Victor Goode is national director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers, not president of the National Bar Association, as reported in Tuesday's editions of the Style section.
Scenes from the New Insensitivity in action:
When black writer Orde Coombs went to a New York bank this winter to deposit a large check from a publisher, he wasn't sure of his account number. He went over to the cashier, a white woman, and asked her to check the number for him. "Did he tell you to check the number?" the cashier asked. "Who?" asked Coombs. "Your boss," she replied.
When Audrey Chapman, a black family psychologist, was leaving a plane in Buffalo with two black colleagues for a half-hour stopover, she reached for a boarding pass. The white stewardess said, "You people wouldn't need them; I'll remember you."
When Sandra Rattley, a black producer at National Public Radio, was sitting in a trendy New York wine bar recently, a group of white patrons started making racial slurs. One of the group turned toward her party and said, "We treated them a lot better than a lot of other countries because we haven't eaten them."
According to a number of recent conversations with black professionals in their 30s and 40s, social racism -- the use of a stereotypical phrase or image by whites in casual encounters -- has reemerged with its old vengeance. The New Insensitivity is a twist on what black grandparents used to call the "etiquette of the South," where black men were "Boy" and women always "Mary."
"The public utterances have been occurring far more frequently in the last two years," says Victor Goode, president of the National Bar Association. "It's a reemergence of that old hostility with the spirit of permissiveness."
Price Cobbs, a psychiatrist and coauthor of "Black Rage," the late 1960s study on racial attitudes, gives one definition of racism as "thoughts, attitudes, feelings, behaviors that convey to another person that you feel superior" -- especially when those feelings deny individuality and are based on overgeneralization by one group about another.
"This new racism puts blacks in a terrible position," says attorney Eleanor Holmes Norton. "I live and hope that what I call the awkward generation, the one between out-and-out racism and race-free, will straighten this out. Sometimes we aren't very adept at it."
Whites who have observed the New Insensitivity trend are frustrated. "It's fairly epidemic," says Randy Wyckoff, a general sales manager of the Bank of Virginia. "It happens weekly in some business and social settings." bHe feels the practice is prevalent among his thirtyish peers, not upper-management whites, and says, "I am uncomfortable. I have debated whether to get angry or not. I am angry, but I am cognizant of the fact that I don't want to damage those relationships. Changing is a long process."
Social racism -- the veiled insult -- contempt masquerading as a joke, the direct slur -- seemed to have gone underground in the polite, liberal company of the racially progressive 1960s and early 1970s.
Now, many blacks believe, it seems to have been recycled as a protest against minority gains, as a symptom of whites' insecurity about their own economic status, coming this time from whites in the black professionals' peer groups, as distinct from unreconstructed white bigots.
It is a practice that reflects the considerable disparity of black and white visions of American life in 1981. It shows a miseducation of many whites about racial attitudes and an overly quick interpretation by many blacks that negative experiences are always prompted primarily by skin color.
Racial insensitivity, observes sociologist Joyce Ladner, "became dormant because it became socially unacceptable. Now it is acceptable because of the political climate. . . The reaction against Affirmative Action cuts across all lines but it has made the middle-class whites, the so-called enlightened, particularly threatened. When their status symbols are threatened, this social racism is a matter of self-protection."
Other signals of the New Insensitivity:
A black historian studying minority well-being in the current conservative climate calls his analysis "The Meanness Mania."
Black professionals in Washington talk about the "whitening up" of parties that were once integrated with token black guests. "Black folks talk about it but they are not alarmed. To mix with whites means to run into their attempts to demean you. Staying with your own is a protection," says one black psychiatrist.
Recently Piper Dellums, the teen-age daughter of Rep. Ronald Dellums (D-Calif.), told her mother that a group of guys outside an upper Connecticut Avenue drugstore were calling her "coon."
And a few weeks ago when word that a button saying "SANTA" with red and green ribbons, meaning "Send All Niggers to Atlanta" was being circulated in downtown Washington, many blacks readily believed it, though a copy of one couldn't be found.
Civil rights spokesman Jesse Jackson, looking at the whole growing evidence of the phenomenon, from racially motivated killings to racial slurs, calls the mood "a cultural conspiracy."
Among the possible causes of this resurgence cited by sociologists, psychiatrists and trend-watchers are a resentment toward the visible black upward mobility of the last decade and a sourness because of the general economic stagnation.
As the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s fades, those who weren't exposed to its unifying purposes have no reference points for sensitivity; and, these experts believe, after the outward signs of racial discrimination were removed with legislation, the improvement of race relations became a question of individual rather than legal good will.
The immediate reactions to these signs of the New Insensitivity have been surprise, questions, shouting matches and pained silence. Many blacks -- once more -- plan carefully to avoid insults, shunning, for example, a restaurant where a friend has had a brush with racism, or carefully screening any whites who wish to become friends.
Charles King, who has worked with thousands of whites and blacks in race relations seminars over the last decade, says the trend reflects the usual pattern of black-white interaction. "Here's what happens: Blacks know whites are prejudiced, they anticipate a certain behavior; that's a form of paranoia. The whites know the history of slavery and think of blacks in certain roles," says King. He feels black paranoia is healthy. "It's like playing poker. Blacks always have a hold card, and they can pull it out when they are losing. This mystifies white people."
The New Insensitivity can be divided into specific categories, including: Let It All Hang Out, Blacks Are Invisible, Blacks All Look Alike, the Servant/Fetchit, We Can't Find Anyone Qualified, Don't You Know Your Place, Singing for Their Supper.
Letting It All Hang Out -- a deliberate racial slur or snub.
When a national network correspondent was moving books and plants into a new office, a colleague popped his head in the door. "Hey," said the white colleague to the black correspondent, "looks just like a jungle in here. You ought to feel right at home."
In Okaloosa County, Fla., a sheriff's deputy recently circulated a mock guide for hunting and killing blacks, "claiming open season on porch monkeys." He said it was a joke, was reprimanded, publicly apologized but retained his job.
At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a black student was called a "nigger" by a white female faculty member who has been retained.
The rising tennis star Leslie Allen was on a tennis court in Detroit when a white onlooker applauded every shot she missed.
The causes of direct bigotry, says Price Cobbs, are maliciousness, stupidity and conditioning. "There's an insensitivity and an inability to know your remarks can hurt people.Also some people are just malicious and don't care. And some people don't view themselves as malicious because they don't view their objects as worthy of any status."
The You All Look Alike category -- the response to blacks as a group, not as individuals.
Photographer Leroy Woodson had got off the Metroliner in Union Station recently when he and a black female companion were stopped by two plainclothes officers. The officers were dressed in the colorful, noticeable garb of "Superfly." They showed their badges and told Woodson and his companion they fit a general profile of drug smugglers. When they heard the woman's accent, a Zimbabwean traveling on a British passport, they ran her name through a computer and searched her luggage. Woodson was taken into a separate room and his things were searched. When the mistake became apparent, the officers were very apologetic.
After Alvin Poussaint, a nationally known psychiatrist and a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty, gave a speech recently in Seattle, a white man came up to him and told him he sounded "just like [sportscaster] Bryant Gumbel." Says Poussaint, "I was really surprised and this guy went on like it was a compliment."
A tall, black woman, with a complexion of cafe au lait, walked into the party of a well-known Georgetown hostess. The hostess was effusive, telling the woman, who had been to this home as a guest and reporter, how glad she was to see her. Then the hostess asked the woman if her husband was coming. Divorced, the guest was amused, tossing off, "I hope not." Without missing a beat, the hostess said, "We do love his paintings." She confused this reporter with another reporter whom she knew as the wife of a prominent artist, and who is tall and brownie-toned.
The Fetchit category -- the assumption that a black person is always there to serve.
When a black television producer used to pick up a white co-worker for work, the white correspondent's doorman would automatically open the back door of the car, assuming that the black was the chauffeur.
When Rod Gaines, an impeccable dresser and a vice president for TWA in Washington, was sitting in a Connecticut Avenue shoe store, a woman walked up and said, "Do you work in this area or the next?"
"Those are the old stereotypes that never left," says Joyce Ladner. "Traditionally, black people are in servant occupations. So they [whites] see color before clothing and feel that you fit the stereotype because you don't deserve any better."
Charles King adds, "That white person may have been saying, 'I know you are able to take care of me, I trust you,' but the black person took it as an insult. Blacks are paranoid because of past experiences, and whites don't have any insight into that paranoia."
The Double A Brand -- an update of We Can't Find Anyone Qualified.
Recently a Washington mother was sitting in the dentist's chair, talking about her daughter's plans for college. The white dentist, whom she had known for years, asked what college her daughter had been accepted by. She said Brown University. He asked if the student got in on an Affirmative Action program
"That's the new extension. If you've got that job [an executive one], it's because of Affirmative Action," says Ladner.
Singing for Their Supper -- the old "Bessie Smith goes downtown" treatment, where blacks are invited to predominantly white functions as centerpieces.
The first three large social functions of the Reagan White House had this pattern: At Margaret Thatcher's formal dinner, the Dance Theater of Harlem performed; at a private gathering for Prince Charles, Bobby Short played the piano; at a state dinner for Japan's prime minister, Shirley Verrett sang. Along with their escorts, the entertainers appeared to be the only blacks who attended.At the fourth dinner, Urban League executive director Vernon Jordan was on the guest list.
The Invisible Man -- the action of whites who feel their place is to be first.
Lillian Anthony, a social historian, was waiting at the ticket counter in an airport recently when a white man came up and put his ticket on the counter. The clerk looked confused. Anthony leaned over and whispered, "I'm going to slap your face and scream if you wait on him." The clerk asked who was first and the white customer looked at Anthony for the first time, saying "Oh, I didn't see her. I'm in a hurry." Anthony was waited on first.
"That's the attitude of entitlement.'I deserve this because I am white.' That goes back to southern segregation, the separate lines, the practice of the doctors to wait on all the white patients first," says sociologist Ladner. "It is more serious when people who are giving the service follow that attitude. Then they feel there is some institutional support for their attitudes."
Charles King says he has barged into ticket lines himself."But if you are black, you automatically think it's because people think you are inferior."
The Don't You Know Your Place category -- the assumption that a black must be lost outside a certain neighborhood or work environment.
Clifton Smith, the director of Walter Fauntroy's district office, was winding his way through the Regency Racquet Club garage in McLean when he ran into two white women. He sensed their tension. Dressed in his tennis outfit, he got on the elevator with the women, who immediately asked him, "Do you belong here?"
"That's the old Miss Ann syndrome. White women always fearful of black men, the black buck, the rape. The fear is accelerated in a rarefied setting," says Charles King.
The Return of the Code -- verbal shorthand.
Michael Latimer, a young accountant, was sitting next to three white males in a drugstore cafeteria. The three men in their business suits kept talking about "a certain element." One described watching "a certain element" in the store purchase shrimp with food stamps. Another talked about "a certain element" purchasing shoes that cost more than $100. Latimer stopped eating his fruit salad. "I was a bit surprised, a bit disheartened.I was surprised at the use of code," said Latimer.
"We might be shocked because of this new direction," says Ladner. "Blacks believe that education enlightens permanently, but it doesn't when status is threatened."
The UnBoss Man -- the presumption a black can't be in charge.
When television producer Topper Carew is casting for actors, he frequently runs into this scenario: "We are sitting in a rehearsal hall, the actor is interviewed, then reads. If no one on our side of the table has been introduced, if I am sitting there with my white colleagues, the white actor automatically addresses all questions to his white peers."
That is the most common form of contemporary sterotyping, says Price Cobbs."There is an inability to view and accept black people in authority positions. I hear it described every day. That's part of the dues blacks in management have to pay."
The Red-Letter category -- hate mail directed at blacks whose names or images are public.
When newspaper articles appear describing black life in America, the reporters often receive torn-out clippings with comments, many times scribbled in red, such as: "Sterilize them," "Get their fathers to support them," "Go back to Africa."
Alvin Paussaint has been receiving letters with racist scribblings. Since the conservative landslide, many of them warn, says Paussaint, "'Now that Reagan is in, you black folks are going to get it.' The atmosphere is such that white people believe they will not be punished or have retaliation . . . The whites are feeling their oats a little bit and associating it with Reagan, and that may be unfair [to Reagan], but we understand that aggression."
Observes Charles King, "After my appearance on the Donahue show, I got 2,600 letters from whites and 90 percent were positive. The hate mail is from the white bigot who is in the minority of whites. They don't know how to spell, they are uncouth, and it's a class of whites who need black people as venom."
Sons of Amos and Andy -- the spinoffs of the negative images of blacks.
At a fund-raiser for Ronald Reagan in Syracuse last fall, comedian Foster Brooks told this joke: "Muhammad Ali and I were born in the same town: Louisville. We had different parents, however. Recently we were on the same plane, going down to Louisville, for a benefit for Gov. Brown. He [ali] invited me over to see the house he keeps there. There it was, all solid black, the sidewalks, everything. I said, 'Oh, boy,' I mean, 'Oh, sir.' Then I asked, 'Why is it black? Don't you think you're carrying it too far?' He said, 'Wait until you see the inside.' The chandeliers, the rugs, the insides of the drawers, the bathtub -- everything was black. And Veronica [a reference to Ali's wife] said, 'You think this is something. He couldn't find the kids for three days.'"
Brooks says he first tried his Ali joke in front of the famous athlete, whom he actually knew growing up in Louisville. "Ali laughed hard -- he hit the table. And everyone was looking at him to see how he would react," says Brooks. "I don't think it's offensive. I don't know if people do; if they did, it wouldn't bother me. Ali is always talking about black; they are black. I had some black people in the audience recently and I said it was nice to see people together. Then I said we had two blacks for dinner Sunday night and they were delicious. They laughed."
Gerald Gill, the author of "The Meaness Mania," cites humor as a cause of the new looseness. "Like Garrett Morris, on 'Saturday Nite Live.' Once he was in a jockey uniform and he was a model for companies that make those lawn ornaments. This is a sanction for that young, sophisticated, college-educated audience." Price Cobbs describes how complicated ethnic humor is. "Everyone wants to know why can Richard Pryor say 'niger' and white comedian can't. Well, everyone forgets the condition of Pryor's popularity. At some point he shows love and affection to that community.What we hear from the white comedian is a put-down because he is missing that element."
Reactions to the New Insensitivity in what Norton calls "the awkward generation," the one between outright segregation and a bias-less society, seem confused yet searching for fuller expression.
Among blacks, black-on-black racism is a candidly and hotly discussed issue. The black cabdrivers who sail past the blacks hailing a cab, leading many blacks only to telephone for cabs. The word "nigger" when used by blacks is often seen as an affectionate phrase, but it's a code word on the lips of whites.
There are exceptions in the black perspective. "The other night I was at a speech of [SCLC president and Rev.] Joseph Lowery, and it was 'niggers' this and that," says family counselor June Dobbs Butts. "When Eugene Talmadge, Herman's father, used to say that on the radio, my mother would turn it off. I don't agree with Lenny Bruce, who said detonate it, use it over and over until it has no meaning."
Blacks who confront whites in everyday situations find the encounters salutary. June Dobbs Butts recalls a recent plane trip. "There were two black stewardesses. They both looked very agitated at this white man, who was saying, 'You told me I could put my coat in this closet.' One stewardess said, 'No, she told you that, but I am saying no.' So whitey threw it on the floor and he said, 'Now you are blaming me for 200 years of racism.' I spoke up and said, 'No, it's 400 years and you are perpetuating it.' A passenger, a young, white man, said to me, 'Lady, it's not worth the bother,' and I said, 'Yes it is -- it helped my blood pressure.'"
The most important attitude, says Price Cobbs, is that "we can't allow ourselves to be victims. Then you ask: How can I manage my rage? Sometimes with humor, sometimes by ignoring. But we can't be passive."
Washington psychiatrist Frances Welsing feels racial behavior has to be understood to be confronted. "There's a tremendous resistance of blacks and whites to understand what is going on," says Welsing. "You don't have to go around with your mouth poked out, saying 'Drop dead, honkie.' But you should be able to say, 'I understand what your motivation is; I understand your need.' I bet it wouldn't happen again with that person."
The It Isn't Everybody Kicker -- The other day two blacks were meeting for lunch in a tiny, expensive downtown Washington restaurant. She was seated by the window but out of view. He stood by the entrance for a few minutes. They each had said they were expecting a lunch partner.While she waited, she made some notes, read the menu. Her lunch partner arrived, but didn't see her. Finally he asked for a seat and was escorted to a table about six feet away from her. They saw each other, asked how long each had been waiting, and laughed. "I guess they didn't want to make any assumptions," he said.