When it comes to racism, a mention of the term or the recalling of incidents that most definitely happened and which aren’t just the hyperbolic rantings of an unhinged 19 year old Muslim girl, I have become very accustomed to varying white responses: extreme apologetic sentiments, or extreme dismissal. Some people apologise on behalf of strangers, and I appreciate that. But the majority I have come across do not.
Maybe I perceived that theme-park attendant incorrectly when he didn’t let me onto that rollercoaster because I wear the hijab. Or maybe that guy didn’t mean to ignore me completely as he joked with all of my white friends and I stood on the sidelines like some badly-written brown girl trope in the sitcom of some other white protagonist. Maybe the muttered remark of questioning what has gone wrong with ‘our country’ when my sister and I walked into a shopping centre wasn’t some bigoted remark aimed at us at all.
Maybe… Just maybe, I’m imagining all the encounters that have happened to me in my life because I want to be the victim, or I just don’t carry myself with the same presence that other people do, or I just like complaining. (That third one might be a little true. But not in this instance.) What is difficult about carrying these incidents around with me, inside of my memory, is that I also carry the questioning glances of my white friends as a shadow to them when I recalled it all to them. It seems I not only perceive the hurt of having myself be called to attention for that which should not be considered important, but I also have to justify my feelings because morality is unifying and simplistic, right? If my white friend wouldn’t do this, then that means no white person could do it, right?
Racism is a system which functions on every single level, social, economic, overt, casual, for one purpose: dehumanisation so as to keep white supremacy in place, and as dramatic as that may seem to some, for others, it’s a reality which we don’t have the privilege to shrug off.
The lack of representation in media, books, academic courses, formative desires to appear like that white girl on TV and to disown any feature which calls itself to attention, questioning exactly what being British constitutes of, fearing the social upheaval of the next day in school whenever the EDL decided to march through my town or a terrorist attack occurred which placed my religion in the limelight but did not adhere to its rulings. The fear of being verbally abused in the street and not knowing exactly how to respond. The fear of not being able to make it in a world which caters to the white middle-classes. The fear of being ignored in white social circles. The fear that results in the mental registration of people who look like you when in a new place or situation.
The fear, the fear, the fear. The reality which persists and which creates a hyper-awareness within you so that sometimes, you really do believe it: you really are just exaggerating or over-thinking. You aren’t witnessing the power of white supremacy at hand in your daily experiences because in this day and age, who’s racist anymore? Racism was years ago, when bad white people roamed the land and pillaged and raped and insulted and lynched. Now? Now the bad white people are gone. Except, no they aren’t. If something is concealed, if something happens under the surface but is never heard of, does it really happen? If something is perceived as without power because it chooses not to display it overtly but retains it in its privilege, is it really powerless?
From secondary school to today, when I say something is racist, I hear incredulity in the response. I feel the intake of breath or the exasperated rolling of the eyes because ‘here she goes again’ and the problem is this: people perceive the age of racism to no longer be as powerful. Racism is tired, is about intent, is about education, is about ignorance, is about owning up. When racism is talked about, it’s perceived as an alien concept as opposed to something which has become integrally embedded within our society and our views of intelligence, beauty, literature, living, everything. People talk about how they couldn’t possibly be racist: as if we aren’t subconsciously informed by that which is displayed to us on every aspect and do not have things to unlearn. As if we aren’t socialised. The irony of that is the ignorance is the by-product of the socialisation itself.
Take the idea of a ‘colour-blind’ society. Take the teacher telling their students that they shouldn’t ‘see colour’ and watch how it disadvantages a true perspective of the difficulties of living when you’re a person of colour. To not see colour is to not recognise the axis of oppression which affect the lives of so many. To not see colour is to mutilate empathy because you simply aren’t aware of the reality.
It seems that racism has mutated. It seems that on top of it being present, it working to dehumanise, it being a consistent disruption, it has managed to slip in and evade being named. The struggle now means having to convince others that it’s really happening. It’s insidious. Consistent. This is its power. And this is why it’s so terrifying.