Being Rude and Racist Are Not the Same

Yvonne Yancy, human resources expert and pop cultural enthusiast and commentator.

Millions of people watched Oprah Winfrey’s CBS interview with Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan Sunday. Lots of revelations and bombshells were dropped including Duchess Meghan’s struggle with mental illness based on her racist treatment at the hands of the tabloid media and some in the Royal Family. Prince Harry was refused security and cutoff from his funds all because of the couple’s choice to leave the United Kingdom.

Today, Winfrey discussed her interview with the displaced royals on CBS This Morning with Gayle King, letting viewers know it wasn’t Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip who were worried about Archie’s skin tone and also playing additional clips which did not make it into Sunday’s two-hour interview.

In one of those clips, the Duchess made a comment that resonated with me.  Meghan Markle said “Rude and racist are not the same,” and she is right. Black people are often met with questions when relaying racist treatment to non-Blacks who sometimes say things like, “Maybe he was just being rude.” I have had white friends try to convince me to “brush off” the racist comment, or turn the conversation away from my concerns towards themselves with comments like, “I know what it’s like to be ostracized. It happened to me once,” diminishing my experience and re-centering whiteness instead of acknowledging my concerns.

There is this myth that racism or racist experiences are some singular moment that’s just like interacting with a “mean person” or that economics or social stature limits the experience, which is simply not accurate. There is no white or female comparable experience where literally no matter your surrounding or your accomplishments, they are not enough to protect you from or eliminate the experience of racism. None. It’s not simply rude. It’s the dismissal of everything of value about you. It erases you. It makes you property and without any meaningful purpose. It’s not just rude. I’ve been in formal gowns at events and treated like wait staff. I’ve been the leader of a team and treated like the secretary. I’ve been in sweats and asked did I know this was the first class line at an airport. I’ve had my bag pulled out of the overhead in first class because the white man who came late “Needed the space.” I mean if he was a businessman, then who was I? I’ve had childhood peers tell me I can’t come to their house because I’m Black. I actually play the violin because I could not blow on the same wind instrument as white children. I literally can remember the first time I experienced racism and I was 3.  I am now 48.

I’m over it and yet here we are. So for anyone interested in the subject, racism or a racist experience is not rude. It’s not like being ostracized and it’s not like being left out. Being rude and racist are not the same. Racism is death by a million cuts – and cuts come from friends and enemies alike. Black people who thrive are taught to manage life with the cuts so they don’t bleed out. It is a skill and if you don’t have it, then you do not survive. Meghan Markle experienced death by a thousand cuts and learned a hard lesson. Luckily she and Prince Harry had the means to make a difficult decision so she did not bleed out.

This post was written by Yvonne Cowser Yancy, a 25-year H.R. veteran, pop culture enthusiast and commentator. Follow Yvonne on Twitter @ycyancy.

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