In the book, prominent African-Americans ranging from comedian Chris Rock to NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous recall painful and life-altering encounters of discrimination.
In the 21st century if you thought racism was gone, think again, he contends. Instead of people wearing white hoods, there are institutional systems in place that keep the number of Blacks low in certain professions and areas.
A prominent neighborhood may make you think it doesn’t discriminate against Blacks because they have four Black families including Chris Rock, Mary J. Blige, Patrick Ewing and Eddie Murphy as neighbors, but that is just window-dressing, according to Touré.
“Modern racism is a much more subtle, nuanced, slippery beast than its father or grandfather were. It has ways of making itself seem to not exist, which can drive you crazy trying to prove its existence sometimes,” an excerpt reads. “You're in Target. Is the security guard following you? You're not sure. You think he is but you can't be certain. Maybe the guard is Black, so if you tried to explain it to a white friend they might not understand it as racist, but the guard's boss isn't Black. Or maybe he is. Maybe what you're feeling are his ashamed vibes as if he's sending you a silent signal of apology for following you. Or maybe...now you're looking for the Tylenol for migraines when you all you needed was toothpaste.”
The 105 interviewees featured in the book all explained the most racist thing that had happened to them, and the most common answer was indicative of modern racism: the “unknowable.” Perhaps it was a decision made in a back room or by someone you may never see. It may have been whether or not you got a job or admitted to a school; the fact that you may never know if a home in a certain area or job is available. Today racism is not overt, dissimilar to simplistic racism in the past.
For Jealous, the most racist experience you can have is the one that transforms the way you look at the world. For comedian Paul Mooney it’s referred to as the “n***** wake-up call,” the moment of suddenly discovering the pain and lack of status and power that attends with being Black; a moment of trauma where there’s always something lacking that makes you realize what being Black means.
For the late James Weldon Johnson, who wrote Autobiography of an Ex‑Colored Man, that moment was when a teacher told all the white scholars to stand up and then told him to exclusively sit down. To former New York Gov. David Patterson it was when he knew his teacher looked down on his abilities as a fourth grader. For Professor Henry Louis Gates it was when he broke his hip and went to the doctor and the doctor said he had a nervous breakdown because he was an overachiever.
To Touré, today, racism may not be overtly calling someone the n-word, but it has a way of overtly — and covertly — being traumatic.
Do you think it still exists?
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(Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
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