Racism. A topic that has been a controversy for centuries. A topic that many privileged people claim “doesn’t exist anymore”. However, if you happen to be an ethnic minority, you know that this is definitely not the case. Racism has not disappeared as some may assume; it has merely taken on a new form. In today’s world, racism is not as conspicuous as it used to be. A racist can no longer be swiftly and undoubtedly selected from a cluster of people. What is even more alarming is that an individual may not even be consciously aware of his nature as a racist. On the contrary, racism has become a concept that is ingrained into the subconscious mind. It has become more discreet than ever, concealing itself in light discriminatory comments and acts. It has morphed into something potentially more dangerous because there are fewer consequences for the oppressor, leaving the oppressed helpless with the brunt of the burden. But why? Why did it transform from a visible serpent into a camouflaged iguana? The answer is quite silly, actually. It is the result of the fear of being called out as a racist. In today’s society, people are more afraid of being denounced as racists than of admitting the brutality of the trauma that racism brings to members of their society. They would rather hide in the dark than tackle the problem first-hand.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a microaggression has been defined as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority)”. It is unfortunate to finally come to terms with the fact that such spiteful acts have become way too prevalent in our day and age. Microaggressions take on various forms. They can range from distasteful glares from strangers while you’re idly walking on the street to offhand yet unwelcome racial slurs from some of your closest friends. “Laugh it off,” you tell yourself. “They don’t mean it in that way,” you continue convincing yourself. How unfair it is, though, that you are obliged to bottle in the post-traumatic stress that was the inevitable consequence of centuries of oppression and put on a brave face, just to spare yourself and others the ‘awkward’ conversation regarding racism. It’s a privileged white man subconsciously looking down on you on the basis of your ethnicity yet proclaiming that racism no longer exists. It’s the snide observations that are masked as ‘compliments’. It’s the obscene argument that reverse racism actually exists, an argument that is merely used to denounce the severity of the racism that we, as people of color, face on a daily basis.
The asperity of centuries of racism should never be denied. Racism is backed up by years of oppression and laws that robbed black people from their basic human rights. Racism is further confirmed by horrifying stories and videos of unarmed and harmless people of color (POC) getting attacked verbally or physically. Thus, the change must start with us. We, as people of color, must come together. We must unite. We must fight.
Challenging and tackling racism
Recently, I watched a documentary called “The School that Tried to End Racism”, which focused on questioning and challenging subconscious racism from a young age. The process involved the segregation of races within the classroom setting and proceeded to break down the ideals of implicit bias. This ultimately forced children to scrutinize racism and metaphorically look at it under a microscope. This experiment was carried out over a period of three weeks to document any changes in the children’s subconscious racism.
The children found, much to their discontent, that they did in fact exhibit signs of racial bias towards their classmates of color. This was met with shock and disbelief among the children. These innocent children were unaware of the subtle and cunning way in which racism was ingrained into their unconscious minds. Within educational systems, white supremacy is cleverly moulded into the malleable young mind on a daily basis. Children are unknowingly brainwashed with ideals based on prejudice towards ethnic minorities. Children of color who are taught within such systems tend to feel a sense of deep-rooted inferiority without ever realizing the reason behind it. The reason? It is the silent killer. It is unconscious racism.
Thankfully, one scene was particularly promising. The children were disappointed. They cared. They were determined to make a change. They were empathetic. Of course, at such a young age, they did not fully comprehend the detrimental effects of racism and how such a concept discredits ethnic minorities, stigmatizing them based on the color of their skin rather than celebrating them for the diversity they bring. Regardless, it is pertinent to mould their mindsets and shape them to accept all humans just the way they are.
The term “racism” can cause feelings of discomfort because it sharply asks you to question what you know, and to possibly challenge the implicit biases that you were taught from a very young age, which can lead to the topic of white fragility. However, the uneasiness of this conversation should not be reason enough not to have this discussion. These prejudiced views and ideals need to be challenged. We must come together as a society, pinpoint the source of the problem – which seems to primarily be rooted within our backward educational systems – and make a change. We must ask uncomfortable questions. We must acknowledge the damaging impact of racism on both the mental and physical health of our stigmatized siblings. We must step up and call into question the integrity of our systems. Are our systems built upon equality and justice? Do our systems serve the majority at the expense of the minority? We must scrutinize what we know, and battle racism at every level of our community – at schools, the workplace, malls, public transportation, and even within our own homes. In this way, we can begin hiking on our path to change.
Credits- Shruti Nag & Joanna El Khoury