Everyday Racism: First Mobile App to ‘Step into another Skin’

Racism happens in everyday encounters, in interactions between people.  Resistance to everyday racism happens everyday, too.  Now, there’s an app for that, too.

A new app for iOS and Android that enables you to expand your understanding of everyday racism by experiencing some of what it’s like in Australia as an Indian student, a Muslim woman or an Aboriginal man. The app, called Everyday Racism, has just been released this week and is available now for free for iOS and Android.


Everyday Racism App

The idea behind the Everyday Racism  game/education style app is that players are challenged to  live a week in ‘someone else’s skin.’

The app a joint initiative by national anti-racism charity All Together Now, the University of Western Sydney, University of Melbourne and Deakin University.  the University of Western Sydney, Deakin University and Melbourne University are behind this project and the content of the everyday racism app has been developed based on ground-breaking research in the field of racism and anti-racism. A group of 8 panelists from diverse ethnicities have been consulted to make sure the app would be based on real-life experiences of everyday racism in Australia.

How do you think you might use the app? Download it and let us know what you think.

Everyday Racism

This short clip (7:08) is the second half of a story that the ABC “20/20” news show did called “True Colors.” It features Julianne Malveaux as one of the experts. The whole piece is 19 minutes long (part 1 is here) and is one of the most powerful teaching tools I’ve ever used for demonstrating how everyday racism works:

Basically, what the ABC crews does is set up a “matched study” – a white guy and a black guy are matched on every quality except skin color – and films the results. They put these two gentlemen, both recent college grads, in St. Louis, Missouri to establish themselves. They are sent to find work and a place to live. Hidden cameras record the very different treatment that they receive at almost every turn. It’s a compelling look at how everyday racism operates and the way that it “grinds exceedingly small,” as Malveaux says.

You can purchase a licensed copy (the one above is definitely a pirated copy) of the full video here. Unfortunately, the official copy is priced for institutional buyers ($595), not the individual user. The original story aired in 1991, about the time current college sophomores were born, so the video is vulnerable to being dismissed as “the kind of thing that happened a long time ago, in the distant past.”

Of course, those of us who study racism know that this continues to happen and it continues to “grind exceedingly small” for those who experience it. It’s definitely time for some enterprising investigative reporter to re-make this classic video about everyday racism.

Optimism & Everyday Racism

Time for shoppingA recent article called, “Voices Reflect Rising Sense of Optimism,” by Susan Saulny in The New York Times, trumpets the usual exuberance over the improvement in “race relations” in the wake the election of President Obama (Creative Commons License photo credit: Bjørn Giesenbauer).

I want to offer a different interpretation of some of the data in the article.

The reporting in this article is based on interviews in seven states throughout the U.S.    It is meant to add some personal stories (what newspaper people used to call “color” and what sociologists might refer to as “qualitative data”) to support findings in the latest New York Times/CBS News poll (the quantitative data) in which two-thirds of Americans said race relations were generally good.    Rather than a unequivocally optimistic story, as the headline suggests, the qualitative data (e.g., reporting) that the NYTimes presents here offers a glimpse into the micro-level interactions of how everyday racism operates.  Let me show you what I mean.

The article starts with a description of what the past 30 years have been like for one working-class black man – a Mr. Sallis, 69 –  in Milwaukee, WI, where being black “meant being mostly ignored, living a life invisible and unacknowledged in a larger white world.” Then, Mr. Sallis, 69, noticed a change.

“Since President Obama started campaigning, if I go almost anywhere, it’s: ‘Hi! Hello, how are you, sir?’ I’m talking about strangers. Calling me ‘sir.’ It makes you feel different, like, hey — maybe we are all equals. I’m no different than before. It’s just that other people seem to be realizing these things all around me.” [emphasis added]

Mr. Sallis is being euphemistic here when he says “strangers” – and the NYTimes doesn’t clarify – but he means “white people.”  So, the big improvement in “race relations” is that white people have begun to say “Hi! Hellow, how are you sir?” to a black man that they presumably walked past for thirty years previously without acknowledging.    I can see how this might qualify as ‘news’ but pardon me if I don’t quite share the optimism here.  It seems to me that the broader pattern here is that white people routinely ignore and try to pretend that black people are invisible.   So, yes, recognizing black people’s humanity is a big step forward.    Mr. Sallis’ story is not an isolated example.

There are other examples of the shift in the micro-level of everyday racism, such as that of Kevin Chaison, a 39-year-old telemarketer in St. Louis, who also says that, as a black man, he used to feel invisible.

“I get more of a sense that I belong now.  Now I’m getting more of a, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ than I was a year ago.”[emphasis added]

Again, note that Mr. Chaison is expressing optimism here about the fact that white people have acknowledged his existence with a simple, polite greeting.   While it’s certainly good news, it also highlights the fact that until the historic election of the first African American president, white people were in the habit of not speaking to their fellow citizens who happen to be black.  Perhaps this is what some white people mean when they insist that they’re colorblind and “don’t see race.”

A third black man quoted in the article, Chester J. Fontenot Jr., 59, a professor of English and director of Africana studies at Mercer University in Macon, GA, says that he has felt a shift on his campus in terms of the micro-level interactions.  Here’s Professor Fontenot:

“I think what’s happened with a number of white people who have come up and started talking to me is they feel comfortable with him (President Obama), and that makes it O.K. to come up and engage me. They feel like they have something in common with me now, we have something to talk about. Now you get the head nod, or a smile that you just didn’t get a year or two ago. For me, it was like, ‘I’m not even going to acknowledge this black person.’ They’d just keep on their merry way. But now, I get acknowledged.” [emphasis added]

Once again, the mere fact of being acknowledged is noteworthy because it is such a dramatic shift in the micro-level interactions that make up everyday racism.

While I think there’s room for some optimism, I also think that it’s important to recognize that what seems to have changed is white people’s behavior.    And, the changes being reported here are at an incredibly small, micro-level of interaction.    This is progress to be sure, but it’s a long way from dismantling the institutionalized discrimination that operates whether or not someone says “Hey, how you doing?”