Reporter's Notebook

Stories of Intraracial Prejudice
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Readers discuss the slights they’ve experienced within racial and ethnic groups, rather than between them. (For a complementary series, see “Your Stories of Racism” compiled here.) If you have your own perspective to share, please send us a note: hello@theatlantic.com.

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Throwing Shadism

A reader in New Orleans responds to the reader who started this whole conversation:

I feel that Allene is conflating two things I’d consider separate. One thing she describes is shadism/colorism, where Black people will judge other Black people based on their relative skin tone, hair texture, nose and lip shape. As a lighter-skinned, loose-curled, Creole Black person, I once met a Black woman who was genuinely astounded that I not only found women darker than me attractive, but that I’d be comfortable introducing a dark-skinned girlfriend to my family. And there are some dark-skinned Black people who reactively resent lighter Black people in return (as you might too, if people who were themselves brown skinned refused to date you because you were only a few shades darker). This same colorist mentality is what leads some Black people to be called “Oreos” for “acting White” (although you also see festivals like Afropunk celebrating “alternative” Black styles.)

AFRO OF THE DAY #1260 pictured: @kiki_kyanamarie #afro #natural #black #hair

A photo posted by AFROPUNK (@afropunk) on

The other thing Allene describe is activists demanding that Black people put Blackness at the forefront of their identity and a very specific interpretation of Blackness at that.

An African American reader, Marcus, relates to Allene and the kinds of intraracial slights she’s experienced—but he’s not going to let it hold him back:

I, to, have experienced similar precepts from others, during various stages in my life, and concerning different traits of my being. And because of that, I learned early on to be confident of self—of who I am, who I know myself to be, and the TYPE of man I am. Absolutely no one, who isn’t you, can define what it is to be and how to be you.

Coming up in my hood, I’d get poked about the way I talked and how I sound. I’d get the “You tryin’a sound white” or “You think you smart/smarter than...You think you’re better than...everybody!” While I don’t get the “sound white” any longer, I do get the “better than...” comparison.

Does it bother me? In a way, I guess it kinda does. But better yet still, do I ALLOW IT to bother me? Definitely not. And that’s simply be cause I know me, myself.

This next reader, Orella, is a “bi-racial mom (half black, half Thai)” living in New York City:

I identify with Allene’s note in more ways than one. Hers was a great perspective on us as a people. It is so hard to move forward or to feel any type of unity when we are so judgemental of ourselves.

For example, I recently found a support group for mothers of black children.

In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Alec MacGillis reviews two new books for his essay “The Original Underclass”: White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg, and Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. Both books center on long-standing stigmas directed at poor and working-class white Americans, their plight in an increasingly postindustrial U.S. economy, and their loss of cultural capital.

Many readers of MacGillis’s piece are venting their frustration over what they see as condescension from white elites toward downscale whites, especially that their skin color presumes a bigoted and thus immoral character unless proven otherwise. Here’s reader Matt, who is tired of poor whites being told to “check their privilege”:

There is so much racial resentment in the discussion of the white working class that is projected onto them. Critics of struggling whites who support Trump will say, “It isn’t that they are suffering economically; it’s that whites are no longer an all-powerful monolith”—even though these are poor whites who have never had power. It’s like you don’t want to hear them, and then instead of listening to their actual issues, you pretend they are racist to ignore their actual opinions.

Another reader—“a white man living paycheck to paycheck”—expands on the view shared by Matt:

There’s a feeling that no one actually cares about us. We get lumped in with “the man,” but we’re not Rockefellers nor Trumps. We’re struggling to make ends meet. Problems that used to be confined to minority communities are now in ours. Our traditional structures have been derided and destroyed by the elite and nothing is given to replace them. We feel helpless against a tide of cultural changes that don’t take our thoughts or considerations seriously.

I think that most of us would acknowledge that minorities have it rough, but at least someone seems to care about them.

In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Alec MacGillis’s essay “The Original Underclass” absorbs two new books—White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg, and Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. This reader can relate to Vance:

I have relatives who live in conditions very close to the ones described here. I live in the heart of Appalachia, and not much has changed since the 1960s. Clothing factories and knitting mills were “good” employers that paid a decent wage. But then NAFTA and other incentives to move jobs to Mexico and China shut them all down. Now it’s fast food or retail for these folks, or welfare, drug dealing and the like. Even the scholarship programs for poor white kids disappeared. They’re just trying to survive in a world that doesn’t recognize them.

Gina also appreciates the “insightful article” from MacGillis:

Having grown up in rural Pennsylvania myself, I can say that things seemed to take a turn from bad to much worse when heroin and meth started coming in. That was a factor of poverty and also of criminal justice strategies that imported hard criminals from the cities to rural areas in an attempt to rehabilitate them. They just set up shop in the new areas and recruited the locals. All along the bus routes from New York City to upstate New York and Pennsylvania, those little towns that used to be leafy and peaceful now look like the worst dregs of New Jersey. The only hope these areas have seen in recent years is from fracking.

The Drug War and zero tolerance on sex offender crimes (like teenagers sleeping with teenagers) leave people with criminal records and no way to get out from under. It’s the same process as the inner city. It is also well noted that in many parts of the country, resentment of working people towards social programs isn’t as racial as it might be in the South. Where I come from, the welfare queens are all white. I think part of the despair we’re seeing is shame at the loss of self-reliance, and there is no way forward.

This next reader has mixed feelings—between his sympathy for struggling white Southerners and his resentment over their pockets of racism:

I grew up in a small town in Texas. I’m an immigrant (and brown) and in the technical professions. But I went to high school with these folks. They’re my compatriots. And country means something to me. U.S. citizen means something to me. It is with that in mind that I write the following.