Watching Aversive Racism

Where I am from, there is not much diversity.  That was really highlighted for me while I was home this past weekend.  One of the most popular places in my hometown is a bagel shop.  Everyone goes to it and I often find myself running into old friends there both serving food and getting food.  In the summer, the local swim team has a tradition of going there after every practice (a tradition that I was part of establishing), so I have a lot of fond memories of the shop.  So, being sick of Pennsylvania ‘bagels’, I was excited to go get a bagel which would complete my trip home.

While I was home, my parents were looking to replace my mom’s car.  They found a used car that they liked in Camden.  The one morning, I received a call from my parents that they were bringing the car to our local mechanic for a look-over and that to make sure that they did not just drive off with the car, the owner of the dealership had his 20 year old son go with my parents.  My parents suggested that while they were back in Medford that we grab breakfast at the bagel shop.  So I met my parents and the young man that was with them at the bagel shop.

The young man was named Pedro and he was very easy to get along with.  However, while we were at the shop, I could not help but notice that people were watching him, and, because my family brought him, people were watching us too.  This got me thinking about what it would be like if I were eating and someone who obviously was not from Medford came into the shop.  This is one of the situations my aversive would come through because nobody knew else know why Pedro was there; they just knew that he was not usually there and was not from Medford.  Implicit biases are more likely to surface and affect the situation when the situation is ambiguous.  To me, the situation is not ambiguous, I know why Pedro was with me and so I was fine.  However, if I had not known and the situation was more ambiguous, I would be warry of the man that came in.  This really hit home because Pedro and I are the same age.  We are similar in a lot of ways, however, based on his race, people view him differently.

One of things that Pedro told me about was the bagel shop that he went to growing up and how great it was.  Would I have been watched and judge the way Pedro was if I went with him into his local bagel shop?  Is there anything that I could have done to make the situation less ambiguous making aversive racism less likely?

4 thoughts on “Watching Aversive Racism”

  1. This bagel shop seems to be representative of the progression of your town. Someone who was not white was sitting with you which made people curious and skeptical. If Pedro were white, nobody would have looked over at your table. This reminds me of Why All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria. The moment Pedro was sitting with a White family, he was given looks. It is no wonder then that people of color are often times more comfortable sitting with people of their own race. It was great that you could reflect on what you have learned in class to your home town, and to your favorite bagel shop from a new perspective.

  2. Pedro was not white and automatically seen as “other” at your bagel shop. I think the demographic of a community has a lot to do with how they handle diversity. In a city as diverse as New York, people from all kinds of backgrounds walk into bagel stores and they probably will not get looks but this also does not mean that they will not experience racism. I come from Hunterdon County, which is one of the few counties in New Jersey that went red in this election so I can understand how people of color have different experiences when they enter a place of business. I used to work at a tea house on Main Street that had more problematic tendencies than I am willing to go into at the moment, but most of the patrons were white. If a couple or family of color would come in for lunch, I remember my boss always making comments about who would get those tables because it was likely that they would not tip well. I was disgusted by my boss’s comments, but there was an employer/employee relationship that I did not feel comfortable breaching. Until we can stop making blatant assumptions about others, people like Pedro and the patrons of color at that horrid tea house will continue to have ostracizing experiences.

  3. I also reflected on my experiences in my hometown after reading this. I’m from a small suburb of Massachusetts. There are findings in the police blotter every week about people “seeing a person of color and calling the police, etc.” It makes me sad that people still make these associations, even now.

  4. Michael, reading your post really made me reflect on my experiences in my own hometown. I’m from a small town in Pennsylvania’s coal country where everyone knows everyone else. The demographic in my hometown is comprised of mostly white, blue-collar people whose families have lived in the community for generations. Unfortunately, I grew up hearing a lot of racist remarks and seeing a lot of confederate flags. I attribute this /partially/ to many people in my hometown not traveling outside of the bubble of the community (or not having the opportunity to), and therefore having very limited experiences with people who differ from themselves. I imagine if I had the same experience in my own hometown that you did with your parents and Pedro in the bagel shop, the reactions from others would be the same. You ask whether you would get the same reaction from others as Pedro did if you were to go with him to his own bagel shop, and I can’t answer that definitively. But interestingly, I have had experiences in which I’ve entered spaces that were occupied entirely with POC and gotten strange/confused looks. I think the reasons I got some funny looks may differ entirely from the reasons Pedro did, and I’m not completely sure what those reasons are, but I think it’d be really interesting to unpack that at greater length.

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