These days the form of nouvelle racism most commonly experienced by Asian Americans in the professional world are tacit group conspiracies to isolate and undermine.

by Benjamin Abayan


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Silent Group Racism

n article on this site called Nouvelle Racism discusses how today's racists have evolved beyond straightforward expressions of hatred in favor of subtler but no less insidious forms of brainwashing. It struck a chord with me because it verbalizes what I had been feeling for some time about racism in the media.

     I want to carry the discussion about nouvelle racism into group situations. In my experience racists seldom reveal their true sentiments one-on-one. I've interacted with people without detecting the slightest hint of illwill, only to see their racist impulses surface when they find themselves among other racists and a lone Asian, often me.

     Do they discuss their racist sentiments with one another and conspire to undermine the Asian in their midst? Occasionally. I've overheard snatches of such conversations. But that's more likely the method of original-flavor racists who can be smelled a mile away. The kind of racists we run across in the professional world are more likely to be of the nouvelle variety. They won't show their colors that baldly, even among themselves. For one thing, it goes against prevailing notions of acceptable professional behavior. For another, they can't be completely sure that racist statements won't come back embarrassingly to haunt them a là Mark Furman in the O.J. Simpson trial. Most importantly, the kind of social and psychic mischief that nouvelle racists seek to work can be achieved without the need to spell out ugly sentiments and malign motives.

     For these reasons nouvelle racists act on shared racist sentiments and impulses through silent conspiracies. If a nouvelle racist senses that he may be in the company of others, he begins by testing the waters. Typically it is by tossing out a remark that subtly undermines the Asian in their group. If the group contains other nouvelle racists, they feel encouraged to contribute similar remarks. It doesn't take many to get the ball rolling toward a tacit but full-blown conspiracy. Its objective? To share a bond of racial privilege and superiority by relegating the Asian to a marginal place within the group. That is the nouvelle racist's way of satisfying racist impulses without jeopardizing their standing in the professional world.


     I don't suggest that Asians are always subjected to silent nouvelle racist conspiracies in group situations. I have worked and socialized in groups where, despite having been a minority of one, I sensed no such conspiracy. Often I have seen incipient nouvelle racists testing the waters by tossing out a kidding remark -- and finding no takers. But in more than a few situations I have felt myself being slowly but unmistakeably isolated, undermined and marginalized as a silent racist conspiracy takes shape. My usual reaction is to write off that group, sometimes without regret, sometimes regretting the lost social or professional opportunity I had sought.

     This is the way most of us experience racism in our lives. I believe that an important step in improving our position in American society is to expose the dynamics of silent racism in group situations.

     These are some nouvelle racist group strategies I have personally experienced, often in combination.

Conspiracy to Exclude
Your input is given less attention than it merits or is ignored outright.

     This form of group nouvelle racism begins with one of your statements being ignored by someone in the group, often under the guise of paying attention to another person. The conspiracy takes shape when this deliberate disregard is mirrored by others in the group. This is often accompanied by a turning away of the face and body. The objective is to make you feel excluded.

     This form is most common in upper professional levels in the context of multi-patrty business conferences or social gatherings where excluding you from a discussion confers a clear advantage on one or more other parties in the group.

     In some ways this is the easiest form to deal with because it is the least subject to misinterpretation. PAGE 2

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“ But in more than a few situations I have felt myself being slowly but unmistakeably isolated, undermined and marginalized as a silent racist conspiracy takes shape. ”