Observations & meditations on modern life

How much do you know about casual racism?

Hello from little me!

I always wonder, how much does this supposedly multicultural world that we live in affect your life? Do you feel satisfied with everything around you? Do you crave more?

I was born here, but raised Indian. We went back to India almost every holiday. My cousins are there. My aunts and uncles are there. I speak the language. I have the clothes. But that part of me doesn’t really get to come out a lot here, and I do miss it a lot and I do wish that there was a way to integrate these two different parts of me and this isn’t always easy in such a western society.

It absolutely amazes me how many people don’t realise that there is still so much casual racism being thrown about in today’s society. I regularly get asked if my parents are OK with me dating people who aren’t Indian. I have a friend who is Iranian, she gets asked why she doesn’t wear a headscarf. People judge ALL. THE. TIME. without even realising it, making sweeping statements about cultures that they have very little understanding of.

It is fine to have little understanding of a culture that you don’t belong to. There can never be the expectation to fully understand the cultural backgrounds of everyone whose life you encounter. However, it is not too much to ask for people to be open minded or to keep judgements to yourself if it could be offensive in any way.

Mental health in young people is an issue. It’s one of the hottest topics to chat about, and in this day and age I think we even call the topic “trending”. Yet, people just don’t seem to make the link between cultural ignorance and mental wellbeing and I find this baffling. Of course it is going to affect someone negatively if you’re chatting ignorantly about their culture. Of course it is going to impact on someone’s well-being if you’re asking pushy cultural questions just for the sake of it.

So here’s the part where people get confused. Racism isn’t always about intention. Yes, it’s disastrous when someone does actually have a racist intention to their comments, but in those circumstances the racism is clear (horrible, but clear). The point that I’m making here is about casual racism – ie. the comments that some people make without even the slightest idea that they might have dismissed an entire ethnic group in just a few words. There is a chain of events that happens, in my experience: an assumption of ethnicity, an assumption based on stereotypical knowledge of that ethnicity, the vocalisation of that assumption, and the other person having to correct or justify their culture to the person who doesn’t really know too much about what they just said. No, the person didn’t intend to offend me. But the fact is that I would quite like to start off with a blank slate, as opposed to what someone thinks they may already know about me because they studied a bit of Hinduism in school and saw the Om pendant around my neck.

Don’t shy away from a culture that you don’t know simply because it’s not familiar to you. If we’re going to live in a cohesive multicultural world, people are going to have to stop pretending that racial differences don’t exist anymore. They do exist, every day, for all those people who are living in countries or societies that are built on different norms.

This stretches much further than the issue of race, and I’m sure I’ll go into this again. For now, I’m simply asking that people double check their awareness. How conscious are you of what you say about other people? How conscious are you about making comments in forums that aren’t really a part of your own knowledge base? In many situations, awareness isn’t actually enough, but here, awareness is literally all that is needed to be able to incite change. So be aware, call out the friend or family member who’s being a bit ridiculous, don’t think that knowing one fact is the key to knowing all about a whole other culture, don’t think that knowing one person is the key to knowing all about a whole other culture. Culture is vast, and dismissing people’s cultural differences isn’t going to get us anywhere.

Long of the short of it is quite simply, check yourself. Say kind things. Be nice. Consider how you affect other people, because you do affect other people more than you realise.

Posted on Thursday, November 7, 2019
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Anjali Singh-Mitter | BA (Hons.), Dip. Hyp., Dip. CBT | GHR & GHSC, CNHC
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