Racism goes far beyond being consciously deliberately negative or aggressive towards black people and people of colour, it includes casual racism, which can be based on unconscious bias, and is therefore far more insidious as it goes unnoticed unless checked. (Learn more about unconscious bias and take the Project Implicit test here.)
Casual racism can be explained as making judgements, generalised assumptions or statements about black people or people of colour, or of the issues affecting them. These often unconsciously biased generalisations unfairly group people together and ignore the reasons behind any of the “truth” in the stereotypes, which then hinders or delays achieving progress towards fairness and equality.
Essentially, casual racism looks at symptoms, rather than getting curious about the cause.
Below are a sample of casually racist statements and how they can come across to people who are actively working towards breaking down barriers to racial equality & justice – if you recognise any of them, and want to know more, you can start by looking at the many Anti-Racism Resources available for you to educate yourself online.
But, before engaging in conversation with someone about race, please read How White People Can Talk To Each Other About Disrupting Racism, as it includes a step by step guide to make sure you are fully prepared for the interaction, as it will bring up discomfort for anyone involved, and will not be effective if we are not clear on our intentions and plan of action.
“All Lives Matter”
Yes, all lives do matter, which is why we need to help those whose lives apparently do not matter enough to warrant respect, safety and valuing by society. You may be trying to seem equal and fair by using this phrase, as it sounds inclusive, but actually it is used as a distraction from the Black Lives Matter movement that is attempting to highlight issues specifically affecting black people.
The analogy often used is “All Houses Matter”, but if one house is on fire, then not all houses need equal attention at the same time. Of course all lives should matter, but the lives of black people are at risk, so that is where attention is needed most right now.
“I don’t see colour”
You may believe this is a positive statement, that you don’t think of the colour of people’s skin and that means you treat them fairly or equally, but of course you see colour even if you’re not consciously aware of it. So actually this statement means that you’re not aware of any unconscious bias, or the difference in perspectives and experiences that black people and people of colour have to deal with in the world.
“I have black friends”
Having black friends doesn’t mean you can’t also have unconscious biases against black people as a group – it doesn’t let you off the hook for doing the work to educate yourself on how they experience the world differently from you.
Don’t expect them to educate you on this either, as that’s not their responsibility – there are plenty of resources available online – you can start with the Anti-Racism Resources shared here.
“What about black on black crime?”
These kind of statements not only ignore the causal factors leading to increased likelihood of crime by certain sections of the population, it implies that because some black people treat other black people badly, then we are somehow justified in continuing a system of racial inequality and injustice that perpetuates these statistics.
“Why is this issue so big right now? Why are we not talking about [insert other issue]?”
The world’s reaction to the tragic, avoidable death of George Floyd in the hands of people who were supposed to protect him has lead to a tidal wave of momentum towards achieving true racial equality and justice. Highlighting other issues (that people are often not actively doing anything to further) serves as a distraction from the issue at hand, and provides an excuse for people to avoid educating themselves and making changes in their own views on the world.
“This isn’t a UK issue!”
Unfortunately, it is. Although this recent resurgence of the push for equality has come from the US and the blatant police brutality witnessed there, there are many examples of racial injustice and inequality in the UK that stem back to colonial history, which isn’t taught widely in schools (yet – a popular petition is seeking to add it to the curriculum) .
“Protect our statues!”
The protests are not about the statues – in a lot of ways these have become an easy distraction. But ask yourself why you are concerned about inanimate objects and the destruction of property when human lives are genuinely at risk because of the colour of their skin? If a few statues need to come down in order for people to realise that change is needed, then is that a bad thing?
Be aware that these kind of statements imply that you would rather see historical monuments to slavery and racism continue to exist than try to understand why people would want them removed. Britain’s involvement in the slave trade is summarised well in this article. You can also read about Churchill’s documented white supremacist beliefs, which might help you understand why not everyone reveres him as the Great British hero you know him to be.
“I don’t approve of protests during lockdown”
Of course it’s not ideal – no one wants to be risking their lives in large crowds during a global pandemic, but considering that the risk of death from COVID-19 has been found to be disproportionately higher for those in the BAME community (between 10-50% higher than their white counterparts according to the official Government report), the amount of people showing up to protest in large crowds should indicate just how pressing the issue of racial injustice is felt to be – not just in the US or the UK but around the world. People already feel their lives are at risk, so why would lockdown make them any safer?
“I support the protests but not the damage/looting”
Protests by their very nature are intended to upset the status quo, so we shouldn’t expect to be happy about it, but know that most of our rights to equality and liberty have been hard won through protests.
Damage to property can offend people, just as seeing people commit crimes can be shocking, but this perspective is problematic in 2 ways:
1. It ignores the fact that peaceful protests largely go ignored, and often it’s only the violence or so-called looting that gets significant media attention.
2. It implies that you are more shocked by damage to property than you are to the damage to the bodies and minds of black people.
These are just a small selection of statements that ignore or disregard the issues experienced by black people and people of colour. Essentially, if you are generalising or judging a group based on assumptions or stereotypes, it’s time to check your understanding and educate yourself.