I’ve decided to write this because of something that has just popped up on Facebook. It’s very much going to be a stream of consciousness so let’s hope it works out.
I was scrolling through the news feed and spotted something written by one of my friends in Australia. (She’s from Britain but moved to Australia a number of years ago). I thought I’d mis-read it to start with and then re-read it, but no. It was actually a comment that said ‘dirty abos and their dirty children, I’m not racist but I bet if I spat on them they’d be cleaner… urgh disgusting specimins!!!’ Three people had ‘liked’ it.
I’m just going to let you sit with that, as I did for a little while.
I decided I couldn’t just let that go. So I challenged her – replace ‘abos’ with any other group of people – ‘Irish’, ‘Scots’, ‘Greeks’, ‘Jews’.. still not being racist? Some more of her friends also challenged her – does she now the history of the country she has moved to? How can the actions of one child (it turns out she had written this because a child had pulled a party popper in her face at a party) mean an entire race can be tarnished? She kept trying to defend her point – the country ones are fine, the town ones are chavs, like everywhere else, you’d spit on them too.
Actually, you know what? I wouldn’t.
I don’t believe it is ok to spit on someone if they’ve pissed me off. I couldn’t even stand it when my ex-boyfriend spat in the street. I don’t believe it’s ok to move to a country and then slag off the native people because they are not the same as me. I don’t believe that it’s ok to tell everyone to calm down about this and to just get over it, which is what she was resorting to.
I am very aware that I am able to say this from a position of great comfort. I am white. I am probably middle class, I am living in one of the richest countries in the world. I have enough money for food, heating, clothes and for frivolous things too. I have not come from a culture that has been oppressed by other nations, that has had its children stolen, its women raped to begin to breed them out. I have never known great poverty myself, and hope I never do, but I have lived somewhere where I have seen great poverty.
The original post my friend made has been removed, but she is still trying to justify herself in a discussion with another friend, who has shown me what she has said. It makes me sad and angry to see that she really thinks that what she is saying is fine and justified. Things like ‘should have been brought up better instead of parents drinking at a bus stop’, ‘should try harder to better themselves’, ‘there’s one at work, she’s ok, but some of the rest…’
It’s got me thinking about casual racism and how we think it’s ok. I was very surprised at university to hear another friend, perfectly lovely, kind and wonderful in every way, saying we should ‘Go down the paki shop and pick up some crisps’ or ‘Let’s have a chinkys tonight’. Where she came from it was the way they spoke, she didn’t see why I had a problem with it.
I’m not saying I’m a saint and have never said anything that could even have been conceived as racist ever. Of course I have. Because it’s built into the way that we as British, or, more specifically English people have been programmed to think. We’ve been conquerors, colonists, explorers, oppressors and there is, for me anyway, a sense of guilt wrapped up in national pride. My family is English and Scottish and Irish and French and all sorts. Some were oppressed, some were the oppressors, but it’s all filtered down to make me who I am.
I am conflicted, I am contradictory, I am fallible, but I am someone who is making a choice not to let casual racism stand. I am making a choice to challenge those that I think are wrong. And I would expect others to challenge me too.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on the suffering and oppression of peoples around the world. I on’t know much about different world cultures yet. But I read books, I watch documentaries, I listen to lecture, I find out more. I try to educate myself so that I don’t slip into bad habits, so that I don’t judge and tar an entire culture because of the actions of one or two. How would I be judged from the outside by the actions of other white, British middle class people?
The majority of my posts have some song of film reference in the title. This one is from Avenue Q which is a satirical musical. The gist of the song is that everyone’s a little bit racist, so wouldn’t it be better just to admit it and get on with thing instead of getting offended by everything. Well yes, we could recognise that we all have prejudices, I do, as I imagine you all do too, but that doesn’t mean that you have to sit back and do nothing about them. It doesn’t mean that everyone is a bit racist. For me true racism is hatred of a stranger based on their race, colour or culture. What has been said could be racism or it could be prejudice. There is racist and prejudicial language built into cultures, mine included. But that’s no reason to accept that that’s just the way it is. Challenge yourselves, try to better yourself, as the ‘friend’ in Australia says that others should. Perhaps turn the mirror on yourself and see if they should really be emulating you in their ‘betterment’ or whether we can all make improvements.
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