I don't know what to do about casual racism. Seriously, if you have any ideas hit me up, because somehow in my young naivety I expected it to get better as I grew up, for people to stop dropping offensive clangers and then just carrying on as if nothing had happened. But it's not getting better. With every year of my life that goes by, I'm still left reeling from the things people think are acceptable to say on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. But what does casual racism mean? I'll tell you because it's all around us, and it's been especially bad recently, not just on a national stage with Boris Johnson's outrageous comments about women who choose to wear a burka or niqab, but also on a personal level in my own life.
Let's have a look at some of the racist things I've heard this week. It started with someone I know discussing a stabbing that took place near where I live recently (yep, a stabbing, welcome to London life). The person in question wondered aloud how the police were expected to tell the alleged suspects of this particular stabbing apart given that they were all black. My jaw hit the table. I'll admit I was so genuinely gobsmacked that I didn't have time to quiz her on what she meant, and whether she would ever have said the same about a group of white suspects, before the conversation moved on.
Later in the week, a friend of my housemate came round, and while we were all chatting together in the sitting room, for reasons I'm still searching for, decided to tell me that he and another friend were deliberately trying to get with black people. Because they'd never kissed one "of them" and never had an experience with one "of them." This time I was switched on enough to be able to call it out. I told him I reckoned he was setting himself up for disappointment because the only thing he was going to learn was that black people are the same as everyone else. While he was able to admit that referring to black people as "one of them" was wrong, when I tried to explain to him how he was fetishising black people and how it's racist and wrong to date people just because of their ethnicity, he told me it just wasn't that deep.
And beyond the racism— which I think you can barely describe as "casual" — the problem with these exchanges is that the people responsible are so blind to their own ignorance and fragile about their lack of understanding that they would rather make you feel awkward than acknowledge their own mistake. This is something I have experienced repeatedly when trying to talk about race. As a mixed race woman who passes for white (for most of the year anyway, thanks for the melanin boost, summer), I experience the strange side effect that comes with access to white spaces — witnessing the ease and comfort with which people use racially charged language and imagery. People often ask me why I'm so tanned, especially if it's the middle of winter, it baffles them. And when I respond, "I'm not tanned, I'm mixed race," they look as if I've slapped them. They act as if I'm the one who has said something offensive, when it's actually them who has failed to make the smallest of intellectual leaps.
So what to do? Well, I'm not going to stop calling out racism just because it's uncomfortable. I hope that my attempts to educate help open up the conversation and encourage people to think about the impact their words and actions have.
I realise that passing for white is a privilege, but also an opportunity to use my access to white spaces to stop every day examples of racism right in their tracks. And if in some small way it helps, if it changes one person's view of what is and isn't acceptable, then that's something, I suppose.