If you’ve been keeping up with the news you will have noticed acts of racism against people of color is a fairly common occurrence in America’s past and present. Police brutality, the KKK standing armed outside of NAACP offices, a Black student being handled roughly by an adult in authority are all common images of racism that exist at this point. But what if we weren’t talking about the extreme acts of racism? What if we were to look past those who wear cloaks or shoot up churches like Dylan Roof and we were instead to focus more deeply on those who are racist on a more everyday level? You don’t need to be a card carrying racist to be racist. You just need to be racist.
Racism exists in even the most subtle and easy to overlook moments. Generally it comes out in the assumptions that others make about your history or character given your identity as a person of color. When people assume that your father is absent, or that you have nice things because someone was involved in crime, these are instances of racism. They are subtle, but they are still racist.
Racism rears it’s head when people insist that the stereotypes that they are laughing at are merely jokes and that they should not be taken seriously. This is easy enough when someone is coming from a place of privilege. It’s having the privilege to be decidedly ignorant enough to use someone’s culture and other’s biases their own entertainment and to not consider (or care) about the way those stereotypes have affected the lives and communities of the individual. (And no. A friend of color cannot loan someone their race card to allow them the opportunity to further mock their culture. That shows ignorance on both sides, but does not mean that a joke is all of the sudden humourous.)
Racism is an act upon the ignorance that one has without doing extensive research into the values of other people and their cultures. It is not solely an act of terror brought on an individual or a group. It is not taking the time to grow in your understanding of another’s worth and identity. It’s choosing to make a joke of, or to ignore, the value of another person.
Many of us have friends and family who exhibit these forms of racism and it’s quite easy to disregard in the moment. We give the people in our spheres credit based on what we know of the rest of their character that we do not give to others. Other times we are afraid to call out a loved one for fear of embarrassing them or causing harm to the relationship. We do not want to hurt the one’s we love, however their fragility does not change the fact that exhibit racist behaviors.
It’s challenging, especially when you are having discussions with White people about the microaggressions that are apparent in their discourse, but it is essential that we have these conversations. Who are we protecting when we don’t speak up against these instances of racism? Not those who are affected by it. You are protecting the racist.
Speak up against day-to-day racism. Avoid shutting down when those who have been presented with their bigotry have been offended. Stand up for those who were invalidated in the first place. Be willing to have these conversations and stand firm on microaggressions. Identity is not humor. Identity is not binary. No one’s identity is less valuable than another’s.