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I miss the liberal, progressive South...
May 30, 2013 8:49 AM   Subscribe

I moved from a liberal city in the South to New York City, and now it seems that every other person I talk to is openly racist. I was not prepared for this and have no idea how to handle it.

First off I should say I am white. So this is not about me encountering racism directed at myself.

I was born and raised in the South, but I and my family always ran in pretty liberal and educated circles, and from childhood all the way through college, I never heard a friend or acquaintance make a racist remark. Honestly, I didn't. I heard people say such things, but they weren't people I really knew. I was raised to question any racist feelings that might arise in myself, and to tear them down. So were all my friends.

I am not saying this to make myself sound like some sort of awesome person. I know that I'm not. To me, this is like saying "I was raised to think stealing is wrong" or something. It was, to me, simply a fact. Racism equals nasty and wrong. Full stop.

So, I move to NYC. And I assume... well, I guess I just was not prepared for the idea that the way I was raised is not the norm. But it seems that it isn't. Because I just keep, keep, keep meeting people in social situations, people who seem to be on the same wavelength as me, and then the most abhorrent shit comes out of their mouths and they aren't saying it to challenge me, it's as if they honestly have no idea that anyone might think it was wrong. And I have NO IDEA how to react to it, and I have no idea how to stop meeting these people and start meeting people who think RACISM is BAD. I did not think that would be hard to do.

Examples:

-I complain to a guy I'm dating that a guy next to me on the train was sitting with his legs spread super wide, making it hard for me to sit. Guy I'm dating says "Was he black?" with this, like, knowing look on this face. (He wasn't.)

-At a party, a guy tells a story that basically goes "This big black guy came in for a computer-based interview test and did a really bad job. We were like, he's totally going to wait outside for us and jump us!" That's the entire story. And of course the guy didn't jump them because he was a regular fucking guy. Several people laugh.

-My old roommate says "We can't go to that movie theater, that's the black people theater. They'll yell at the screen."

-Another ex- a guy I was close to falling in love with- busts out with "You know, it really makes me ill to see white women dating black men." WHAT. THE. FUCK.

I'm not meeting these people in all the same places, although some are part of a very tight-knit friend group which I am also a part of. And I'm like... yes, I guess I could dump that hole group, racists and non-racists, and go look for other people to spend time with... but I can't be sure I won't just meet OTHER super racist people because it keeps happening! And there seems to be no way to screen for it. People who seem to be kind and empathetic will just come out with these things out of nowhere. I am starting to feel like I'm crazy, that my values are shared by almost no one else alive, that I'm weird for not being racist too. (Not that I plan to start.)

I have no interest in causing a scene and getting into arguments with racists when these things happen. I'm not looking for cutting bon mots with this question. I guess I'm asking a few things:

-How common is this attitude? How often am I going to come across this? Up until age 23 or 24 I never really encountered it up close and it has been consistently shocking to me.

-Is there anything I can say that WON'T start a massive argument when these things come up- like "That makes me uncomfortable" as opposed to "fuck you you fucking fuck" or something- or should I just make a note of it and then stop seeing these people?

-How can I screen for it more effectively, especially when finding people to date? Is there some sort of surefire way to meet people who find this sort of thing as abhorrent as I do?

I know this is a lot of questions... I'm just saddened and frustrated and confused. I thought I was moving to liberal mecca and the opposite seems to have happened.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (63 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
I remember this experience when I moved from Boston to NYC. And unlike you, I was not raised in a home with utterly appropriate attitudes, plus Boston had plenty o' racism.

You really just have to call bullshit on this stuff. NYC'ers seem pretty blunt and able to take it. E.g., "Wow, that is a really racist comment. Please don't say things like that."

I ended up going and tutoring adult illiterates in Bedford Stuyvesant, not to mention getting a whole lot more active in civil rights organizations, too. In some ways it was a good thing because it sensitized me fast to the stuff people of color deal with all the time, everywhere. Still. :(
posted by bearwife at 8:55 AM on May 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm a big fan of your suggestion, "fuck you you fucking fuck".

However, I'm more likely this:

[racist remark]
"Excuse me?"
[repeat, back track of insufficient reality, further crap]
"No. Just no."
(Walk away, end scene & contact)

But I have kids & would use it as teachable moment offline.
posted by tilde at 8:57 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm a big fan of your suggestion, "fuck you you fucking fuck".

I can see this flying on TV, but not in any social situation I've ever been in... it's fun to suggest metaphorically blowing up the conversation and then walking away in slow-mo from the flames, but I've never witnessed such a thing and I can't imagine it doing much good...
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:00 AM on May 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


This is actually not meant to be flip: date black guys. They'll be as sick of that shit as you (if not far, far more) and it'll be an excellent screening mechanism to repel racist asshats.
posted by Sublimity at 9:00 AM on May 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


That is bizzare! I'm living in Atlanta and although you occasionally run into super-conservatives, you just don't hear that crap down here.

I'd challenge that in a non-judgmental way.

Dude: Was he black?
You: What? No? Why would you think that?

Dude: We were like, he's totally going to wait outside for us and jump us.
You: What? Why? Why would you think that?

Ex-Roommate: We can't go to that movie theater, that's the black people theater. They'll yell at the screen.
You: Really? What are you; a comedian from 1987?

Ex-Boyfriend: You know, it really makes me ill to see white women dating black men.
You: Lose my number.

If the people in question are okay in other ways, some of them just need to be educated. If they're just hard-core racists though, just find other friends. There are plenty of people in New York, some of them were actually born there, who are incredibly cool and not racist in the least.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:00 AM on May 30, 2013 [44 favorites]


I found this video very useful:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Ti-gkJiXc

not just in tactics, but also as something to send to people who bust out the casual racism randomly. Not in a "dude, this guy is talking about you" way, but sent with a "this is interesting, what do you think?" and then when they start up with the horrid comments you can ask them if they remember that video.
posted by Dynex at 9:00 AM on May 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


I was at a party recently where a friend of a friend was saying several racist things. My friend, every time she made a disparaging remark about someone of a different race, said, "Would you please quit saying that." FOAF could clearly see her racist remarks were not welcome and stopped. I don't think she resented my friend overmuch. I think she just realized that the other people there weren't going to tolerate a racist attitude.

IOW, I think that people will take these suggestions seriously when they come from a good friend, and it won't destroy a friendship. Though a fairly casually tossed off, "Dude, that sounds pretty racist" can also go far with a non-close friend when needed.
posted by capricorn at 9:01 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was born and raised in NYC and I don't think I've ever really encountered that attitude. I'm sorry your experience of my hometown has been so bad! Please don't despair--there are plenty of people here that aren't like that. For what it's worth I tend to hang out with friends from my (very liberal) college, people from volunteer groups, Mefites, etc--maybe find a group of people with interests common to you?
posted by mlle valentine at 9:03 AM on May 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm a native New Yorker and I still live in NYC and I've never encountered this. I will say sometimes when running in unfamiliar social circles I have run into a surprising amount of frank anti-Semitism. I think it is a kind of self-reinforcing groupthink where when your friends are comfortable making explicit racist comments it snowballs. Maybe because you are new to the city you are stuck in a rut of a certain group of people who find this acceptable.

A great way to meet open minded, tolerant, non-hateful people in a new city would be attending a MeFi meetup!
posted by telegraph at 9:04 AM on May 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think even though you didn't hear a lot of racism in the South, it was there. We are raised as Americans to expect racism in the South and it becomes almost like background noise. You hear those random comments in passing but your brain files it away as 'noise that is shitty' like a loud car or police siren.

As a Southerner from a relatively liberal area, I too was shocked to discover such open and unhidden racism in Northern Urban cities. I honestly thought that by moving north, I was done with that wretched background racism. It shocked the hell out of me when I first experienced it. Then I moved to a river city in the Midwest and I was expecting it. I was shocked to discover that the racism I expect was very much less.

After the shock wore off, I began to address it when it came up. Saying "So not cool" or "Dude, I'm from the South and even I don't say shit like that." or "It's not 1954 anymore man. Integrate."

It sucks but it totally is a thing.
posted by teleri025 at 9:04 AM on May 30, 2013 [23 favorites]


I've found this is unfortunately common in larger cities in liberal areas. Some of my Los Angeles friends will say things about Hispanics that my unreconstructed Southern grandmother would go "oh hell no" over, then go "What? We live here!" as if living in a nominally liberal area excuses it. It's not, like, Ku Klux Klan racism so much as "I lived next door to this (ethnicity) family once and had a bad experience so I can get away with stereotyping all of them" racism.

In terms of tactics, I've always been fond of the stunned silence. Don't answer. Don't get mad. Just let them squirm.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:05 AM on May 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


How common is this attitude? How often am I going to come across this? Up until age 23 or 24 I never really encountered it up close and it has been consistently shocking to me.

I have had to explain to a (non-white) coworker of mine from Georgia how this kind of thing in NYC goes on and is not that uncommon. It stems from a bunch of different ethnic groups all in the same place and sort of "competing for space." Like every different ethnic group is in silent, unspoken competition with each other, and stereotypes are built up.

But the thing is that there is a strong social prejudice about being considered racist. So if you call them on it, they will tap it down.

"Dude, I'm from the South and even I don't say shit like that."

This will totally work because there's also a prejudice in NYC against being considered "southern", so if you're posing it in terms of "you are acting worse than we do down there", you'll make your point.

How can I screen for it more effectively, especially when finding people to date? Is there some sort of surefire way to meet people who find this sort of thing as abhorrent as I do?

I don't think there's a consistent formula to screen for them. You either get people from other parts of the country who bring their racial attitudes with them or people from the city who were raised with these attitudes, and since you're white, you'll seem like a "safe" person to express them to.
posted by deanc at 9:11 AM on May 30, 2013 [23 favorites]


I'm from the Northeast (Boston) and I know what you're talking about. There's a lot more "tribalism" in the Northeast than there is in other parts of the country, plus there's a lot less screening of one's language to avoid offense. Also, in a place like NYC, you're just generally going to run into more kinds of people, and some of those kinds of people are going to be racist.

But I definitely don't think you have to put up with it. Honestly, I never encountered this much among friends or friendly acquaintances after I graduated from high school, so it's definitely possible to have a social life in the Northeast without having to deal with racist BS.

I would definitely recommend calling people out in a low-key way if you feel comfortable doing so. Humor is always good in situations like this, you could even make a joke about how you're from the South and even you are surprised to hear that (people from the Northeast love to feel more enlightened than the South, as I'm sure you've noticed).

Also, how long have you been in NYC? It can sometimes take a (long) while to find "your people" in a new city.
posted by lunasol at 9:12 AM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can I ask you a blunt question- in your "liberal and educated circles", were those circles ethnically and racially diverse? One thing that I think takes some getting used to in New York City is that we're all crammed up here together, people from all over, and I think it can be jarring if you're used to only living with people who talk about race the same way you do. Maybe you were more comfortable in the South because everyone you spent time with was just like you. Like, that first quip from the guy you were dating- was her being OMG TERRIBLY RACIST or was he just making a (terrible, non-date appropriate) joke about the stereotype about black men having big penises? Who was the butt of the party guy's joke, the black interviewee, or himself for being scared based on his own racism? I think you have to call out the egregious stuff (the ex disgusted by white women with black men), but I think it's also valuable to try and think on some of the borderline stuff. Welcome to life in the big city. It's not always comfortable; I know plenty of people who ultimately decide they don't want to deal with it and they move somewhere else. Try not to let that discomfort ruin the city for you. There's a lot of love and magic here, too.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:12 AM on May 30, 2013 [41 favorites]


Nthing a MeFi meetup. Otherwise, or in addition, respond with a "What does that have to do with it?" or a "What an interesting assumption."

Ugh.
posted by SillyShepherd at 9:12 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or, what deanc said.
posted by lunasol at 9:14 AM on May 30, 2013


I am a native New Yorker and I've heard stuff like this from all ends: whites ranting about blacks, blacks ranting about whites. Asians, Jews, Indians, Italians, Irish, I mean, you name any two groups of people (race, nationality or otherwise) and I will have heard at least one conversation where one went off on how the other one is awful. People are openly prejudiced here and aren't afraid to voice it. There's no southern gentility here and diversity has never meant "everyone gets along."

What that mean, of course, is that it is really easy to identify the people you shouldn't have anything to do with. A person saying "whites shouldn't date blacks" or "that theater is full of loud black people" is something that I and most of my friends, transplants and natives alike, would be glad someone said because it meant we could discount them as a decent human being then and there.
posted by A god with hooves, a god with horns at 9:15 AM on May 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Attention white people: Racism is everywhere. It's everywhere. It's there in the quiet, unspoken background of conversations in liberal schools, it's in the out-loud rantings of near-strangers in big East Coast cities, it's in the board rooms and the backwaters.

That being said, NYC culture is to say things more directly, and New Yorkers tend to have more familiarity with people of other backgrounds and cultures than many other parts of the country do, simply because we are juxtaposed with those of different classes and communities more often than less dense places. And sometimes that familiarity or proximity lets people think they have some sort of permission to be more up-front with their prejudice. For example, I bet you'll find more virulent anti-semitism here in NYC simply because so many other parts of the country don't even encounter visibly Jewish culture enough to form an opinion about it.

So! You've encountered some assholes. This isn't really about NYC, so much as about your having left a bit of a bubble. Overall, NYC's default culture is "as long as they're not in my way, they can do what they want", and it shouldn't be hard to find folks with those values. Use the standard AskMe suggestions — do some volunteering, join some meetups, and take some classes in subjects you're interested in.

In the interim, act like the New Yorker you're becoming: "I don't have time for your racist bullshit."
posted by anildash at 9:16 AM on May 30, 2013 [76 favorites]


I, too, was surprised by the open racism of the northeast when I lived there for a year. It's not just an NYC thing. I think it's a long-term deeply-seated racism thing. I grew up in California so I am also familiar with what Ghostride The Whip refers to, but I think it's much worse in the northeast. What I experienced was not just the crappy comments stuff, but clear instances of people being treated poorly simply because of their race.

I think the "I'm from the South and even we don't say crap like that" is a good way to make your objections known. Everyone knows Southerners have to be the most racist people in the country, amirite? So you have negative cultural capital you can use.
posted by stowaway at 9:20 AM on May 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I came to say the exact same thing that TPS said: your social group sounds like it might be too homogenized. I don't think the solution is for you to go out and specifically befriend minorities in order to bring them around these people to show them how wrong they are, as that is a whole other can of privileged weirdness worms. I think you should 01) call out racism when you see it and stop worrying about the feelings of people who make shitty racist comments and 02) expand your social circle outside of these people. But ugh, definitely don't date a minority person as an object lesson to others, that's gross and objectifying and weird.
posted by elizardbits at 9:21 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know how to screen against racists (it's hard!), but I do like to break out "well, bless your heart" with a sad half-smile and a gentle shake of the head where the racist is expecting the laughter or camaraderie to be at the end of their statement. Since you're genuinely southern, it may work even better than it has for me.
posted by juniperesque at 9:23 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


In places where ethnic groups try hard to establish a strong cultural identity, whether they do it over skin color, origin, or anything else, the racism follows. With any subculture come acts and attitudes that rub other groups the wrong way.

Racism is no better when it's based on an empowering self-identification than when it was based on a skin-and-region-based biological theory of race. This is a culture clash, but the labels are the same as race.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:25 AM on May 30, 2013


This makes me recall the scene in Do The Right Thing where each person spouts off an incredible string of racist insults at pretty much every "other" there could be.
posted by Riverine at 9:26 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I grew up in NYC and didn't witness that kind of stuff. I wonder if these guys are really from NYC or are transplants from someplace else? In any event, you shouldn't have to put up with it, and there's some great suggestions above (I especially like the "What an interesting assumption" line).

Somewhat apropos of your experience, however--there's an anecdote in J. Anthony Lukas's Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the Boston busing / school desegregation crisis, Common Ground (read it! it's great!). Lukas describes the experience of one of the forebears of the black family featured in the book, who moved from the South to Boston in, I think, the early 20th century. Lukas writes that this patriarch's experience was consistent with the "old truism" (which I'll misquote) that whites in the South don't mind how close blacks get, so long as they don't get too high, but whites in the North don't mind how high blacks get, so long as they don't get too close. He had left the South where he was kept down, but acknowledged as a person, to come North where he was free to make of himself what he wanted, but he was stuck in the ghetto. Traded one racism for another.

The point being, and in agreement with Anildash, I don't think NYC is free from racism, though the verbalized racism you're hearing is not consistent with my experience. But New York can feel very segregated, and separation can breed stupidity.

Find some new friends!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:31 AM on May 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


Nthing the talk above about how racism is everywhere, and the direct/blunt conversational style you hear in the city just brings it to the fore.

In the mid 1960's, my dad lived in Montgomery, Alabama then moved to Chicago. Care to guess in which city he heard more overt racist talk?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:37 AM on May 30, 2013


Racism is everywhere. I find that people who have racist beliefs tend to think that people who look like them think like them. I grew up in northern NJ and I'm an "ethnic" white person. The kinds of situations you are describing happen to me fairly frequently, and it's always disheartening. I have a confrontational personality and so I always push back, but I am always filled with disgust at the display of ignorance.
posted by crankylex at 9:44 AM on May 30, 2013


Oh my goodness, yes, this is a thing about big cities in the U.S. that we as a culture don't like to talk about: they are cesspits of racism.

They are also babylons of liberal acceptance, for they are large and contain multitudes.

Chicago is so racist that I'm embarrassed to be from there, but the biggest issue isn't even commentary--it's infrastructure. We basically are still segregated, it is effectively 1954, especially where schools are concerned. Realtors will not take me to certain neighborhoods, because what white person would ever live there? I sometimes find other white people feel comfortable spouting racist bullshit at me, but I code pretty clearly as a "liberal hipster northsider" and so they turn on their filters mostly.

In NYC I found that generally speaking, the policy is "filters off." I had rude, prejudicial things said to me about poor people (and I was one), white people, black people, Hispanic people, Korean people, veterans, Orthodox Jewish people, Reform Jewish people, NON-Jewish people....

basically if you live in NYC, someone really fucking hates you and their reasons are more or less "naked bigotry".
posted by like_a_friend at 9:49 AM on May 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Examples:

-I complain to a guy I'm dating that a guy next to me on the train was sitting with his legs spread super wide, making it hard for me to sit. Guy I'm dating says "Was he black?" with this, like, knowing look on this face. (He wasn't.)


Hell, I might have asked this one and I'm black. It's a thing I've noticed among black men, usually young ones and it's irritating as hell. Long story short, yes ethnic or racial groups do sometimes exhibit similar behaviors, patterns of speech, what have you. Recognizing that isn't necessarily racist.

-At a party, a guy tells a story that basically goes "This big black guy came in for a computer-based interview test and did a really bad job. We were like, he's totally going to wait outside for us and jump us!" That's the entire story. And of course the guy didn't jump them because he was a regular fucking guy. Several people laugh.

Eh, it's the "in club" thing in action. People of a particular group often like to poke fun at other groups, based on stereotypes. Will not great, hardly the worst sin in the world.

-My old roommate says "We can't go to that movie theater, that's the black people theater. They'll yell at the screen."

Yes ethnic or racial groups do sometimes exhibit similar behaviors, patterns of speech, what have you. Recognizing that isn't necessarily racist.


-Another ex- a guy I was close to falling in love with- busts out with "You know, it really makes me ill to see white women dating black men." WHAT. THE. FUCK.

Ok, this is racist and definitely call him on it.

Overall, you should sort of naive, like a rural person suddenly in the big city who encountering all sorts of people she never imagined existed. No problem, happens to everyone, but view as a learning experience. As others have noted, when lots of different ethnic groups live closely together, a bit of this is to be expected. Live and learn.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:54 AM on May 30, 2013 [16 favorites]


One thing that's happening in New York City over the last ten years is a pretty big influx of middle to upper-middle class primarily white college graduates in their 20s and early 30s. They have a city of their own inside the city. We used to call them all "Murray Hill people" but they've taken over the East Village, the greater NYU area, and even some of Brooklyn. They're insular, suburban and gross. They should leave New York, because we don't want them and they're boring and wear khakis and are racist, but you know, that's cities for you.

That population mixed with what's documented above can make for some pretty crazy out-loud racism in public situations.

That being said, there's a frankness about race in the north that I appreciate (at least, from non-white friends and non-racists). For example, I only go to the talk-back movie theater by my house when I want to hear talking-back at the movies, which I sometimes do in fact, and I have no qualms about saying so.

In answer to your questions: racism is common, and you have a bigger pool of people in which to find racists now! Since you don't want to blow up these social situations (which, too bad: I love blowing them up, a la Yo, Is This Racist?), then the answer is "That's incorrect, stereotypical and offensive." Because the problem with confrontation is that you don't want people to just keep their racism PRIVATE. You do want to have a chance to tell them what they're thinking is wrong, offensive and hurtful.

It really is hard to find your people when you move somewhere new.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:55 AM on May 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


I have some thoughts about this, as a southerner who lived in New York for 12 years and now lives in a third region of the country where people are different about this stuff, again.

One thing that I found weird about New York when I first moved there was that people talk about ethnicity a lot more than in the south and take it a lot more seriously. This can be good, in the case of things like the various national pride parades and people being in touch with their immigrant heritage. But it can also be bad, because it really encourages people to think tribally and to somewhat buy into the basic notion that there are generalizable ethnic tropes that have meaning.

Growing up in the south (in a liberal family but a very conservative area), I heard plenty of racist things. But they were sort of nebulous unspoken Othering things. I've now come to understand exactly what the nuances of it really are, and exactly what people are implying when they say things like "the skating rink is really ghetto now", or they deride (African-American) pedestrians, or they arm their houses to the teeth, etc. Right now my southern bugbear is "Zombie Apocolypse", which is totally a racist dogwhistle, at least as used among racist southerners in my southern hometown.

But what I didn't hear growing up in the south was really specific tropes about What Black People Are Like. It just didn't get that specific. It wasn't about, like, keeping a master encyclopedia of Ethnic Tropes (in the way that New York kind of can be), it was about keeping everybody separated. So I had never heard of the stereotypes about fried chicken and watermelon, for instance. Or the "black people shout at the movie screen" stereotype. Or any of that. The goal of racism in the south is to know as little as possible about black culture, and to make black people invisible, and to maintain certain systems like the prison industrial complex (which in a lot of ways requires a sort of enforced invisibility).

So I think what you might be hearing isn't more racism* than exists in the south, but a different kind of racism. Because everybody is racist everywhere, they just have different goals and ways of expressing that.

Another thought: I lived in New York for a dozen years and never met anyone who said things like what you mention, at all. Even when I got wind of stuff like "black people shout at the movie screen", it was always in scare quotes and surrounded by "some people say..." and "it's a stereotype that..." So it's possible that you keep meeting bigots, and you should maybe be more discerning about who you decide to get close to, or more outspoken about how inappropriate this stuff is. Re how to do that, I would say DATE LIBERALS. Find people who are specifically interested in being allies and educating themselves about this stuff.

*I mean except for these people who are saying things like "black men dating white women makes me uncomfortable", which IS demonstratively more racist.
posted by Sara C. at 9:55 AM on May 30, 2013 [23 favorites]


Southerner here, transplanted to the north.

Quiet racism is just as prevalent everywhere in the USA. Folks don't get jobs, housing, education, invitations and nothing is ever uttered. Watch out for it and oppose it, too.

Also, it's not just blacks. I once had a cousin in law go off on Jews. Once I was sure what he was saying, I lit into him in a very sitcom way.... a quick list of Jewish philanthropists, scientists, doctors followed by a few foundations, hospitals and charities, followed by a list of my closest (as in I made babies with them) friends. Then, I pressed him for a list of his accomplishments and his people, and did not let up until he saw where he stood in the list and how inhospitable it was to be thus biased in such an unfriendly place. He still seeks us out, but has never uttered another word along those lines.

I'm primed for similar anti-black stuff, but it has mostly gone underground where I am. But the fuse is lit and pity the poor bastard that sets me off.

Good for you for being a liberal southerner, like me. There are a few here and there.

Try some different approaches and see what works. Start with a pea shooter and move gradually to nukes and see if there's a good optimum.
posted by FauxScot at 10:05 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I grew up in NYC, and my penchant for racist remarks used in jest primarily stems from the fact that through elementary school and up my core group of friends were about as multinational/ethnicity as it can possibly get without being a Benetton commercial. We would consistently engage in one-upmanship of poking fun at each other's race, religion, class, etc. in a similar vein of making fun of someone's mom.

For example, being half Asian I would fully expect to get made fun of for having an egg roll, the same as I would give my buddy, who is black, shit for going to KFC. Granted, as I got older the frequency of these situations has greatly diminished, but I still engage in and receive these types of comments with my friends.

To me, racist remarks used in jest among friends is a sign a familiarity and friendship, it's almost like being part of a family, where you can say and do stuff which, coming from a stranger, would result in hostilities.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:15 AM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I moved from Chicago to the Northeast for school, and was shocked by the amount of blatantly expressed prejudice I encountered-- especially antisemitism and class prejudice. In reality, I think I was just more or less accustomed to the forms of prejudice that saturated my home community. Moving somewhere where they were articulated somewhat differently, I suddenly got a fresh view and it was appalling. But as like_a_friend points out, Chicago is as racist as anyplace. And I felt like I was very liberal and progressive, but I was quite prejudiced in the way people are when they think they are not prejudiced at all.

Responses? "What?" "Seriously?" Act like you don't understand what they mean and ask them to explain. You don't have to hang out with or date people who are racist.

I do feel for you. think an awful lot of humor these days is class or ethnically based-- just watch Comedy Central-- and a lot of it is dumb/makes the people who use it look dumb. And the fact that it's humor doesn't mean it doesn't add to the problem. And again, you don't have to put up with this. Find people who don't do it.
posted by BibiRose at 10:17 AM on May 30, 2013


TIL: The South, not as racist as everybody thinks it is.
TIAL: Liberal Southerners exist, and we are everywhere. (just apparently not in the south, where we can vote on stuff)

Don't be afraid to bring up some of that good ole southern charm that we're all also famous for and make sure people know you're not okay with that sort of thing. Otherwise I'm just echoing what everybody else is saying.
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:18 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I think the racism in some places is just a little more quiet. Frankly, the louder the racism is, the less virulent it is, IMHO. They identify themselves and you can take them at face value.

Too, I think a lot of racism is less about actual race, and more about othering and tribalism. Very often you'll get people who will make racist (or sexist or whatever) comments to people they view as one of their own in order to bring them into the tribe.

There is also a strain of racism that I too have noticed in the New York area (but this might be an observational bias of mine) that they would call fact-based racism. People feel perfectly justified in spouting off about crime statistics and how "those people" have different cultural values than "us". Since they have gotten statistics off of some website, they aren't basing their racism on race (as far as you know). It's just ignorance and strawmanning- their ignorant "logic" forces all members of a race to be responsible for the sins of the individuals. They keep score on the other races, but not on their own.

Thirdly, there is the casual racism that happens among homogenous cultures. The most racist people I've ever met are the ones least likely to have had ANY experience with people of other races with which to have some basis for it. It's the Long Island (or DuPage County in Chicago) style of racism: "I don't go into the city because Negroes". They are just fearful fools trying to blame their fear on something else besides their own inadequacies.

In short, nobody is better than anyone else, we just have different ways to express our ignorance.
posted by gjc at 10:29 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


TIL: The South, not as racist as everybody thinks it is.

..no, but if you're a white person in the South, you might not realize the more subtle racism. I grew up in what I call the 'very Northern South' (Northern VA) and now live in the Northeast, and I agree that people are just more open in a lot of ways about racism up here. I do think NYC is more tolerant than Boston and things vary by region even in the Northeast, but YMMV.

OP I don't mean to challenge your perception of how you grew up, but there may have been some more subtle racism behind the scenes ( I remember a lot of the "I'm 'colorblind' but" variety) and now you're getting the more in-your-face kind.

Agreed, however, that you shouldn't expect that you'll just have to deal with these comments about being sick over white women dating black men though. You were right to move on from that partner and like others have said, call this crap out when you see it.
posted by sweetkid at 10:31 AM on May 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I grew up in NY (the Bronx to be specific), and now live as half of a mixed-race marriage in a semi-rural outer suburb of Atlanta. From my experience, I can tell you that there's no real difference in the racism here or there, except for the fact that people in NY are just a tiny bit less open about it.
posted by deadmessenger at 10:32 AM on May 30, 2013


[Folks, this is not where we debate every item along "was this or wasn't this racist" lines. Direct answers to the OP, follow-up with individual commenters directly. Don't derail this. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 10:52 AM on May 30, 2013


I know I am way overboard here, but here goes:
. we do not know what "liberal" city you were from in the South...there is no such thing as a liberal city anywhere in this country. There are liberals and conservatives, racists and non-racists.
2. NY seems to have people who say what they think, believe, and it is not always nice..On the other hand, depends who you hang with for what you hear.
3. In my experiences, there are places that seem so much more polite and non-this or that simply because it makes good social sense not to roil the conversational stew. Another wahy of saying those you hear may not always say what they believe or think.
posted by Postroad at 10:57 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I think the racism in some places is just a little more quiet. Frankly, the louder the racism is, the less virulent it is, IMHO. They identify themselves and you can take them at face value.

Came here to say this. I also grew up in the south(NC) and recently moved to NYC. Most of my family is from this area anyway so I wasn't raised southern and could just be used to the culture - people are definitely more up front about thoughts and whatever here than in the south, but it is probably not any more or less racist. In the south "one doesn't say" certain things around certain people, but that's not as much the case here. Or if someone goes too far someone else will be more likely to call them on it.

I'm more comfortable with the bluntness because as the Avenue Q song goes "everyone's a little bit racist" and at least you know what you're getting when someone is blunt. In the south I was way more uncomfortable when I knew when people were being indirect, beating around the bush to insinuate various racist sentiments, and it's much harder to call someone out for that kind of thing. So someone would say something vague and others would not knowingly...that's the kind of racism that made me really uncomfortable.

Not that there is really a good kind of racism, but the subtle racism seems more sinister to me.
posted by fromageball at 11:21 AM on May 30, 2013


I agree with another answerer that New Yorkers are blunt and you can reciprocate their racist bluntness with your anti-racist bluntness without risk of them thinking you are being inappropriate (but of course who cares because their racism is already inappropriate). Sock it to 'em.
posted by Dansaman at 11:39 AM on May 30, 2013


Ghostride the Whip: In terms of tactics, I've always been fond of the stunned silence. Don't answer. Don't get mad. Just let them squirm.

I just wanted to jump in and add that this may not always work; just three nights ago, my housemate hit me with a "bad neighborhood = poor minorities and Mexicans" line and while I stared at her with stunned silence, she kept talking without missing a beat. Staring and waiting for them to realize they messed up, while a glorious tactic that I advocate in almost any other circumstance, does not always work here and you may need to treat blunt racism with blunt "I don't even know what the fuck you're saying right now" conversational judo. I can't do it: I'm Black, people automatically jump to the defensive when I look at them sideways, etc. etc. etc. But you can, and probably with more success than any PoC.
posted by Ashen at 11:42 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, moving forward, can we avoid using "blacks" instead of Black people (capitalized or otherwise, pick your politics)? There's a semantic difference between the two and it does matter.
posted by Ashen at 11:47 AM on May 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


New Yorker here (actually, someone who RJ Reynolds apparently thinks is "Murray Hill" and should leave, even though I live on the UWS now). I've never really encountered this, other than the movie theatre thing, which I think tends to happen more in neighborhoods that are crowded and younger, which MAY be populated with more people of color, or not. I try to go to the movies wit the old people.

I think you just have to meet new people. Have a diverse group of friends. If someone says something racist, call them out on it, immediately.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:57 AM on May 30, 2013


I am a native New Yorker and I've heard stuff like this from all ends: whites ranting about blacks, blacks ranting about whites.

As a black, I want to second this. Plenty of blacks make comments about whites, asians, what have you. It ranges from mild jokes to flat out awful inflammatory. While that can be problematic for any number of reasons, people are people and less than perfect in so many ways. Rather than focusing on the inane comments that whites, blacks and pretty much everyone makes, it would be better to see how people behave in mixed company.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:13 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Racism's on the rise lately, so that might be part of it. I've been hearing this kind of crap my whole life (it's the "polite Canadian" racism, often). When I'm not stunned into silence, I respond with "I don't understand why the person's race is relevant. Does it matter?". or "I really wish you wouldn't say stuff like that", or "dude- not cool". Or I just look disapproving and change the subject.
posted by windykites at 12:38 PM on May 30, 2013


P.S. If you ever figure out how to respond to stuff that's too subtle to outright call bullshit on, please tell me. (I can't think of specific examples but I'm sure you probably know what I mean- just attitudes or implications).
posted by windykites at 12:41 PM on May 30, 2013


Also, I'd like to add, that when you go back home you will notice things you never thought about before.

I was shocked after a few months in St. Louis to go home and see absolutely no one of color. Anywhere. My old bar in my college town that I was convinced was a bastion of liberal thought and integrated relations? A sea of white. My lovely liberal college campus? Also a sea of white. My amazingly "integrated" neighborhood that I was so proud to live in? Three Black families out of dozens of white families. And the shocking thing was nothing had changed. That neighborhood was surprisingly integrated considering its surroundings. That campus is very liberal and progressive for being in the mid-South. That bar was one of the few that people of color could go and not have to fear assault. But I had changed. I had grown accustomed to seeing a wider margin of other races in my daily life. My world was no longer almost all white, it had become only slightly white and that difference stood out.

So, yeah, like a lot of people have mentioned, it's easier to have good racial relations when there aren't any other races around you. It's when you pack folks in tighter than a sardine can that the craziness begins to flare. I still think the South isn't as overtly racist as the rest of the country likes to make us out to be, but as a whole, everybody has a long way to go.
posted by teleri025 at 12:47 PM on May 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


I've heard a ton of racism in NYC, but moreso on an industry basis. I work in a very blue collar environment but grew up in a mixed family. I really just never noticed race. But once I started working where I do, I was shocked. I think some of the sting is taken out because it's mostly just joking around, but I can only handle so much before I have to walk away. I've never been able to solve it, I've just had to grow accustomed.
posted by nevercalm at 1:14 PM on May 30, 2013


Yeah, in my experience NYC is unusually segregated along workplace/professional lines. There are specific ideas about what someone of a certain ethnicity should do for a living (Korean grocers, Irish cops, Greek diner staff, etc) which just completely blew my mind when I moved to New York.

Especially considering that, in the south, people don't really think about ethnicity on a nationality level at all. So growing up I was only dimly aware of Greek people, period. And then I move to New York where it's just taken for granted as an assumption that if you're Greek, someone in your family probably works in a diner. And, like, EVERYONE knows this.

This might be something that informed the OP's story about the black guy interviewing for a tech job. Because people really do have ingrained ideas about what race/ethnicity/nationality of people are appropriate to hire in a particular position. To, like, an insane degree of ingrained, and an insane specificity. And yet those same people would claim that of course they don't think that all black people are literally criminals.

(You also see a lot of workplace dynamics that definitely read as racism to a southerner, but a northeasterner would describe it as "not being a good fit" or the like.)
posted by Sara C. at 1:27 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Part of the problem might also be your Southern accent, if you have one. People who have views that they are uncomfortable shouting from the rooftops to other New Yorkers may hear a Southern accent and mistakenly assume that they've found a sympathetic audience for what they think is a shared prejudice. I've had friends complain about this sort of thing happening to them in the Northeast: Southerners and (white) South Africans who attracted amazing amounts of racist "humor" from seemingly-normal people, and (in one case) an English guy who people repeatedly assumed was a sympathetic anti-Semite and showered with weird conspiracy theories.
posted by Wylla at 1:31 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Dude, I'm from the South and even I don't say shit like that."

Don't say this unless you want to just reinforce the stereotype that the South is one huge sea of racism.

I also noticed this same thing when I moved from the rural Midwest to the Northeast. There are fewer confederate flags, but there's a lot more nasty insinuations that just come out of nowhere in the course of normal conversation.
posted by geegollygosh at 1:55 PM on May 30, 2013


I think people tend to get in the habit of saying things their friends say or what they hear on radio shows without thinking. They become parrots. Unfortunately I find this quite a bit in regards to certain talk radio shows which tends to work on a wavelength in the brain so that critical thought is not engaged. Incessant talk radio is a form of brainwashing which is why in some countries they only broadcast the glorious leader making speeches.

Of course that is no excuse but sometimes when the person is confronted, they might see the errors of their ways. Unless they are too far brainwashed, in which case they need some serious deprogramming.

It is similar to a lot of college students I see that have no self-censorship with swearing while walking down a busy street even when kids are around.

Call them out every time they talk smack. Shame them. Smack them a little if need be.
posted by JJ86 at 1:56 PM on May 30, 2013


The workplace stuff I routinely hear doesn't really rise to that level. It's more along the lines of "hey, ginzo!" to an Italian, or "you simple donkey fuck" to an Irishman. It's like shorthand that everyone knows. You don't hear a lot of the N-word, that's still verboten.

I do hear kids saying it all over the frigging city, even groups of purely white kids. It never fails to blow my mind. I know it's a hip-hop thing, but I'm always surprised you don't hear about adults punching HS kids more often.
posted by nevercalm at 2:08 PM on May 30, 2013


Yeah, in my experience NYC is unusually segregated along workplace/professional lines. There are specific ideas about what someone of a certain ethnicity should do for a living (Korean grocers, Irish cops, Greek diner staff, etc) which just completely blew my mind when I moved to New York.

Especially considering that, in the south, people don't really think about ethnicity on a nationality level at all. So growing up I was only dimly aware of Greek people, period. And then I move to New York where it's just taken for granted as an assumption that if you're Greek, someone in your family probably works in a diner. And, like, EVERYONE knows this.
This is another thing-- particularly in the south, there just haven't been a lot of immigrants, and this remained true until relatively recently, and these kinds of ethnic interactions and understandings must seem really unusual. So I think that people from the south or the great plains who have tried all their lives to become more "enlightened" might see this sort of casual stereotyping as the very kind of racism that they're trying to avoid. And yet it really is ubiquitous. I'm not papering over the genuine racism that actually exists (the one time I've ever had someone racially heckle my non-white friend and me (white) in public was in NYC). But the kind of "ethnic-stereotyping-along-professional-lines" is so second-nature that people don't even think of it. But for a lot of people, it is a really big deal to have to put up with statements like, "oh, does your family own a [business stereotypical of your ethnic background]?"* The northeast is a lot less sensitive to the inappropriateness of and sensitivity people have to those questions.

I mean, the whole thing of lots of ethnic communities thrown together has good and bad aspects. They are vibrant areas where there are lots of different experiences to be had. But people get entrenched in their identities and there is a feeling of competition between them, and people will get categorized according to background and ethnicity.

* actually, my relatives are in the pizza business. The overhead on diners is way too high.
posted by deanc at 2:58 PM on May 30, 2013


I think Brandon Blatcher's comments are very sensible and he expresses, far better than I could have, what I was thinking in response to your question.

I think it's absolutely true that proximity tends to breed tension and distrust among ethnicities. Some of the most idyllically tolerant places are completely whitebread enclaves of wealth. So although you may be disturbed by the statements you're hearing, on some level they can just be considered the natural sound of friction among different types of people who are living and working close together, and that, in a way, is a sign of progress.
posted by Unified Theory at 5:26 PM on May 30, 2013


I think when one is from the South, people just assume a lot of not-so-good things. I have experienced it myself, heard from other absolutely professional folks having the same issue who have worked within the US and internationally as well. The best, polite response we could all collectively come up with was, "Why would you say that?" Its infuriating and there does not seem to be any solution to this. Some comments are outright horrific, as the ones you have experienced, some are very subtle but aren't very nice either such as this Can I ask you a blunt question- in your "liberal and educated circles", were those circles ethnically and racially diverse? Bless their heart! (and I mean this in the good way, you know)
posted by xm at 8:39 PM on May 30, 2013


Guess it's a good thing the one you almost fell in love with revealed his racist side before you were head over heels in love with him. A racist remark says SO much about the person doing the talking, doesn't it? Instantly, you know more than you ever wanted to about that person.
posted by aryma at 11:22 PM on May 30, 2013


As a data point, I grew up in NJ, about 40 min outside of NYC. Five years ago I moved to NC. My husband and I both realized fairly immediately once we got here that ethnicity is NOT discussed openly. The South (for understandable reasons) seems a lot more sensitive to this topic. I would never ever ever consider myself racist, but I did amend my speech patterns accordingly. In fact, it took moving down here to fully recognize those patterns and for a long time I felt like a douchebag.
posted by corn_bread at 4:05 AM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I live in nyc, transplanted from the midwest.

Race is a big big big deal here, but it's also a big deal just about everywhere. The new york bluntness is actually kind of a benefit in that. You can see it coming. Here is where it gets a little sketchy, tho. Just because someone has a touch of bias (or a even a lot, for that matter) doesn't mean they are really bad people. That is a really important thing to remember because you are still going to have to deal with those people. In places with a more spread-out population, you might be able to be very exclusive when it comes to who you actually talk to throughout the day- but here we are literally all on top of each other nearly all the time.

In part, people are blunter hear for the same damn reason racism comes up so often- we all have shit to do RIGHT NOW, and there are literally millions of people in between me and all that shit I need to do. So we generalize. I don't walk my dog past the Yeshiva down the block from me because most of the orthodox kids that attend it are afraid of dogs and it's a hassel i don't need. While I know that not ALL Jewish people are afraid of dogs (my boyfriend loves our dog just fine) I might still say in passing to a friend that I don't walk my dog over there because jews don't like dogs. Is it a little racist? kinda. Am I a total ass? nah- just a little one.

In the great midwest- open racism was super frowned upon- but there was bitch tons of stuff that was sort of minor-league racism that everyone was pretty blind to. Example- you know how some people say "that's so retarded" when something sucks? Well, in my home town they would say "that's so jewish." I had never met a jewish person and it never occurred to me what an incredibly awful thing that was to freakin say. LIKE SUPER BAD. Now, if someone said "i don't like those hook-nose jews," me and all of my friends would have torn them a new one for being racist.

Racism is everywhere and I like new york because people will say things bluntly, and then you can respond just as bluntly.
Example- A few months ago some girl i was talking to said "I am having a hard time getting dates on OK cupid- everyone who messages me is either old or asian. I don't date asians."
ME: "whoa nelly that's an incredibly weird and racist thing to say."
Her: "no, you don't understand. I'm half-asian"
ME: "And that just makes it weirder and more self-hating"

Am I gonna stop talking to her? NOPE, I can't because 1. She's a co-worker, and 2. She's not a total asshole and she admitted that it was a fucked up thing to say.... but she's still not going to date asians (probably to the great relief of the Asian male community of New York, frankly.)

Basically, it's going to get easier after a while. You can express your disagreement with someone's opinion without actively challenging or confronting them. You also don't have to totally hate someone just because they spouted something fucked up. Just tell them it was fucked up. Don't make it a thing. Movie theater thing? "It's the black people, eh Jim? all them blacks?" the wide-leg thing? "Nope, not a black guy. Now you feel all racist, don't you?"
posted by Blisterlips at 6:33 AM on May 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've lived in Memphis most of my life, and while it is one of the only "liberal" disctricts in Tennessee, race has always been an issue. So hearing these types of things isn't uncommon for me, however it tends to be baby boomer suburbian types that drive giant SUV's. I will say that it isn't uncommon for someone in my group of friends to say something without realizing the possible implications and for someone else to call them out. Honestly, if I felt comfortable with this group of people is probably what I would do.

[racist comment]
"Racist!"

They will likely take it as a joke, thus avoiding awkward conversations, but perhaps they will start to think before they say stuff like that in the future, and make them start considering where those thoughts are coming from.

Also... this group of friends doesn't have a black friend somewhere to call them out?
posted by Quincy at 7:00 AM on May 31, 2013


I grew up in, and live in, New York City. I think the fact that we are all jumbled together in this crowded place leads to the formation of stereotypes about certain groups - it's a rather particular and specified form of racism that I think is somewhat different from the more generalized and aggressive Southern variety (though we have that, too, for sure).

For example, most people I know have built up, in their minds, from riding the subway thousands and thousands of times with people from all walks of life, lists of Subway Stereotypes. These stereotypes are not always based on race or ethnicity and, like all stereotypes, they may or may not actually be true. But, you ride the train every day, you see all kinds of people, you can't help but notice (or think you are noticing, obviously personal prejudices do come into play here) certain kinds of behavior. It's just a consequence of living in a big, dense city.

I also think people in the Northeast are a little more blunt. Southern politeness (and perhaps the South's history of segregation?) probably means that the overall stigma against expressing racism is a little stronger down there. That, plus NYC's history of strong ethnic groups, plus the fact that we all rub elbows with each other all the time, means that you'll probably hear more casually racist comments here than you would in the South.

So, what should you do about it? Say, "wow, that's pretty racist." Seriously. The offender will probably chuckle, mutter an embarrassed apology, and change the subject.
posted by breakin' the law at 12:20 PM on May 31, 2013


Well, I don't know. I'm from NY and my girlfriend is from the South, and most of the astonishingly racist things I've heard have been in Arkansas. But definitely a lot of the racism I noticed in the South seemed to be of the background radiation type that southerners weren't noticing - I seem to have a particular talent for spotting confederate flags.

I think that a big part of what you noticed in NY is caused by the interaction between two things:

1. We live on top of each other in NY, and often get on each other's nerves.

2. People tend to notice people who are visibly different from them more than they notice people who seem to be the same as them.

What happens as a result of that is that the regular, run-of-the-mill irritating stuff seems more salient when people of other races do it. That doesn't mean you need to refrain from challenging it, but I don't think that calling it racist is going to be helpful. I think something along the lines of "you know, I've seen a lot of white guys sit like that too" would be more helpful.

Except for this one:
-Another ex- a guy I was close to falling in love with- busts out with "You know, it really makes me ill to see white women dating black men." WHAT. THE. FUCK.

That is 100% racist, but hey, there are assholes everywhere.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:38 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


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