“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” – Abraham Joshua Heschel
I was sitting with a colleague at lunch today and we were talking about how certain spices can bind a dish together really well. The chef hadn’t really done that today, hence the topic. We agreed that curry in combination with pear is tasty as hell.
While having this intriguing conversation a local shop owner entered the restaurant and started talking with an employee. At the end he said something that made the entire section go quiet. He said: “You fucking wog!” and made a hasty exit.
My colleague explained that the shop owner had some kind of beef with the owner of the restaurant since a business deal went sour. I understood but found it odd that he’d resort to calling the guy a “wog”. Plus, I thought they both came from the middle east. Apparently one was italian. Not that it should matter but, screw MY racial sensitivity as well!
On the way home we were talking about Starbucks and how the CEO had some background in Sweden with Hammarplast. A guy sitting next to us joined in on the conversation and mentioned some other tidbits. I sensed a turn for the worse when he started complaining about how other companies had been sold or taken over by foreign groups.
Then the moment we’d been waiting for came. He uttered those magic words: “I’m not racist but…”.
Invariably any words that follow that sentence WILL be incredibly racist. Stating that “I’m not a racist but…” does not do anything to soften the blow. The only thing one can do is to take a deep breath and say: “Yes. Yes you are. Let’s hear what you’ve got to say juuust in case this is the ONE time during the course of human history that it is in fact NOT racist. Please, continue…”.
Then you hope against hope that the person says something truly enlightened and that everybody around stands up with pride and applaudes this most momentous occasion.
As if this wasn’t enough I also saw a tweet that stated: “We’re about twice as racist as we think we are”. Oh, crap.
I’m lucky enough to have had an upbringing where I was exposed to a lot of different ethnicities. The town I grew up in was basically a cultural melting pot. During the early 90’s there was a lot of racism. Well, there still is but it was a lot more open back then. Weird, since the Swedish people just voted a racist party into government. Kudos!
A lot of people grew up thinking that the reason the town was going down the crapper was because of immigration. If anything, immigration had helped the companies based there by supplying labor. My family were immigrants coming here in the 60’s and early 70’s. So, I had a slightly different take on the matter.
Being white did have its advantages. Still, whenever I spoke about my heritage I found that people would imitate how they thought we sounded (little known fact, broken Swedish is even FUNNIER than regular Swedish) and also asked about how much alcohol me and my parents drank. For breakfast.
I learned pretty early on that it’s better to just keep it on the DL. But whenever it came to racial divides on a larger scale being white was apparently better regardless of heritage. So, no, not much racism directed at me personally.
What did happen was that some of my white friends didn’t get why i’d hang out with the “urbans”. I also found out years later that people had called me their “Token White Guy”. I’ll take it as a compliment. Like when mom says i’m “special”.
I do realize that i’ve had certain privileges and opportunities handed to me solely based on the color of my skin. I don’t think I would’ve gotten them if I had a different complexion. It does make me a little sad thinking that I could’ve been just as pleasant a person and still have had doors shut in my face instead of being greeted warmly. Now atleast I know that if white people dislike me it’s because of the content of my character!
Well, this rant has gone on for quite long enough. The one thing I really haven’t faced is the amount of racism that’s inside me. Once again, i’m lucky enough to meet people in environments where it feels like we’re really equals. We’re there to make the world better with our art and creativity.
That’s also a really safe bubble to live in, it doesn’t really help us to connect with the struggles people have to face each day when it comes to this types of issues. Understanding other people is what enables us to do our craft better.
We should really be asking ourselves how we could help make a difference here. Maybe that’s good enough for a first step?
Well, how’s that for a coincidence? Today’s recommended TED-talk!
Jane Elliott – How Do You Identify Racism?
Jane Elliott – How Racist Are You?