Choosing Between Overt and Covert Racism

by Latoya Peterson

So, something Paula said is haunting me:

As messed up as this is going to sound, in a way it is a lot easier on my conscience to be called a “chink”, a “flat face gook”, “slitty eyes” or any other racial slur. When I’m called a name or when people pull back their eyes to try and mock mine, at least I can easily identify and have certifiable proof of their intentions. When someone unabashedly yells out “Yo ching-chong – where you from?!”, it’s pretty easy to tell where they stand and what they’re trying to do – and as a result, it is much easier to separate myself from the actions of the perpetrator. It’s the more covert, ambiguous and almost imperceptible acts of racism and prejudice that I find are far more difficult – both at times for myself and for certain others – to reconcile, validate and to believe without question. And as a result, I find it extremely hard to publicly address certain situations like the one last week with my husband when I feel that the only proof I have is the feeling that resides in my gut.

I touched on this before, when talking about feminism – how it is easier for me to deal with the overt sexism of some in the anti-racist movement, because I know to steer clear of those people. If a guy is going to say something like “women should know their place” or “since men have the most issues, they are most deserving of our attention,” they might as well be wearing a neon sign saying “leave me the fuck alone!”

And, for the most part, I’m happy to comply. What made a lot of the feminist blogosphere battles so frustrating was that we were facing covert “well, are you sure that’s what they meant?” racism – infinitely harder to prove, not so easy to judge, easy to second guess.

Sometimes, I wonder if my preference for overt racism comes because it is something to fight. As Paula said, I too can separate myself easily from the more blatant acts of racism – lines are clearly drawn. The ambiguous bits are harder, and much more frustrating, as many of the people who put that ambiguous kind of racism into practice are highly unlikely to think (much less admit) that their behavior is racist.

I watched the season finale of Entourage last Sunday, and found myself pondering the same question I’ve had since I started tuning in after True Blood – why the hell does Lloyd stay with Ari? I’ve missed a lot of the past seasons, but it appears that Lloyd has been revealed to be (1) secretly rich and (2) racially aware. There’s even a segment in the best of Ari Gold clips where Lloyd directly asks Ari to stop making fun of his sexuality and race. Ari responds that he can’t promise that, be he promises to always apologize afterward.

I’ve been playing around with screenwriting lately, so I find myself trying to deconstruct all the character motivations of what I am watching on television. Why do they make the choices they make? What motivates them? What would I do to change the character?

In reference to Lloyd, I wondered what I would do with his work relationships. Why does Lloyd continue to work with Ari? Why wouldn’t he decamp for someone else, or use his clout to betray Ari, or put himself in a different situation in general?

Then, it occurs to me.

Maybe Ari just prefers working with someone who will say it to his face.