We are all racists at some point in time or the other!
Did the above line shock you? Did you just tell yourself that you are no racist? I am sure all of us believe ourselves to be free from any racist tendencies, but the truth is that we are unconsciously racist at times, even when we say we are not. There’s a term for this sort of racism. This is now called ‘Casual Racism’
So what is casual racism? It’s a subtle form of racism against family or friends when you ridicule them because of who they are when you make assumptions about a group of people because of the way they look or speak and use those assumptions for everyone associated with that group. It’s everyday racism and is so commonplace and normalised that the person who does it, is not even aware that he/she is making comments what may hurt the person being trolled!
So why this topic today? It came up because, over the last few days, an incident shared by a Singaporean Indian has blown up so much over various social media. What happened was this person, who is an actor went to audition for a role in a popular movie franchise which is based on Singapore’s National Service and at the audition was asked to speak with an exaggerated Indian accent (think Apu in the Simpsons). When he commented that the accent he spoke in was how a normal Singaporean Indian spoke, he was told they wanted it to be more Indian and so funny. He took to social media to comment on this and also said he felt like an outsider in his whole country. The truth is that no one in Singapore who is of Indian descent speaks like that and even in India, especially in the bigger cities, people don’t speak with these exaggerated accents and gestures. This may have been true some 40-50 years back, but today most Indians have had an English language education and speak mostly normally (some accent is given because everyone has an accent from where they come).
The incident has been shared many thousands of times and has pretty much polarised the country. On one hand, you have the minorities who speak of having such incidents happen to them constantly and on the other hand, you have the majority slam the actor by saying since it was an acting job, he should just do what the director asks him to do and that he is being sensitive to implied slurs on him because of his race.
But the truth is that living in a multicultural country like Singapore, a minority is always subjected to race-related jokes and other incidents which happen to them on an almost daily basis. So much so, we always just take them into our stride or just shrug them off. I remember, when I first moved to Singapore, people of the majority race (mostly the elderly) would prefer to stand in public transport rather than sit in the empty seat next to me just because I am an Indian and they think all Indians smell! It used to hurt me a lot initially since this was the first time I had been exposed to something like this, but over the years, I’ve built up a shell and have learnt to let it slide.
Least you think India is not racist, let me disabuse you of that notion. Racism exists there too but is much more subtle. There, it’s because of the way a group of people look or speak. So you have the Punjabi Sikh Santa Banta jokes, the notion that all Biharis are thugs and illiterates and that everyone from the northeastern part of India behaves in a certain way. You also have the bashing of North Indian/UP migrants in Mumbai because some of the locals believe they are out to snatch their jobs and because of India’s obsession with fair skin, people from South India are looked down upon. This is worse for those who come from the African continent to live and work in India and news reports are aplenty for those who want to know more about these instances.
I could go on and on about instances of casual racism, but I need to stop somewhere. Research has shown that racism, and even, or especially casual racism has a range of harmful effects on those targeted, including limiting access to employment, health services and education and reduced workplace productivity and has been linked to mental and physical health problems, particularly depression and anxiety.
So the next time you make an off colour joke or comment or even reduce a group of people to common tendencies, take a minute and think. If the situation was reversed, would you like to be the butt of such jokes or comments?
Here are some links which explain much more about casual racism:
What do you think of such instances of racism? Has something like this happened to you? Please comment and let me know…