‘Casual’ racism is not entertainment
After a long day I decided to relax in the late evening with film, something light and entertaining, maybe even a comedy or a drama. So I flicked through the menu of films on offer and read the accompanying descriptions of new films from my streaming provider. My attention was arrested when I saw one film described thus: a young boy “gets lessons in the American way … However, with a disapproving father and casual racism, it’s tough to make it in the Land of the Free.” Hold up. There’s so much wrong with this description but I’ll start here: “Casual racism”?
When is racism ever casual?
Isn’t racism just racism? Like the behaviour of the KKK and white supremacists? Overt, obvious, plain for all to see.
Apparently, it has become trendy to refer to racist microaggressions as casual racism or everyday racism. They are used as humorous interactions and in familiar settings. However, I repeat, there is nothing casual about racism.
Here’s a handy guide to microaggressions that are accepted in some places as ‘just a joke’ or normal behaviour:
You didn’t sound Black / you speak so well / you have great diction.
No matter how you form this, it is not a compliment.
Where do you really come from?
Translation: you’re not white so you don’t belong here. Another option would be to ask the question you really want to know: “What is your cultural heritage or background?”.
Oh, you have a chip on your shoulder.
Because you express your dissatisfaction at racism and unfair treatment you may be pathologised as ‘the angry Black person’.
But, I don’t see colour, I see … you.
Theoretically wanting to see only the humanity in a person is wonderful, but not realistic or practical. Not seeing colour is only possible if you are colour blind.
It’s a joke! Don’t get offended.
I can’t say your name, it’s too … difficult.
You mean like Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, Rachmanioff, Puccini, Mendelssohn, Salieri, and Bach?
I have Black, Asian friends, I’m not racist.
I’m not racist but … (then the racist statement)
People like you …
What? What aspect of my personality are you referring to?
I’d rather not live / sit / travel near a Muslim / Hindu / Rastafarian
You’re really pretty … for a Black / Chinese (insert colour or nationality here) person
You’re so … exotic!
I’ve had ex-partners refer to me as exotic. As yet all my research skills have failed to find anything exotic about life in the county of Wiltshire. Maybe it was just their white privilege showing …
That’s reverse racism!
This statement is often used by people who are reluctant to acknowledge racism to minority groups, yet as soon as policies are introduced to reduce the inequality in society this trump card is pulled out as white people (generally) get affronted and defensive.
This type of discrimination aka ‘casual racism’ normalises racial stereotypes and emboldens bullies by offering them everyday validation of their views, this in turn perpetuates societal discrimination. Presenting people of colour as different (code word for inferior in this context) entrenches the problem – even amongst people who consider themselves enlightened and liberal.
Language is filled with antiquated references to ethnicities and race: e.g. the phrase “Indian giver” that is used to denote a person who gives and then takes back a gift, whilst in fact the saying arose because gift giving between Native Americans and European colonisers of the Americas was based on cultural misunderstandings. It is time to question the use of these phrases and to refuse to use them or accept them in conversations.
‘But I don’t mean any harm’ and ‘I haven’t got a racist bone in my body’ are regular responses that I have heard when I question people on their phraseology. The comeback is usually ‘I didn’t intend to offend’ – but you did. What you said and did was offensive. What are you going to do about it now?
Not many people react well to being called a racist, because a racist is someone who belongs to a far right group like the KKK, Britain First, or the National Front, aren’t they? Someone being overtly violent and discriminatory, surely? They’re not a regular person having a laugh and joke with words and common phrases, are they?
How did those phrases become common? They are part of the systemic and often institutional forms of oppression that are the backbone of many societies. They need to be questioned. For example, the ONS census data categories for ethnic group and nationality still does not have a category for Black English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish, whereas you can be white and English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, Irish, Gypsy, Irish Traveller, any other white background.
I’ve always wondered if ‘Black’ is also a nationality as well as a political term.
It is systems like this that portray white as right, as standard, that are the root of the problem. ‘White is right’ is the concept that white English / European / American culture is always right, pre-eminent, ‘normal’ and the standard by which the ‘other’ is judged: this is an Eurocentric world view. This is where racist terminology has its roots.
Just a final note to the unwitting performer of ‘casual’ racism – racism is never casual to the person you are discriminating against. Never. The racist words and behaviour has a direct impact on people’s lives every day. Racism is not a joke.
Neither is sexism, or homophobia.
Mostly people do not like to be identified a racist. The usually react with either guilt or anger. Professor Robin DiAngelo said, “If you call me a murderer, I’ll just laugh, because I’m not a murderer. But if you call me a racist, I’ll lose my s***. … ‘It’s like the N-word for white people.” Really? Why is it so hard for white people to talk about racism? A case of white fragility or white privilege? It appears that most conversations about racism are started by POC. This needs to change.
Here is a Harvard test to check implicit bias. Just in case you’re not sure where you stand. We need to call out ‘casual racism’.
All I wanted to do was watch a film.
© Marjorie H Morgan 2018