So here’s the scenario: a woman (white) goes into a Muslim market, where she is given the cold shoulder, until she asks for some halal products. Then people are quite friendly. And the woman says later, “It seems that racism exists everywhere.” I give an understanding nod, even as I’m thinking to myself, “Is that really racist behavior?” Or is it the action of a group of people who are merely suspicious of strangers, of someone new (and, to be sure, different)?
There are plenty of times I’ve been in that situation: unfamiliar churches, different neighborhoods, stores. Sometimes I’ve gotten less than desirable outcomes, but I didn’t blame them all on racism. (The bar in the Holiday Inn outside Fenway Park that systematically failed to serve me on Flag Day, 1991, even as others got drinks – THAT I’m sure was racism.)
Another white female friend of mine says she gets a distant vibe from a local convenience store where most of the workers and virtually all the customers are black. And she was quite angry about it. She claims not to have a racist bone in her body, and perhaps that’s true.
It occurs to me that most of us profile, in one form or another. If I were out at 1:30 a.m., a single young adult walking by would not worry me, but a group, no matter the race or gender, might make me nervous.
Back in the days of the segregated South in the United States, if a white person walked into a black establishment, one might reasonably worry that it might mean trouble. Muslims had lived peacefully in the US for years, even after 9/11, but it is only recently that many of them have said that, for the first time, they felt afraid in America; maybe it’s the same fear that made them wary of the stranger.
But what do YOU think?