[This post is adapted lightly from a Facebook post I just made.]
<tl;dr> The Atlanta crime doesn't need to have been racially or sexually motivated, per se, for race or sex to have been a factor. </tl;dr>
So the other day, about a week and a half ago, I was accosted at the drug store where I was picking up some medications for the family. Harassed, really. Some fellow had come in line behind me, rather closer than six feet away. So (as is my wont) I moved forward a bit so I was halfway between him and the person in front of me. Something about that set him off and there followed a fairly dreary 30 to 45 seconds of him pointing in my face and accusing me of racism. He was Black, you see.
I'm not in need of any kind of support over this; it didn't last long, and I'm afraid I have too high an opinion of myself to be too upset by it. Mostly, I was anxious that he was breathing at me pretty heavily from close up (12 to 18 inches?). Only now, as the usual incubation period has more or less passed without any symptoms, have I gradually relaxed—about that, anyway. (And yeah, I'm aware the chances of my contracting COVID from him were pretty low—I figure about one in a thousand, something on that order. We were both masked. But I'm the sort to obsess about it a little.)
I've been thinking about that episode the last few days, though, in light of recent events in Atlanta. And it's not just about the fact that it happened, or that a police captain characterized the shooter as "having a bad day." These things are bad enough, but I think it's clear that they're bad. Few people are having trouble understanding that.
What got to me was a side line after the captain was taken out of his spokesperson role. Officials were quoted as saying that although the shooter denied a racial motive, they weren't ruling one out. And though that's not a bad thing as far as it goes, I'm concerned that it focuses on what is really a small percentage of a very large problem.
See, as I say, most people understand that racism is a bad thing, or at the very least, they understand that it's generally viewed as a bad thing. So as far as overt expressions of racism go, they know not to do it, or if they do do it, they keep it among like-minded people. But that's just the tip of the racist (or sexist, or any otherist in general) iceberg. Underneath all of that is a much larger mass of subliminal prejudicial behavior that mostly goes unnoticed.
Maybe that fellow would have harassed me anyway, but I think he was just that little bit more likely to do it because I was Asian. Or maybe that shooter would have been up for shooting someone who wasn't Asian, or wasn't a woman, but I think he was that much more likely to do it because they were. And a million other things that happen every day, of lesser consequence, but are just a bit more likely to have happened to the people they did in fact happen to.
And what makes them so insidious is the spectre of plausible deniability, that in any individual situation, one can defend oneself sincerely and successfully against charges of bias. Only in the large, statistically, can these biases be seen.
Most of these are not racist or sexist motives per se. Most of the time, the person is not actively (consciously or otherwise) seeking out someone who fits a particular profile. But by the same token, when the situation hits them, the voice inside them that says, hey, maybe let's not escalate this—that voice is just a little bit softer when it's someone they don't sympathize with for those reasons.
That voice is inside us all (mostly). But I don't believe that this voice speaks equally in response to all people of all creeds, colors, and sexes. I certainly don't believe mine does. Oh, I don't think I'm exceptionally biased or anything; I'm quite ordinary.
But part of the reason I wasn't more upset about being called racist, I think, is that I deeply believe bias exists in us all, and it's not possible to eliminate it. We can reduce it, but there's a part of being human that makes kneejerk classification a bit too automatic. The only real way to address that irreducible core of bias, I feel, is to explicitly bend over backward to counteract it; it's just too easy, otherwise—too human—to believe, honestly, that one is free of bias. And maybe I gave this man a pass for that reason.
Or maybe I just don't like to think of myself as being upset by it. Who knows?