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What is Racism?

‘I’ve had teams from youngsters right up to men’s teams, and I’ve met every different nationality you could imagine: I’ve had Irish, I’ve had Scotch, I’ve had Africans, I’ve had Asians . . . And they’ve been great, supportive and everything. And everyone seems to get on very well . . . so, I’m a bit amazed that people keep saying that this is a racist area, because I’ve not really seen too many things in this area happening, like racial attacks . . . You get idiots in every area that you go in the country, who’ve got nothing better to do.’

- O, Jones. Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

I’ve been reading the book, Chavs, about the way in which the working class has been demonised through various political agendas. There are a couple of issues I want to address with this post. One being the ignorance of individuals that can often lead to other individuals blindly calling someone a racist. The second being this problematic quote above. It felt like a bingo moment when I read it. As though the systematic problem of racism had been summed up in one quote from a random person in a district of East London.

So firstly, through reading this book I have come to understand a little better, why some individuals are often deemed racist, while they strongly protest otherwise. I suppose this is all language I see on Facebook. It is hard to have constructive conversations on Facebook and I find often, someone will write something about immigrants and automatically be dismissed as a racist, when actually, this is not fair and often not true. This individual does not deserve to be named a racist. Certain newspapers, however, hold a profound culpability for the views of thousands of individuals across the nation.

To demonise immigrants, suits the political agendas of certain newspapers, for a whole host of different reasons. The individuals who spout hate against immigrants are often simply victims of the fake news society we find ourselves in. How is anyone supposed to know what is real and what is not in a world of 24/7 news? A world completely immersed and lived on social media; a platform riddled with fake news. Not everyone has been taught to think critically. I was once very guilty of this myself. You read something, you believe it. And with so many newspapers and political parties telling us immigrants are simply ‘here to steal our benefits’, who can blame parts of the population for believing it?

Calling someone a racist is a weighted allegation. Perhaps we could all try to find the nuance in the words someone speaks.

Secondly, let’s explore the quote above. I stopped dead when I read it as I found it entirely indicative of the entire problem we face in the conversation around race. I have heard so many times, that racism doesn’t exist anymore. That black people shouldn’t be protesting or making a plea that their lives matter, because slavery ended long ago. Again, this simply falls to ignorance. Some individuals appear to believe that because no-one uses the N word around them or they never see attacks on black people, and slavery was abolished, racism does not exist. From what I’ve gathered from conversations with individuals, those factors, and only those, constitute racism to many people.

Racism is simply discrimination or prejudice against someone because of their ethnicity. A person of colour being followed in a shop by security is one example of racism. The fact that black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth, is another example of systemic racism. There are countless others.

Another retort I hear over and over again in the conversation around race is ‘well I’ve been in rooms where I’ve been the only white person’, and ‘I know loads of people of colour and I’m nice to them’. Just because an individual knows people of colour, does not mean that their actions are not exclusionary of people of colour. Just because a person is nice to people of colour, does not mean that they aren’t guilty of contributing to a society in which white people hold the most privilege. We might not be conscious of it, but many of us have contributed towards this, however ignorantly. I certainly have in the past, because I didn’t realise I lived within a system like this. I just did not understand how lucky I was. Now I do, I call it out.

I fervently wish that the individuals who outright deny racism exists, could understand that no-one is pointing a finger at them personally. Admitting racism exists doesn’t mean you’ve admitting culpability or that you’re a racist. It simply means you want to contribute towards making the world a fair and equal place to live for everyone.

If a person is fortunate enough to say ‘racism doesn’t exist’ that means they are lucky enough to have not experienced it. That it isn’t a daily experience for them. That they are able to live comfortably in a world where the colour of their skin does not affect their everyday experience.

Let us open our hearts, and really try to hear the reasons behind what an individual is saying. Let us no longer jump to the conclusion that someone is simply a racist. This is too easy. What information have they been exposed to? What information could you kindly and patiently provide someone with? The chances are they’re simply and innocently unaware of the problems you know exist.

Let us open our hearts so that we might learn to earnestly listen.

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