STARING AT THE FACE OF RACISM | MARIAM ANSAR

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.

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7 thoughts on “STARING AT THE FACE OF RACISM | MARIAM ANSAR

  1. Hi Mariam. I have read this entire post and I would like to ask you some questions. How many times have you been racially discriminated? When you mention “people of colour” does this refer to people who are not of Caucasian decent(non-White), and if so then what is it about white people that they lack colour?
    I have a feeling that this post was implying that non-Caucasian people are generally the only victims of racism. This may have been the case back in the 19th century, but to these days I would say that white people have had their times as victims too.

    I am on the verge to completing my final year of A-Levels, and I have accepted my Cambridge offer for Computer Science 😀 Meanwhile the schools that I have my subjects at are Grangefield and Priesthorpe school in West Yorkshire. Priesthorpe educates people of a very wide variety of different Ethnic backgrounds and going there I have not seen anybody who has been harassed due to race. There were however a couple of times when I walked in and some pupil decides to ask me right out of nowhere “where are you from”. My only guess to why I am being asked such a moronic question is because I happen to have a Swedish father and thus supposedly have physical features of a “typical Swede”(Tall, blue-eyed, light brown hair). What is mostly amusing about this question is that the only people I have ever been asked this question from is by those whom themselves are not 100% English. I often visit a friend of mine who lives in Bradford, and there has so far not been a single time that people I pass over there look at me as if they have never seen a white person before.
    This is all that I can say from personal experiences. I know that in Germany the vast majority of Ethnic minorities are Turkish and in many schools there have been white people being called “potatoes” which in their language is “kartoffeln”. I have also lived in Norway for seven years where the Norwegian people are often called the same.

    My main point is that in these days non-Whites are not the only people to be harassed and that many times white people have also been discriminated. Many times it can be the other way round, but the rest don’t notice that as they are busy monitoring how much discriminated people of the same Ethnic origin as them are.

    Also please don’t confuse religious discrimination and racial discrimination. And to be honest I think Muslims have been generally very well privileged here in Britain. In fact if anything I have had problems with not only Muslims, but also Christians where many of them assume that I am going to hell for being Agnostic, that I am wrong and how I should “open up to god”.

    Anyways I hope this gives you a new picture on this topic. Well written of you must I say 😀

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    1. Hi there, this is Audrey, one of the moderators on the blog. You’ve directed your comment at Mariam but I think I can answer some of your questions.

      Simply put, nobody can be racist to white people. They can face bigotry and prejudice, but never racism. So you can’t compare the discrimination experienced by people of colour (all non-white people) and white people. This is because racism requires both prejudice and institutional power, the latter of which people of colour do not have.

      Secondly, the mere fact that you’ve never witnessed racial discrimination against ethnic minorities does not give you a right to dismiss other people’s accounts of racism. Mariam’s blog post is all the evidence you need that she’s experienced racism.

      Finally, I’m confused by your comment on Muslims in England enjoying privilege. Islamophobia in European countries is so rife that I will not justify a claim stating the opposite by providing links and resources. Google is your friend here.

      I hope this helps.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hello and thank you for your response. There is another thing that will maybe convince you that it doesn’t require being a non-White to experience racism. You have a point that people of Caucasian decent have throughout history managed to make one of the darkest moments in human history, however at this date the Chinese for example are progressing at a shocking rate. A country in which it’s natives are non-White and they have all they need to colonize countries in the same manner that Europeans did.

        Barack Obama for example is ranked as the most powerful person in the world whom half his ancestry are of African decent. There are many people who are of colour other than white whom are rich and powerful. And it doesn’t even require wealth or power to be considered a racist. All it takes is to be arrogant over one’s ethnicity/race.

        I have lived in a Somali neighborhood for three years where I was underestimated for being white, that I was a slow runner and physically weak. Hearing imbecilic quotes like “nobody runs faster than the black man” really made me wonder why on Earth this was not considered racist.

        You are one hundred percent right that I should not dismiss Mariam’s experiences as a victim of racism, however I was eager to know how many times she has really experienced this? Because I live right now in an area of racial diversity and we all treat each other equally and don’t even notice each other’s skin colour. When you go to town and look at people around you, it’s worth asking yourself, how often racial discrimination really occurs. Consider the same with Muslims too. I’m sure that discrimination here also occurs, the question is though, how often? If you just see all the glamorous mosques that have been built to suit the religion followed by people whom emigrated here along with all the times Britain has been putting effort into protecting people from being harassed, I when considering this you will see that Muslims are being so much more respected than they are being disrespected.

        Many Muslims I meet claim that the media constantly attacks them. The first question that arises is which media? Al-Jazeera? An Arab news network, most likely run by people whom themselves are Muslims? CNN? BBC? Search Islam on the BBC website and you will see accurate information about the faith. Maybe there happens to be many radical Muslims causing damage which the media would obviously want to share. There are many radical Jews in Palestine for example who kill Muslims which also you can find in the media. Even if there is Islamophobia or Christianophobia in Europe that’s probably because many people of those faiths have this “I am right you are wrong” attitude which to many people may come across as arrogant. Along with all these unnecessary protests. Other than that I wouldn’t say that Muslims are the most harassed people in Europe, in fact the most harassed people in Europe are Jews.

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  2. With respect, there’s nothing you can say to convince us that racism against white people exists because racism against white people doesn’t exist. This is because racism goes beyond individual instances of prejudice and discrimination. Once you have an idea of how racism should be properly defined, and of the ways in which it manifests itself, you’ll start to see 1) why no one can be racist to white people; and 2) why you might not see racism in the area in which you live:

    In Portraits of White Racism, David Wellman has defined racism as “culturally sanctioned beliefs, which, regardless of intentions involved, defend the advantages whites have because of the subordinated position of racial minorities” (Wellman, David T. (1993). Portraits of White Racism. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. pp. x.)

    Sociologists Noël A. Cazenave and Darlene Alvarez Maddern define racism as “… a highly organized system of ‘race’-based group privilege that operates at every level of society and is held together by a sophisticated ideology of color/‘race’ supremacy.” (Cazenave, Noël A.; Darlene Alvarez (1999).”Defending the White Race: White Male Faculty Opposition to a White Racism Course” Race and Society 2. pp. 25–50.)

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/oliver-carteresdale/britain-islam_b_6783436.html

    http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/publications/reading-lists/race-reading-list

    http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/mar/13/white-people-expats-immigrants-migration

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/03/23/oxbridge-racism-claims-from-own-academic_n_6922034.html

    http://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/files/publications/undergrad_admissions_statistics_2013_cycle.pdf?hc_location=ufi

    (credit to Lola for collecting these resources)

    So even though it’s unlikely that you’ve come across someone white who would openly claim that they think their race is superior or act as if they did, the idea of white supremacy pervades Western culture and its institutions to the detriment of POC, meaning racism, in one form or the other, is always present. Any POC you’ve encountered who claim that their race is superior cannot be racist to white people, because the idea of their race’s superiority doesn’t pervade Western culture and its institutions to the detriment of white people. It’s a matter of fact, rather than opinion. The effects of white supremacy are also felt beyond Europe due to its colonial history.

    Finally, your point on Barack Obama is moot when you remember that he’s reliant on a predominantly white government to lead effectively and democratically. His position (in terms of its effect on race relations) is of purely symbolic value.

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  3. So according to this group, the biological requirement to be racist is to be of Caucasian decent? What I don’t understand is how being white will automatically make that person powerful. In what way? Financially? Politically? Knowledge-wise? Because being powerful in any of these ways I have just mentioned do not require being white, which I trust this group is aware of.

    With all due respect, but those links that you have provided show some extremely biased results in terms of racism. You have only shown me videos of non-Whites each telling their experiences as victims of racism, some of the stories which actually did not come across racist at all. To me those videos looked more like a attack on whites, as if some morons represent all of us. One of the articles said how Muslims are not seen as British, which was only by two groups. One group being the English Defense League which is actually not a racist group, it’s an Islamophobic group in which many members are Sikhs of Punjabi Indian decent. The other group is a fundamentalist Christian party by the name of Britain First which has a very small amount of followers. Also the Cambridge statistics looked quite fair. One of the studies looked more unfair, but then you need to also consider how many non-whites live in this country. There are 65 million people here in the UK and approximately only a couple of million of them are non-white, so I wouldn’t say that these statistics would necessarily prove the University of Cambridge to have racist admissions, because there would probably then be further investigation into this where the members of the admissions would be instantly fired. And I strongly doubt that Cambridge would not find it too awkward to admit this. It would sound like something along the lines of: “This is the oldest university in England with the finest quality education, and we are open to admit that we are a bunch of white supremacists! And thus if you wish to study here, then you need to be white, as very rarely shall we decide not to be racist scumbags!”.

    You don’t seem to have been looking for videos with white people telling their experiences. Well those videos don’t exist, as racism towards whites doesn’t occur as often as with non-whites. That doesn’t mean that racism towards whites doesn’t exist. During my time living in a Somali neighborhood I was never allowed to visit any of my Somali friends, but my friends friends whom also were Somali were allowed. Their parents were looking at me as if something is wrong with me, and guess what, they never even spoke to me. But of course since I’m half Swedish and half English then being judged due to skin colour was not racist, it was perfectly fine. I’m a well behaved person, so I didn’t personally give the parents of my friends any other reason to look down on me.

    Barack Obama’s purpose at office has nothing to do with “symbolism” which by that I assume you meant that he was voted to artistically contradict the fact that U.S presidents were all white by voting for a “black guy”. Well in that case then no, he was elected because of his political views, and the changes he wished to make to the United States. Many right wingers attack him however for being a democrat commonly through FOX news one example being their stating how he has increased the unemployment rate, which in fact is the very opposite after having to clean up after Bush’s mess. Yes most people who are a part of the U.S government are white, but that doesn’t mean that Obama isn’t powerful. He has quite a good amount of authority.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1390205/Whites-suffer-racism-blacks-Study-shows-white-people-believe-discriminated-against.html
    http://thoughtcatalog.com/codi-bott/2014/07/racism-against-white-people-exists/

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    1. The reason you found it difficult to find resources that show that racism towards white people exists is because racism towards white people doesn’t exist:

      I could continue to break this down for you but I have exams coming up. I’m assuming you do as well, but when you get time watch this so you get an understanding of the history of racism, without which any further discussion is likely to be a waste of time:

      I’m sorry you faced difficulty in your neighbourhood. I really am.

      It wasn’t racism though.

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  4. Til some other time 😀 Having an issue with language development due to hearing problems from the first years of my life, nobody then knew my problem, so the speech therapist gave me an IQ test to do where I did badly and was diagnosed as “retarded” which most people thought was the case even after a brain scan that gave no unusual results and being taken advantage of by others I have to say I guess I do have an idea of the experiences you all had.

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