Politics & Media
Aug 31, 2023, 06:27AM

The Toll of Daily Racism

Microaggressions, implicit biases, and outright racism are more than exhausting for millions of Americans.

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Racism is all-consuming. There was a time when I looked at bad behavior as just that— bad behavior—unless it was a “Go back to India,” from a yelping white lady or a “Fucking immigrants!” from a cranky old white man. It had to be obvious to be racist—the privilege of an unsuspecting immigrant who wasn’t born or raised in the United States, I suppose.

But then I learned about microaggressions and implicit biases, and now racism is everywhere around me, whether it actually is or not. When the barista smiles at a customer in line before me and then purses her lips as soon as I approach, my first instinct is, “OMG she’s racist!” and not, “Maybe it was a forced smile before, and now she’s taking a break.”

Also, I’m not Indian; just from a different country in that general area. In any case, that’s irrelevant, and I know we all look similar.

“People here are fake as fuck!” I complain to my very white friend Mark. “Denver is so fucking racist!”

“I can’t really tell,” he mumbles.

“You’ve got to believe me!”

“I do, Maliha, I do!” Mark desperately wants me to believe that he’s different; that he isn’t racist. And for now, I think he’s one of the good guys.

Ten years ago, I went to a concert with my date—a white guy. I was thirsty, so when I tried to get to the drinking fountain by passing through a couple of concertgoers waiting, my date yelled at me, “I’M NOT CUTTING LINE!” in protest. I wasn’t cutting line, but he made his assumptions anyway, very loudly, turning a few onlookers’ heads. The pre-enlightened me assumed he had bad manners. However, I now know it was his implicit bias. He assumed I was a cutsie because that’s what brown folks from the other side of the world are, right? We queue-jump and disregard laws, the degenerates!

If I was wrong about him, then I could be wrong about Mark too, right? So I try to stay on my toes. Better be prepared than be heartbroken. I moved into this house in Denver, where I now live with two other roommates, back in 2020, during the pandemic. Because of that, the landlord—one of the housemates—set up some strict rules. One was that no outsiders were allowed inside the house. I respected and welcomed it. And for the last three years, I’ve abided by these rules.

Then an old friend visited from out of town and had a troublesome request, “I really need to pee. Can I use your bathroom?”

What a dilemma. On one hand, I know my friend is fully-vaccinated and boosted. But on the other hand, a rule is a rule. And even if it’s true that people from my country aren’t the greatest sticklers for the laws of the land, my two decades in the U.S. have taught me that as a person of color, I’ve got to respect the laws even more strictly than the rest of the population. So, I hesitated. I asked my roommate, not the landlord, a white-haired older white woman, if my friend, whom I’ve known for years, could step inside for a minute to use the bathroom. That’s when all hell broke loose.

It was one-sided screams and shrieks with me in the doorway, trapped in the middle of a menacing white person inside the house, acting like a madwoman with her eyes bulging and mouth quivering from all the screeching as though she were under attack from terrorists, and an ashen-faced man outside with a full bladder, listening to her every word as she continued berating me for my effrontery, looking petrified.

My housemate couldn’t see my friend on the porch. But had she bothered to take a peek, she’d have spotted someone unlike me—a pale-faced white male in his 30s, wearing a gray t-shirt, purple shorts, and baseball cap. In the midst of the chaos, I almost whimpered out loud, “But he’s white!” before I reined in a traitorous tongue from committing a grave transgression against my own kind.


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