This is the second post in my “Big Issues” series. Please click here to be taken to my first post where I discuss charity and fundraising.
The slave trade was abolished in the United Kingdom in 1833 and in the United States in 1865. We are taught about the civil rights trail blazers such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks in our History classes. Yet it is now 2015 and can we honestly say that racism and discrimination is over?
Sometimes you just have to face the facts – maybe you are racist.
No, you might not go around all dressed up in a white hood carrying a burning cross like the Ku Klux Klan did. Nor, will you go with your family to watch a black man swinging from a tree after he has been lynched and you probably do not use racist terminology either.
When the word “racism” comes up, everyone seems to freak out and you probably get those aforementioned scenarios in your head. Yes, that is racism. However, not all racism is this extreme. We might all be allowed to sit wherever we want on a bus and use the same bathroom but the struggle is not over yet. We must get rid of these 1950’s conceptions of racism.
There is a new group of people which I like to call the “Everyday racists”. These are the type of racists who look at the world through racially biased lenses and get away with saying or doing as they please usually without judgement or repercussions. Due to the covertness of their behaviour, it is really hard for victims of this type of racism to speak out. These everyday racists probably don’t realise they are being racist either.
8 signs you might be an Everyday Racist
1. But you speak so well / you don’t act black at all / You are not what I was expecting…
Is this supposed to be a compliment? There is no such thing as a black accent or a black way of behaving, only stereotypes. A person’s speech will generally adjust to the part of the world they spend the most time in. There are other factors such as social class, religion, etc that also shape a persons behaviour due to the way they were brought up.
2. Can you teach me how to twerk?
This is a seemingly innocent question to ask but the problem is that you are making assumptions about a person based on the colour of their skin. This example, could easily have been substituted for, “do you love fried chicken/watermelon?” or anything like that.
Some of these seemingly inoffensive questions or assumptions date back to the times of Jim Crow laws where black people were thought of as simple minded and made into caricatures. The issue is not the question itself but the reasoning behind asking it. If you can put, “because you are black” before your question then chances it is probably everyday racism.
3. That is such a hard name to pronounce, can I just call you…?
Every time you do not make the effort and choose instead to abbreviate a person of colours name without their invitation or call them something completely different, what you are really doing is stripping them of their identity and thus reducing their self-worth. Similarly, you are also suggesting that a certain type of name is superior to their name.
4. But I am just not attracted to black girls/boys…
This has recently become a big issue. It seems like you either have people not wanting to date black people at all or people fetishizing and hypersexualising black skin.This is a really difficult form of everyday racism to unpack. Of course you are entitled to choice when dating and I am aware that you can have a preference.
However, if racism is when based on your prejudice or preconceived ideas about a racial group you participate in a discriminatory act then deciding not to date someone solely based on the colour of their skin is not a sexual preference but actually a form of racism.
You are grouping an entire race together as if they are all the same. There is nothing wrong if you have only ever dated within your race. However, by categorically saying you would never date a black person you are suggesting that there is something wrong with the entire racial group. It is like holding up a sign that says ‘no blacks allowed’.
With black people coming in all different shapes, sizes and with different features, personalities and backgrounds, the only shared factor between most black people is the melanin pigmentation of our skin. After all Lupita Nyong’o, Beyoncé, Viola Davis and Oprah Winfrey for example are black but all look and act very differently. Then it is the black skin you are not attracted to.
Don’t even get me started on beauty standards; when did being beautiful equate to being white?
5. When you look with suspicion at a person of colour driving an expensive car or spending a lot of money
This example is not limited to the scenario of spending money or having a nice car. This form of everyday racism is any time where you treat a person of colour differently to how you would treat anyone else. If you are being excessively suspicious of a black person, think to yourself, why am I feeling this way? Would I behave the same if they weren’t black? It is every time you clutch your bag extra tightly or cross the road when you see a black person approaching. This is a problem that is reflected in the judicial system as well.
6. Refusing to see ‘race’ and being colour blind
This colour-blind attitude is becoming increasingly popular with younger people as they try to turn away from the institutionalised oppression their white forefathers caused. I feel like this is just plain lazy. Of course you can see the colour of my skin! You have eyes don’t you?
Suggesting that you don’t is harmful as it makes you unwilling to see the problem of racism. Likewise, it effectively demonstrates white privilege- well aren’t you lucky that you do not have to consider the colour of your skin and how people treat you because of it.
7. Referring to all black people as African
Africa is not a country and not all black people are from Africa. When you do not bother to distinguish what part of Africa someone comes from or which part you went on holiday to you are being so ignorant.
8. My best friend is black so I can’t be racist / but my other black friend said I could…
Just because you have a black friend does not mean you can’t be racist. The fact you are using that as a defense in itself is offensive.
Likewise, just because you have one black friend who says something is okay does not mean all black people are going to think it is okay. Not all black people are the same and it is ridiculous to act as if they are. Your black friend is not the spokesperson for all things black. You will probably find a whole bunch of black people who strongly disagree with what I write about on here.
These are just a few examples of Everyday Racism and this is definitely not a comprehensive list. You may be thinking, why is everyday racism a problem? After all, you are not actively persecuting a racial group. Looking at the bigger picture there are seemingly more pressing global issues that we should focus on.
However, everyday racism makes racial cohesion impossible and leads to the systemic discrimination against people of colour. Furthermore, cumulatively everyday racism can also lead to the internalisation of racism where people of colour feel self-hatred and become subservient to their white counterparts which in turn further facilitates their marginalisation.
Why did the Ferguson case happen? Why are more black people stopped and searched on the streets? Why is there still a glass ceiling in the workplace for people of colour? Why do so many people of colour bleach their skin to make it lighter? Why do you hardly ever see dark women in magazines? Why are there a disproportionate amount of men of colour in prison?
Because everyday racism still exists.
Just take a minute to think about your actions, it is not necessarily about being political correct but about treating everyone with the same level of humanity.
It’s just me, Dammy, it’s not as black and white as you may think.
4 thoughts on “The Everyday Racist”
“Due to the covertness of their behaviour, it is really hard for victims of this type of racism to speak out. These everyday racists probably don’t realise they are being racist either.” You describe the problem so well! Biases can become so embedded in a person’s perception that it feel so natural. I think becoming more self-aware is key, as well as a desire to strengthen compassion for everyone. I read several Anthropology books on the subject of Ethnocentrism and they describe the prevalence of this problem on a cultural, even linguistic level, and also how difficult it is to eradicate. I think by writing about our painful experiences with everyday racism we can shed more light on it.