In college a group of friends got together after a sociology lesson and had a very frank conversation. One of the guys wanted to know why someone took umbrage with him using the phrase nigga when rapping along to Straight Outa Compton. Firstly it was a popular song bound to be repeated by hip hop fans of all races, and secondly, given that he was of Trinidadian/Chinese heritage he didn’t see why others had an issue. After all many guys in college greeted each other that way.
A powerful conversation ensued which eventually lead to each member of the group being asked to address racial stereotypes that they had heard from their backgrounds, families and communities about other races and ethnic groups.
That day I learned a hell of a lot about my own prejudices as well as many new ones from college mates. Stereotypes from Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Nigerian, Jamaican, Trinidadian, English and Irish communities. And even deeper the stereotypes that divide ethnicities within all those countries too. From skin shade, to hygiene, to how parents would disown them if they came home with a partner of a different ethnicity.
I have already written quite a bit on race, and will continue to write about in the future. I asked whether blacks can be racist, the obsession with colour here and here. I spoke about the notion of the race card and even my own struggle with the label black and why such a term is incredibly limiting to describe the varieties of those descendants of Africa and the Caribbean.
The reason why I still write about it, is because I think it is a continuous conversation that we need to have.I believe that racism is so intrinsically tied to economics that it will never go away.
I think it is this that keeps so many of us trapped.
Across so many areas of life, this superiority is linked to social status and security across various communities. Hence the earlier comments about interracial relationships, job opportunities.
There are a number of definitions for racism.
One is “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”
Another is “ideologies and practices that seek to justify, or cause, the unequal distribution of privileges or rights among different racial groups”.
Only the ignorant think racism is the domain of uneducated thugs. It’s way more complex than that.
Whether that racism manifests itself in England, Brazil, Australia, UAE, Japan, USA, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey or Trinidad, the unequal distribution of privilege is what sustains racism as it stands. That others can be treated inherently differently on a conscious or subconscious level affects us on so many levels, it’s scary.
These prejudices at an economic level trickle down through all levels. Religion, Education, Justice, Law and Order and Housing. And while there are those whose money can give them the illusion that they have transcended race and its effect, a small trip outside of one’s comfort zone to another country or community will flag up how ugly and real racism really is.
The trick here is how do we move the conversation forward.
America for example is a constant hotbed of racial anxiety. No surprise for a country that was built on racial division and superiority. The death of many blacks at the hands of the police, Donald Trumps attacks on south American migrants, the treatment of Native Americans, all shine a spotlight on what is a rather sick and imbalanced country. The likes of UAE, Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries where non Arabs workers are treated as second class citizens, slaves even. My home country of England where right wing politics around migration and the “treatment of foreigners” is again a barometer of how racially intolerant many of us have become.
The truth is we all have prejudices. Ideas of others that have been informed by media, popular culture and the communities we grow up in.
Maybe we all are a little bit racist.
It might be our way of surviving in an environment that favours status and individuals. Behind close doors conversations about smelly pakis, dirty niggas, effin Polish, bloody honkeys, shitty Arabs and thieving Chinkies still exist. Many of them manifest themselves on social media too.
We need to be honest about this. I guess the tough part for many is whether behind closed doors such conversations are challenged as wrong. Inappropriate even.
Many times we tip toe around conversations on this. We say we don’t see race or that we are colour blind. I call bullshit on that. The social construct of race is very present. When we fill in forms, the way our media reports and even in our communities, race is very present. So either you have visual impairment or are in denial.
Other times people weigh into the conversation with both feet. The conversations default to victim blaming, white privilege, black laziness, chips on the shoulder or playing the race card. Often shutting down what should be nuanced conversations, with ignorance or extreme reaction. Using loaded terms to paint all with the same brush.
I guess as humans we have a lot to figure out on this one. Even if the non scientific construct of race is removed we still have to ask ourselves serious questions. France, for example, has no racial classification, but we know that the country has big racial issues and problems. Just because it is not labelled does mean it doesn’t exist.
I am learning as I age that you don’t have to attend every argument that you are invited to. Often the best dialogues and conversations around race are around people who your trust. They are sometimes painful conversation and make us vulnerable. Even amongst friends.
As a grown man I feel trapped if I have to question why people cross the road when they see me in a hoody or a suit. Or why do I second guess when someone asks me where I am from? What does that person mean when they say I am well spoken? Why do I feel the need to ensure my black daughters have every educational and economic advantage to help them be successful in a world where many black women aren’t? Why does it frustrate me when people only see the world in racial binaries of them and us? At what point do I stop second guessing? At what point am I ever free?
I have no answers to be honest. Just questions. This I do know though, race does keep us trapped if we have to always be afraid of speaking freely. It makes us retreat to these “safe spaces” where people align with our thinking. Confirming our biases.
Race prejudices our ability to live freely. Economically. Spiritually. Socially. And that’s can’t be right.
That can’t be what being human is all about.