The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update


August 14, 2013

Primus Mootry: Oprah's purse episode points to racist micro-insults


Bell and Perakh’s book, “Overcome Prejudice at Work,” is focused on racism in America’s workplaces. The lessons from the book, however, apply to all areas of American life. Bell argues that America and the rest of the world will never get to the point where people are judged, ˜not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character” until we have a deeper understanding of racism and how it expresses itself in everyday life.

According to Dr. Bell, “an example of a micro-insult occurs when a white person (who is innocently operating under the stereotype that any African-American in a hotel must be a bellhop) asks a well-dressed African-American to carry his luggage.” I know. That very thing has happened to me on a number of occasions.

In Oprah’s case, what most African Americans understand is that they have experienced, and do experience, similar slights every day, countless times a day. It doesn’t matter how much money they have or what kind of clothes they wear or where they happen to be. All that matters is the color of their skin.

As I have said so often in these columns, this is not about “God-ain’t-it-awful,” shame and blame, or our shameful history of race relations. No. It is about the future. It is about vision. It is about understanding how racism is a destructive force -- a cancer -- in the body politic of the greatest nation on earth. The entire world is looking to the United States for the cure to this deadly social disease.

Yet, I know this subject is one most Americans, black and white, would rather avoid. Both groups, for different reasons, would prefer pretending the problem does not exist. But if Oprah isn’t good enough to buy a purse in Zurich, and if I am likely to be handed someone’s luggage to carry in a hotel lobby, what’s the point of ignoring the problem?

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