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Can Casual Racism help us create Change?
by Y.L. Reyes on September 13th, 2017

I am an Afro-Caribbean woman born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Europe is my home for the past 15 years. Aside from boringly blatant racist comments, endured at times, the wonder of casual racism and how easily this moments are ignored is what saddens me the most. Those occasions when strangers who reach out and touch my “special” hair without permission (because apparently I’m part of a petting Zoo) to a taxi driver who asked me to translate the first song in the Lion King… because it's in some African language… and I, a black girl, must be from the ‘country’ of Africa. There has been, of course, plenty of less amusing micro offences in between. On most occasions, I simply brush it off as random obtuseness and move on. A very recent comment, however, made me wonder if these microaggressions caused, most of the times, by 'ignorance’ can be used to actually change peoples’ minds.  

While on an night out with friends in Dublin, I made a comment on my type of man and how I am not attracted to black guys that often. This is something most people who know me already know and do not give two fucks about. It is just my preference, I am attracted to the allure of opposites. A female white friend (yes, her skin colour is relevant to this article) laughs and replies nonchalantly that 'it's strange that I am not attracted to my own kind'. I chuckled wholeheartedly at this; it was so stupid, I had to laugh whilst two other white female friends, looking extremely uncomfortable, seemed to be waiting for the WWIII of ‘how dare you’ to begin. Of course, there was peace on all fronts; my M.O. of automatically keeping the peace by ignoring a very harsh and cretinous remark was activated; I silenced myself to avoid ruining the night.

Now, perhaps my reaction was caused by me adopting an Irish way of ‘not wanting to make a fuss’ or giving in to confrontation. Or perhaps this has been my default setting after living for so long in 'progressive' countries where the majority of the population is white and where being confronted with bigotry that still exists is quickly rejected and in general denied by most; this also applies to the Netherlands where I lived for twelve years. No matter the reason for keeping quiet that evening, I now regret letting it go. For weeks afterwards I couldn't escape the thought: 'If we encourage people, on a daily basis, to voice their beliefs (whether negative or positive) about people of colour (POC) and people with different cultural, religious or social backgrounds would casual racism continue to thrive unchallenged? How can we ever hope for real change if people aren't held to task. Yes, it might cost a friendship or force us to endure a very awkward family dinner but it could actually educate and improve people’s beliefs.  

I have experience plenty more examples that show how easy it is to brush off casual offences and normalise them: Out in a bar in Amsterdam, a Dutch waiter intercepts me on my way out and, clearly believing this to be a compliment, tells me that I am ‘very pretty for a black woman’. He was clearly never confronted about his BS ‘opinion’ and if someone was offended he would blame it on his Dutch honesty. I am detained for one hour in a Norwegian airport while the customs officials fumbles around with my ID; when I ask for the reason, he tells me in a wonderful condescending tone that ‘women like you bring drugs to men in Norway.’ He had no evidence but none of his colleagues dispute his comment and all I can do is again, brush it off.  Being in the middle of the street in Dublin, talking to a friend, a guy comes out of nowhere and starts pushing me, shouting at me something about black women and then walks away; my friend ignores it, she doesn’t want to make a fuss. She’s white, I’m black… this is the only difference. Out with friends, a guy insists that he knows me; that I am from X country. I have gotten confused by someone from that specific country plenty of times before because of my skin colour and I find the experience irritating. I tell him I am not, but he insists and claims I am lying: “you are from there, I remember you!” I snapped, I tell him that “I am not from that fucking country so fuck off” and the guy walks away. I was annoyed and I believe to be within my right to make him stop. I am not bothered at this point until the situation becomes normalised by friends. They stared at me with surprised looks, as if I just committed a terrible offence. In their eyes, and it most people’s anyone who is on the receiving end of this microaggressions needs to take it, to accept that’s how it is and never take a stand. Taking as stand is so confrontational, so don’t you dare make some uneducated person feel uncomfortable even if it’s to call out a backwards belief! In plenty of these occasions a feeling of guilt will stay with me one way or the other. I didn’t stand up for myself and for others like me; I ‘embarrassed’ my friends; I should have said something, etc. It is an awful feeling, and nobody should have to endure it for the sake of good manners.

So where am I going with this: I want to be in a society where PC culture is dead. Where we are not afraid to confront and correct those who live inside a reality full of hate. A place where we understand that racism and discrimination is not just your mate’s 'opinion' but a divisive rhetoric designed to damage. A society where we are also not forced by a sense of political correctness to say nothing and appear to be open-minded and blindly tolerant, pretending to accept diversity when in reality our xenophobia, discrimination and racism continues to boil over. If we have an issue with a specific group of people, whether due to skin colour, nationality, culture, religion or because they don’t love Tayto crisps, being PC 24/7 allows us to hide our true selves and prevents us from truly understanding and accepting others who seem different for whatever reason. Being carelessly 'PC' forces us to connect only with supposed 'equals', those who have our same views and where our opinions, no matter how inflammatory and hateful, will be accepted. How can a society like that be ever at peace? Borders are shrinking every day but different cultures continue to mix, they are destined to. When we interact with other cultures in ordinary ways, respectfully, we embrace each other’s difference and work to find similarities. We stop the rise of men like Geert Wilders or Donald Trump. 

I am not advertising some sort of war between beliefs. I am hoping people, including myself, take a stand and educate those who’s beliefs are based on fear or generalisation. For you that are open to all races and beliefs to dare to confront that slightly racist family member or friend; and for you, the slightly racist character in your group to be open to someone else’s opposing opinion that might, in time, positively change the way you see others.

This idea is not ground-breaking; I actually believe this happens to some extent around us. I’m simply writing this to share my experiences, because swallowing my words it’s beginning to leave a mark inside. I write this to make others understand how lonely it feels to love the place you live whilst at the same time becoming convinced that the ignorance you face almost daily should not be challenged. When your friends tell you to let it go, because ‘they don’t mean it, they just didn’t know’ hurts because in 2017 that should not be an excuse. I am writing this so that you, someone who barely experiences microaggressions and you who experience it regularly can take a stand. To not be afraid to stand up to your friend who can’t stop making those outrageous remarks because you are starting to realise those are his actual beliefs. I’m not asking you to exclude him from your next party because your foreign friend will be there and things might get awkward but to actually debunk his or her ideas and do your best to educate and to understand why they have those beliefs. I promise you the fear of confrontation will subside and the pride and satisfaction of taking a stand will take its place. And who knows, you might actually make a difference in someone’s world.

Yahaira L. Reyes
February 2017

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millie - January 31st, 2017 at 4:02 PM
Tu artculo no tiene desperdicio Yayi. Yo tengo la tendencia de tener ms amigos extranjeros o ms "compatibles" con extranjeros. Tal vez es un instinto de proteccin. Yo no me he encontrado frecuentemente en situaciones de micro agresiones, tal vez porque no lo haya reconocido. Pero la prxima vez que Qu me ase o tenga la sensacin de que me pase no me quedare callada y pensare en tus palabras. Gracias. Millieta
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