On Unconscious Racism: An Explanation of George Zimmerman and Upset Hunger Games Fans

 They used to lynch us. They don’t do that anymore.
They used to buy and sell us. They don’t do that anymore.

They used to call our fathers “boy” and send them around back. They don’t do that anymore.

Now it’s unconscious, so all they have to do is think.

Racism has gone underground, upgraded its look to be more stylish and user friendly.  In fact, it’s undergone such a dramatic face lift that racists themselves don’t even know they’re racist. That’s impressive.

Racists these days have black friends and get along with their black coworkers. They have Jay Z and Usher songs in their iTunes accounts, and they readily compliment black women on how nice their natural hair looks. And they really mean those compliments. They wouldn’t ever want their hair to do that, but they really do like the way it looks on someone else. I guess that’s just one of the perks of the new unconscious racism.

But don’t be fooled. This new racism, polite and understated though it may be, is still the same old racism. It still runs on that inherently flawed and extremely delusional belief that God is white (European) and has a natural preference for His own. That’s the thinking that made the world’s human atrocities okay.

It made the trans Atlantic slave trade okay.  It made colonization and Apartheid okay. It made the Holocaust and Japanese concentration camps okay. It made the slaughter and relocation of Native Americans okay. All inhumane treatment of non-white people is justified in the eyes of racism. Twisted stuff, ain’t it?

But this new racism is tricky. It’s ninja-like in its ability to operate without detection. It isn’t as in your face. It lies dormant most of the time, silently feeding off of reinforced stereotypes, media misinformation and fear. It nestles itself so deeply in the subconscious that most who are affected by it can honestly say, “I am not racist.” As far as they know, they aren’t. They don’t hate black people. They don’t think black people deserve to be treated badly. But they do believe, way back in the recesses of their mind, that certain things, places and people are designated for whites only. Not in a “colored entrance” kind of way, but in a “I get uncomfortable when I see black people overstepping their bounds” kind of way.

That’s why Trayvon Martin looked suspicious. His presence in that particular neighborhood made Zimmerman uncomfortable. He would have felt perfectly fine had he seen Martin in a predominantly black, poor neighborhood—not being racist or anything, but that is where blacks live, right?—but he couldn’t conceive that Martin possibly belonged in that neighborhood. The mere sight of that hoodied young man (not to be confused with a “hooded” young man) in that gated community was enough to activate the unconscious racist within. In an instant, all the stereotypes and fear he’d gathered and stored in his 28 years flooded Zimmerman’s conscious mind and instructed him to save the neighborhood and himself from this incredibly threatening black male.

That’s also why some disgruntled Hunger Games fans have found fault with the color of particular cast members. Despite the fact that casting directors make small (and large) changes to book characters all the time, their unconscious racists within were activated when they saw that such powerful and positive characters were played by…dramatic pause… black actors (cue shock and awe now). According to some of the upset tweets, the author made no mention of color. This actually isn’t true, but it doesn’t matter. When they discovered that the book characters where strong, positive and actually of significance to the story, they automatically assumed the author meant for them to be white, because, well, what else could they possibly be? And those unconscious racist thoughts were actually strong enough to edit out the parts of the book that literally describe their skin as “dark brown.”

Wow.

I don’t know if you’re getting the magnitude of that. Let me say it again. Those unconscious racist thoughts were actually strong enough to edit out the parts of the book that literally describe their skin as dark brown.  Tell me that’s not deep. The unconscious racist’s ideas of whiteness and blackness and so entrenched in a hierarchy of value that their minds literally blotted out printed text so as not to disturb their preconceived notions about what “good” really looks like.

That’s why stereotypes are so prominent. They reinforce the ideas unconscious racists already have. When they see a black man who really is a criminal, they take notice, but when they see one who is an educated, peaceful, loving father, they ignore it or write it off as an isolated incident. Racism survives this way.

Until we get away from the idea that God is white (or any other color for that matter), racism will live on. It’s form will continue to change, but its roots will remain sturdy.

~Nadirah Angail

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14 thoughts on “On Unconscious Racism: An Explanation of George Zimmerman and Upset Hunger Games Fans

  1. Pingback: On Unconscious Racism: An Explanation of George Zimmerman & Upset Hunger Games Fans | AllHipHop.com
  2. Carlton Langston A. April 17, 2012 / 7:42 am

    This is one of the best writes I’ve seen on this in a long time…Please grab my 2008 poetry book release: Eavesdrop Mind Chatter of a Sidewalk Scholar also available on iTunes my album; Alveromancy: Affirmative Action’s Dream Deferred.

    Again GREAT write.

    • N. Angail April 19, 2012 / 10:07 am

      Carlton, thanks so much for sharing your poetry. “…it means when you leave the confines of home, esp. alone, you become a suspect, and America’s progress is that the noose is not instantly placed around the neck” <–Sad truth. Continue to share your truth!

  3. Tyler April 19, 2012 / 11:23 am

    This was a well written article, but very off the mark in my opinion. From my understanding of the article, your main points revolved around the assumption that racism is now “underground”, and this “unconscious racism” reinforces old stereotypes.

    While the two assumptions of your article do have some validity, in my opinion, your examples were terrible at illustrating your point. Let’s start with George Zimmerman.

    First of all, Zimmerman is not what most people would characterize as “white.” According to a Huffington post article, “His father called him a ‘Spanish speaking minority’ with many black relatives and friends.”

    In the beginning of your article, you spoke in great detail about the people (“they”) who would buy and sell you, and call your father “boy”. Now, those people (“they”), have black friends, and listen to black artists on their Ipods. From the way you characterized these people (the ones that “lynched” you, and “made the trans Atlantaic slave trade okay”), I naturally assumed you meant “white” people. You drove your point home with, “It still runs on that inherently-flawed and extremely delusional belief that God is white (European) and has a natural preference for his own.”

    How does this apply to Zimmerman though? He isn’t white, and his ancestors weren’t the ones (“they”) you were referring to. Since his background is inherently different than typical white Americans, it is illogical to assume that he was indoctrinated with the exact same form of “unconscious racism.”

    You only have to look inside American prisons, or gangs to see how many different types of racism there are. Whites hate blacks and hispanics, blacks hate whites and hispanics, hispanics hate blacks and whites. Plenty of Hispanic minorities hate black people for reasons completely removed from the White vs Black discussion. The hispanics that are racist towards black people are not racist because they believe their “God is white, and has a natural preference for his own”.

    If Zimmerman did act based upon unconscious racism (which I do believe occurred), this racism was a completely unique form, and can’t be automatically connected with the white racists and bigots of the past.

    As far as your Hunger Games example, I believe you have made an incomparable parallel. You’ve aligned the murder of a young African American boy at the hands of a Hispanic male, with the disgruntled tweets of who?

    You have no idea if these outspoken tweets are from people of white, asian, or hispanic backgrounds, AND you also have no inclination as to their religious backgrounds either. You concluded your article with, “Until we get away from the idea that God is white (or any other color for that matter) racism will live on,” but all tweets from disgruntled Hunger Games fans could very well be from Asian atheists. The framework of racism and “unconscious racism” that you alleged to in the beginning of your article would then be completely incomparable.

    I am not saying that unconscious racism doesn’t exist, because I confidently believe it does. In addition to that, I also believe that it could perpetuate old stereotypes. I just have significant issues with people simplifying the complex issue of racism into White > Black, AND tying racism into some theological debate. Racism has nothing to do with religion anymore. Racism was definitely started by whites, but the racism that continues today transcends the White vs Black argument in a big way.

    • N. Angail April 20, 2012 / 8:50 am

      Helly Tyler,

      When I spoke of “they,” I meant racist people, the people that did those things. And yes, in this case they were white. But I don’t believe that only white people can be racist, just like I don’t believe that all white people are racist. The idea that white is best has infected everyone, not just black and white people, so it is very possible for Zimmerman, a Hispanic man, to still have this type of thinking. So much of the world is color struck, convinced of a color hierarchy that puts white at top, black at the bottom and everyone else lined up in the middle. It’s so much deeper than just black and white.

      You’re right, I have no idea what color or religion the Hunger Games tweeters are, but that doesn’t matter. They could have even been black for all I know (though I doubt it). My point still remains: “The unconscious racist’s ideas of whiteness and blackness and so entrenched in a hierarchy of value that their minds literally blotted out printed text so as not to disturb their preconceived notions about what “good” really looks like.” Anyone can have racist thinking, so the race of those tweeters is irrelevant.

      I know Americans in general have actually grown less religious over time, but the images of whiteness as king is still very pervasive and its roots lie in religion. It doesn’t matter if you particularly believe in that religion. What matters is that most of us have been thoroughly exposed to and affected by it, regardless of if we realize it or not (hence the unconscious part).

      “Racism was definitely started by whites, but the racism that continues today transcends the White vs Black argument in a big way.” <– Your words, and I agree with them 100%. I never meant to imply that it's just a black and white issue.

      Thanks for commenting:)

      • Tyler April 20, 2012 / 2:29 pm

        BTW, checked out your Facebook and Youtube vids – your content is thought provoking and I think you are absolutely gorgeous.

      • N. Angail April 26, 2012 / 1:43 pm

        Thanks for checking out my vids and thanks for the compliment.

    • Anonymous July 13, 2013 / 4:54 pm

      George Zimmerman is white…his documents listed him as white not Hispanic…and regardless of what he looks like and his actual lineage may be his mindset and lifestyle has been one of institutionalized white privilege and supremacy…I have seen all ethnities with this mindset…Asians, Arabs..etc…they’re all infected with the idea that the lighter the skin the better the person…

      • N. Angail July 13, 2013 / 5:57 pm

        Yes, everyone can be infected with the idea that the darker is necessarily worse/bad/unworthy.

  4. Anonymous July 16, 2013 / 9:23 am

    George Zimmerman is white…his documents listed him as white not Hispanic…and regardless of what he looks like and his actual lineage may be his mindset and lifestyle has been one of institutionalized white privilege and supremacy…I have seen all ethnities with this mindset…Asians, Arabs..etc…they’re all infected with the idea that the lighter the skin the better the person…

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