Mr. Nigga

You ever get hit with the “nice” racism? Call it offensive with a smile.

I was visiting a meeting for a group in Lake Oswego, which I won’t name, and I introduced myself to one member who, ironically, was named Bruce. He was white.

We shared a quick laugh about the coincidence and then he told me, “Well usually we urge people visiting to check out other locations first.”

It sounded like an odd thing to say. Then I noticed there were three other visitors at the session and no one gave them the same spiel.

Immediately my spidey senses started tingling and I caught on to what he was implying.

A person doesn’t need to scream, “Get off my property,” or “Get out of the pool,” to let you know he/she has some “Negro issues”.

If I’ve learned anything from living in Lake Oswego, it’s that many people have mastered the art of subtle racism. Apparently the rule of thumb is that it’s cool to treat someone like a second class citizen as long as you don’t overtly say it.

Being one of the few black people in Lake No Negro, I was an easy target for police stops. Some of the reasons seem comical now.

“You drove around the corner suspiciously.”

According to the officer, this meant I could’ve robbed the 7/11 they saw me walking out of as they were parked in the driveway.

“You didn’t signal 100 feet within the stop sign.”

What made this special was that the police car was following me for about a mile and then stopped me for not signaling soon enough on a winding road.

I’m sure it would’ve been easier for them to just say, “Nigger you were driving,” but all power to them for finding the time for creativity while “fighting crime”.

The best one might’ve been when a white friend and I were hanging out in a parking lot after hours. A police car rolled in and pulled my friend out first. He blew up at the officer and eventually had to be put in time out on the curb. I played the diplomat and smoothed things out with the officer but still left with a $15 ticket. My friend left empty handed.

A $15 fine is manageable but this is the disparity that plays out in the criminal justice system at a larger level, which is detailed in The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

This is the same mentality that manifests when teachers at low-income schools choose to let their kids goof off, rather than learn. I’ve even experienced it personally when my kindergarten teacher told a Saudi Arabian student and me to go play with blocks while she taught the other kids to read.

It’s this “no slurs necessary” approach that makes any instance of “nice” racism that much more frustrating.

Some guy trying to be slick at a Lake Oswego club or a crowd of white people thinking the phrase “Mexican shoes” is the funniest thing they’ve ever heard while watching “The Help” are inconsequential events. However, they represent the same smug mentality conveyed through institutional racism.

I’ve never seen a picture of the Koch brothers not smiling, but pick up a paper and you’ll find they’re trying to re-segregate schools.

It’s a metaphor for the times. We may have a black President but the conditions aren’t better. Meanwhile, the powers that be couldn’t be more comfortable. In decades past, at least oppressors frowned every now and then.

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2 Responses to “Mr. Nigga”

  1. You can’t outlaw smugness or ignorance. But the reason for this ‘genteel’ racism is that a lot of people won’t put up with ‘crude’ racism. A bunch of my friends lost a friend when his racist talk became impossible to stomach. You have a right to be angry. But you’re on the right side of history.

    • It’s not so much about being on the right or wrong side of history. Every generation of black people in America can say they have it better than the last. The real issue is that the power dynamics and concentration of resources remain the same. If you can smile, be subtle and achieve the same aims as you would’ve if you did something more brutal, than why wouldn’t you? As you pointed out, times change and certain things no longer become acceptable in society. In an unequal relationship, one group’s progress is always accompanied by another group’s adaptation.

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