Racism without malice

Last night we went to the ASU football game. I am not a sports fan but my wife had to be peeled off the ceiling when she got the tickets. If you think you know Tempe, you should come back. I was there a few weeks ago, on campus, and last night was totally lost. Fortunately, my son drove. We were accompanied also by my wife’s nephew.
We entered and showed our tickets. The official directed us back out and around, which made sense since our tickets were for a loge or box. (My old anthro department had had a homecoming the night before and the alumni person gave my wife the tickets – about $1000 worth!).
The stadium is huge. After a while, I had no regrets about missing my leg workout that day b/c we walked forever as each official we showed the tickets to sent us off in another direction, up three levels, back down, around to the other side, and on and on. There were officials and security in such numbers that I’ll bet their combined salaries for last night amounted to the entire university budget when I went there in 1959.
Eventually, we found a table that admitted it looked like we should have been sent to the right place but were not and they called in the heavies, two lovely ladies in uniform who assured us they would take us right to our spot. Sure enough, they did, a bank of elevators that went up to loges.
As we walked behind our guides, my son muttered, “Racism, pure and simple.” That was unusual for my son to say something like that and I didn’t get it. I asked him. He said everyone but the first official had seen the tickets said “loge” but couldn’t believe these Black people would have loge seating. Then it hit me how a couple of times, incl. at the last table, officials turned to me, the only White in the group, to ask me if they could help me, as if I weren’t part of the group.
Usually my wife is the one who spots that sort of thing, but we were at the mercy of our son who is a very take-charge kind of person and knew the stadium somewhat, but he’d never been in a loge either. So why would some not classify that as racism? And was it really all that big a deal?
To answer the last, imagine you are a young Black person going to a job interview in a prestige firm. As the appointment time approaches, you get directed and misdirected b/c the people directing you (noting they could themselves be of any ethnicity) don’t think of you as someone interviewing for such a position. So you’re late to the interview.
Something similar happened to my wife a while back when she presented herself at the district office, thinking about applying for a sub position. Before she could say what position she was applying for or before anyone could ask her, she was handed a cafeteria worker application.
As we walked up to the wonderful box and scrumptious food and great company (anthropologists are great people), I was reminded of Ian Haney-Lopez’ specification that the legal recourse requires for establishing racial bias: malice. Malice has to be proved to be present, otherwise there is no racism. Nothing demonstrates the complete lack of understanding of how racism operates than that. It allows people to say, “Racists are Southern Whites in bib overalls with tobacco juice dribbling down their chins and using the N word and THAT’S not me.” Reality: it’s a lot of nice people making assumptions about other people..

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