin's death can teach the entire country a lesson about the consequences of "subtle racism."

Months ago I wrote a piece titled, “Is Racism Worse in the Obama Era?” In it I discussed the psychological impact of subtle racism, a subject eloquently discussed by Toure in his book “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?” In the piece I also briefly touched upon my own experiences with subtle racism. (As I, and plenty of friends have learned, what walking down the street in a hoodie is to black men, walking into the wrong store with the wrong skin color is to black women.) The reaction to the piece was fascinating, with some weighing in with their own experiences. Others, however, were livid that in the age of a black president “people like me” still found something to complain about and what I was complaining about was discrimination that you can’t even see or touch, let alone prove.


The fundamental question raised by the column was whether or not subtle racism is actually far worse, and more dangerous, for that very reason. As I noted, in my parents’ generation (they both grew up in the segregated South) a store simply hung a sign that said “No Coloreds” allowed. Today a store wouldn’t dream of doing that and yet most black people I know, and most black celebrities have a story (often more than one) about being blatantly denied service at a store due to race. In the case of Oprah Winfrey on two separate occasions at two different stores the stores in question locked the doors and claimed to be closed when she attempted to enter. In the case of Condoleezza Rice, a sales clerk questioned whether she could actually afford the jewelry she was eyeing. To those who have never endured such experiences, they may sound like minor indignities. But the Trayvon Martin case illustrates how easily subtle racism — which usually involves racial profiling — can escalate from indignity to death.

Read Keli Goff's entire piece at Loop 21.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter