I met a racist recently and I don’t like how I reacted.

How would you respond if someone said that black and Arab peoples are a “lower civilisation”?

Media may make us believe that discrimination is widespread.

Some say that social media’s over-emphasis on negative or aggressive perceptions of race and ethnicity may give credence to others who perhaps previously held somewhat subconscious notions of intolerance and bigotry — or that extremist sentiment is being buoyed by the online conflation of racist incidents, regardless of the lens through which they are viewed.

I’m sceptical. I believe in the ability of humans to make informed decisions: to understand that an opinion is something shaped by a line of independent thought, not just something licked off a fucking tweet or two.

The path for radicalisation has particular roots in the online communities in which they have forged their identities.

When I met this racist, I got angry. My hands and forearms shook with rage and fear and sadness.

He is a white, cisgender, Bulgarian-Italian male, not much more than around 30 years of age. When my two female friends went to the bathroom together, he decided to confide in me.

This was a Thursday night in Brussels’ European/EU quarter. A scene that is — let’s be honest — not as ethnically diverse as it probably should be. Sure, you’ll hear lots of different languages and various cultures are represented but it is still a somewhat homogeneous, middle+ class crew.

Tell me if you think I’m wrong, please, but the fact is he told me that this is precisely why he regularly chooses to show up here, on his own: for “the white women”.

“The problem with the city centre” he flatly stated, was that it is “full of blacks and Arabs”. I thought that this guy, who I just met, was making some sort of inappropriate joke, trying to awkwardly befriend me having latched onto my two female friends not long before I bumped into them that evening.

But no. No joke. He went on…

If he “tried” ten black woman, he calculated, he would only stand a chance with two. White women however? Well, he fancied his chances a bit better because they are supposedly part of a “higher civilisation”.

There’s a ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ civilisation, he explained. “Blacks, Arabs and South Americans” fall into the ‘lower’ civilisation category. He claimed that theses peoples are not as advanced because of their genetic makeup and the kinds of communities they build together.

Look, I’m not going to give more space to the bile he spewed. The point of this story is that, once it became clear that this man was quite simply a racist, I told him to fuck off.

I told him to fuck off several times.

Each time I told him to fuck off I got louder and more aggressive.

“I don’t want you around me. Fuck. Off.

His eyes and his tone became more intense but, admittedly, he did not match my level of aggression. Instead he pressed, professing some skewed notion of Christianity to validate his thinking.

I shook. I literally saw myself shaking. I was so shocked that someone who looked like me and seemed like an educated individual could not only say these things but believe such things… and with such dispassion!

We choose to believe what we believe.

Yet, I apologised to him. I apologised for raising my voice and reacting in an aggressive manner. I actually apologised to him twice to make sure he heard.

I don’t want to be that guy. What this world needs is real action, not reaction.

I listened to him a while longer, trying to understand where he was coming from. He spoke of notions of ‘dignity’ and posited baseless theories of how these ‘lower civilisations’ were more susceptible to corruption. Then, when my friends came back, I asked them to leave with me. I had had enough.

My conclusion is that this is simply a sad man. His view of the world comes from a place of deep insecurity. And I feel bad for him.

I feel bad for him because he is a weak human. Racism is something learned and we play an active role in the things we learn: we choose to believe what we believe. I feel bad for him because he has chosen to fear otherness.

Shouting at someone like this won’t make things better. To be honest, I don’t really know what will. But what I do know is that I don’t like how I reacted. So I’ll try my best not to let that happen again.

NOTE: I am aware that doing nothing doesn’t help. But what should be done in this sort of situation? If you have any suggestions, please let me know

Social media can sometimes soften some hardened attitudes however :-)