Subtle racism more dangerous when we downplay it or bring it to the forefront?

Maybe I’m the angry, paranoid Black man. Maybe not. Please chime in.

I’m a mid 30’s black male with a 13yr old son. Raised in NYC and am a blue collar worker who values a dollar and a good education. I live in the Pacific Northwest where the racial divide is obvious. The public school system just implemented their re-districting (re-segregation) plan to save money on transportation.

I took my son to see an Orthodontist downtown that he was referred to by our family dentist. We live in an upper middle class neighborhood (Tech workers, professors, etc.) along with about 4 other black/multiracial families. Most of the parents of my children’s friends are old enough to be my parents.

-We paid a little under $300 via check for the consultation since my dental plan doesn’t cover any percentage of a specialist’s visit.
-The doctor asked if we lived in the neighborhood of the dentist to which we replied yes.
-He asked my son where he went to school, to which he replied the local Middle school in that neighborhood.
-He asked if he was headed to the local High School zoned for students in that neighborhood. My son replied, “No, I’ll be enrolling at the prep school across town in the Fall”. Prep=not cheap.

After the exam was all done the doctor explained what his findings were. As I shook his hand to leave he asked me what I did for a living. I told him that I was a civil servant, to which he had no reply other than, “Oh, OK”. It looked as if he was trying to look inside of me as I gave him a deep stare after that question. I really wanted to ask him how that question was relevant to my son’s consultation, but didn’t want to show my son that this guy’s inquiries were significant.

Was it because we were a Black family that lived in this particular neighborhood? Because we paid in cash?
Because my son is headed to Prep School instead of the local High School.
My age?
My dress (jeans, sneakers, Yankee cap)?

What do you think? What would you have done?

Sounds like routine small talk to me. Nothing to get excited about.

Maybe he was just making idle conversation, but I’d go find a dentist who’s less fucking nosy.

I’m reminded of the Cosby Show episode where Bill was buying a new car, and he dressed like a schlub and pretended like he was poor so he could get a better deal. The salesman kept trying to get a read on what he did for a living, and there was some humorous back-and-forth until somebody came by and spilled the beans that he was a doctor (and his wife was a lawyer).

It sounds like the orthodontist was just trying to get a feel for how much dental work he could pitch to you based on what you were likely able to afford. Either that, or small talk.

Oooh, good point.

Yeah, sounds simple… you’re paying in cash not credit or with an all-frills insurance plan, you were dressed in jeans and a hat, and the doc was wondering whether or not he’d be able to use your kid’s dental condition to simply re-do his kitchen or buy that jet ski he’s always wanted.

Just wanted to drop a link to The Race Genie.

Heh, what was suspected was racism, when what was in fact happening was ‘I wonder how many cavities I can “discover” … that daddy can afford’ :wink:

Actually, that’s even worse than racism!

“These pre-date stainless steel, so you can’t get them wet.”

Thanks for the insight guys. I could have looked at it as purely financially motivated. I Wouldn’t mind explaining that to my son rather than “He doesn’t understand why we live like we do”.

I don’t see the slightest indication of racism. Reads like generic small talk to me. I get asked questions like that all the time by people I’m doing some sort of business with, from doctors to cashiers at the grocery store. The dentist probably thought he was being polite and friendly. If the questions seemed oddly presented, it’s probably because the dentist doesn’t actually give a crap about where you live or what you do, but was just trying to build some friendly client relations.

Doesn’t sound like racism to me, maybe a bit of classism based on how you’re dressed and paying with cash, may have just seemed a little weird since that’s probably not something one would see coming out of an upper middle class neighborhood.

As for the job thing, civil servant could mean a lot of things, and it’s typically not the type of response one gets when asked what they do, where one would typically respond with something a bit more specific. As an example, I wouldn’t say I’m a government contractor, I’d say I programmer or software engineer or something like that. That you answered in a generic sense probably was perceived as a social cue that you’re not really interested in talking about it.

Either way, he could have just been curious, particularly with some seemingly conflicting signals about your class, or he may have been wondering about money, either because he’s unsure if you can pay, which may not be unreasonable for someone paying in cash, or because he wants to screw you over for as much as he can. It’s hard to say much more beyond that, but if there was any racism involved, I think it’s a much lower factor than the rest.

This is exactly why I prefer overt racism. I actually don’t see anything racist in the OP, but how do I know - I wasn’t there. I have had instances where it certainly felt like racism - everyone else being helped in the room, for example, while no one makes eye contact with my SO or me, and no one offers to help me, and everyone else in the room just happens to be white. But is that racism? It certainly felt like it at the time and I would still swear it was - but people would have a thousand reasons why it wasn’t racism.

People will always doubt your story.

Yeah, you’ve got a tough audience on this particular board.

You could say “Someone burned a cross in my front yard,” and you’d have a dozen people saying “Maybe they were just cold and needed to warm up” or “Maybe they just hate crosses.”

I think you should qualify this statement. I mean, I would rather know when people are prejudging me because I’m a darkie, but I wouldn’t say I prefer overt racism. To me that kind of sounds like asking to be lynched instead of passed over for a job.

Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t some subtle racism there, although I don’t know if it’s necessarily bad. The orthodontist surely uses a lot of other vague prejudgements in his assessment of a customer’s ability to pay. Would he have asked me (white, mid 50s, often sloppily dressed) the same questions? Of course I can’t know, but I suspect he wouldn’t have asked where I live, for example. I’m asked all the time about what I do for a living. When a doctor does it it’s like having a used car salesman pat down your wallet pocket.

The questions about school are standard small talk for adults talking to kids.

Or maybe you could say “Someone burned a strawman in my yard but I knew what they were really thinking, even if they didn’t know it themselves”.

Certainly could be - though seriously I do think that a doc feeling one out for ability to pay is as bad, or worse, as a doc who is subtly racist.

After all, practically, why does one care that a doc is racist? Because one suspects that they will treat you or your kid differently, based on their race; and you don’t want your doc doing that.

Similarly, one doesn’t want one’s doc to treat one differently based on his or her perception of ability to pay.

It must be hard not knowing whether the way someone treats you is because of your race or just because they are a jerk in general. As a white person I tend to think subtle racism is overblown, but then I hear some stories or see it happen in real life and I’m just wow.

In the Doc’s defense, he’s an orthodontist. Most of what they do is cosmetic. (I think. Enter some orthodontist to tell me about jaw cancer or something).