On Unconscious Racism: An Explanation of George Zimmerman & Upset Hunger Games Fans

hunger games, unconscious racism, hipster racism

Unconscious Racism

They used to lynch us. They don’t do that anymore.

They used to buy and sell us. They don’t do that anymore.

They used to call our fathers “boy” and send them around back. They don’t do that anymore.

Now it’s unconscious, so all they have to do is think.

Racism has gone underground, upgraded its look to be more stylish and user friendly.  In fact, it’s undergone such a dramatic face lift that racists themselves don’t even know they’re racist. That’s impressive.

Racists these days have black friends and get along with their black coworkers. They have Jay Z and Usher songs in their iTunes accounts, and they readily compliment black women on how nice their natural hair looks. And they really mean those compliments. They wouldn’t ever want their hair to do that, but they really do like the way it looks on someone else. I guess that’s just one of the perks of the new unconscious racism.

It made the trans Atlantic slave trade okay.  It made colonization and Apartheid okay. It made the Holocaust and Japanese concentration camps okay. It made the slaughter and relocation of Native Americans okay. All inhumane treatment of non-white people is justified in the eyes of racism. Twisted stuff, ain’t it?  But don’t be fooled. This new racism, polite and understated though it may be, is still the same old racism. It still runs on that inherently-flawed and extremely delusional belief that God is white (European) and has a natural preference for his own. That’s the thinking that made the world’s human atrocities okay.

Racism Goes Underground

But this new racism is tricky. It’s ninja-like in its ability to operate without detection. It isn’t as in-your-face. It lies dormant most of the time, silently feeding off of reinforced stereotypes, media misinformation and fear. It nestles itself so deeply in the subconscious that most who are affected by it can honestly say, “I am not racist.” As far as they know, they aren’t. They don’t hate black people. They don’t think black people deserve to be treated badly. But they do believe, way back in the recesses of their mind, that certain things, places and people are designated for whites only. Not in a “colored entrance” kind of way, but in a “I get uncomfortable when I see black people overstepping their bounds” kind of way.

That’s why Trayvon Martin looked suspicious. His presence in that particular neighborhood made Zimmerman uncomfortable. He would have felt perfectly fine had he seen Martin in a predominantly black, poor neighborhood—not being racist or anything, but that is where blacks live, right?—but he couldn’t conceive that Martin possibly belonged in that neighborhood. The mere sight of that hoodied young man (not to be confused with a “hooded” young man) in that gated community was enough to activate the unconscious racist within. In an instant, all the stereotypes and fear he’d gathered and stored in his 28 years flooded Zimmerman’s conscious mind and instructed him to save the neighborhood and himself from this incredibly threatening black male.

That’s also why some disgruntled Hunger Games fans have found fault with the color of particular cast members. Despite the fact that casting directors make small (and large) changes to book characters all the time, their unconscious racists within were activated when they saw that such powerful and positive characters were played by…dramatic pause… black actors (cue shock and awe now). According to some of the upset tweets, the author made no mention of color. This actually isn’t true, but it doesn’t matter. When they discovered that the book characters where strong, positive and actually of significance to the story, they automatically assumed the author meant for them to be white, because, well, what else could they possibly be? And those unconscious racist thoughts were actually strong enough to edit out the parts of the book that literally describe their skin as “dark brown.”


I don’t know if you’re getting the magnitude of that. Let me say it again. Those unconscious racist thoughts were actually strong enough to edit out the parts of the book that literally describe their skin as “dark brown.”  Tell me that’s not deep. The unconscious racist’s ideas of whiteness and blackness and so entrenched in a hierarchy of value that their minds literally blotted out printed text so as not to disturb their preconceived notions about what “good” really looks like.

That’s why stereotypes are so prominent. They reinforce the ideas unconscious racists already have. When they see a black man who really is a criminal, they take notice, but when they see one who is an educated, peaceful loving father, they ignore it or write it off as an isolated incident. Racism survives this way.

Until we get away from the idea that God is white (or any other color for that matter) racism will live on. It’s form will continue to change, but its roots will remain sturdy.

This post was originally published on NadirahAngail.com



  1. says

    Nadirah, this is such an excellent post.  I LOVE that you point out all these truths about racism in our society because this is absolutely the reality of what's going on in the world.  Racism has gone underground and A LOT of people don't even seem to realize that they have racist tenancies at all.  Not only that, but it's just shocking to see how deep racism runs in communities that really believe they're "not racist".My family has taught me a lot about racism in America.  When I met my husband, I was also taking courses in college on African American History and Latino Lit.  Having all these experiences at the same time was a huge eye opener.  Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. 

  2. BellaVidaLetty says

    I agree with you except for it being 'unconscious'.  Statistics CLEARLY show people of color are under-represented in every industry, especially mainstream media and we must not be passive in speaking out against it. 

    • says

       @BellaVidaLetty Right!  That's the problem.  Systemic racism is so pervasive that we can become blind to it.  It's become such a normal part of daily life for whites.  That needs to stop and speaking out / acting against it is so, so important.  <3

    • says

       @BellaVidaLetty You're right. It is not at all unconscious on a macro level. I meant individually (ie people thinking of themselves as not being racist because they "get along" with people of color).