… is the worst kind of racism. It is disarming. If it is deceitful. It is demoralizing.
Nice racism is disarming. It presents as friendly, inviting, and non-threatening. Being racialized, navigating harm and hostility, allies and safe spaces are not only desired. They are needed. Therefore, when nice racism is experienced, strategies for safety are abandoned as, being in the presence of the nice racist, they seem unnecessary.
Nice racism is deceitful. While presenting as friendly and safe, underneath is a persistent (but guilt ridden) need to remain comfortable and an unwillingness to lose power. To manage the two, to present as safe while maintaining comfort and power, the friendly racist learns about racism and learns about being an ally. She engages in book studies– giving her access to knowing without anything tangible. I call it intellectual masterbation. They pursue friendships with people “of color”, and they engage in pointing out racism amongst non- friendly racists. In all, reading, befriending and calling out, these acts deflect attention away from the ways nice racists are not truly dismantling harm all while they are still benefiting from the very structures that create such harm.
Finally, nice racism is demoralizing. Experiencing nice racism is a form of gas lighting as it leaves you exposed and confused. Feeling the harm without the obvious indicators of such harm leads those who truly need allies questioning their own feelings and perceptions. To intuitively experience a thing without the ability to intellectually identify and name that thing can be spiritually taxing. It can cause self- doubt, shame and feelings of personal despair.
Most people have heard of gaslighting as a concept. Coined from 1944 movie (based on a 1938 play), gaslighting has been accepted as an act of manipulation where the victim loses the ability to trust his own perception and judgment. What most people don’t understand, however, is that this manipulation is not really about the harm that it causes. Instead, it’s about power– the power of the gaslighter causing harm simply to maintain power. Not only does the victim question his own reality, he ultimately becomes dependent on the one doing the manipulation — allowing and actually needing the gaslighter to define reality and control the experience.
The bottom line is that nice racism is about a feel good experience that keeps the nice racist clean while still being racist. It’s a double benefit… being a benefactor of the structures of racism all while on the surface appearing unlike those who overtly spew hate. Not only does the nice racist benefit from racism while appearing unlike a racist, the final way they are distinct, and ultimately problematic, is that they do nothing to uproot racism. Nothing. They are actively passive… going out of their way to look good yet doing nothing to be good.
This was a difficult post to write as it will mostly impact people I actually like and seek to be with in community. However, I wrote it all the same so they will understand that the work does not end at level one.
Level 1 is book study participation and rhetoric while the other levels take the knowledge from these books and produce measurable change. It’s not just about befriending people at the margins when it gives you the endorphins of being an ally. It’s about you taking a hit –becoming uncomfortable– so that you change the structural reality of those you purport to support.
That’s what those who are historically disadvantaged need. They need a structural shift so the margins that have kept them bound are removed or at least lessened. Simply befriending those stuck in the margins without fighting for a structural reprieve from those margins only makes you feel good while keeping you structurally comfortable and secure.
This structural maintenance marked by comfort and security, ultimately allowing you to cast judgment on those who put their marriage to safety and comfort publicly on the frontline, is a problem. It is disarming, deceitful and demoralizing and frankly it is the worst kind of racism there is.