What is racism? Are you a racist? Can black people be racist to white people?

Let me ask you these 3 very relevant, thought provoking and somewhat daunting questions.

If I asked you ‘what is racism’? What would be your reply? Well a reasonable reply would be discrimination on the grounds of skin colour and other physiologically inherited aspects along with, geographical location and ethnicity. To be honest a few months ago I would have easily agreed with you, with no dispute and most dictionaries would do the same.

‘Are you a racist?’, this one is daunting I know, you’re probably trying to recall times when you’ve been liberal, tolerant and understanding of other cultures and “races”. This is a hard one to answer as when we think of a racist, our minds eye conjures up images, leaders, members of the English Defence League, Britain First (far right ‘political’ parties), the KKK and *cough* the American Police Forces *cough*.

Last question, ‘can a black person be racist to a white person?’ I’m addressing the topic of reverse racism here. There will be mixed views on this I bet, some will disagree and say that racism is exclusive to people of colour, while some white people would claim that they have had racist comments and remarks thrown at them.

I will pose these 3 questions to you again at the end of the article.

Storytime — it’s a friend’s house party in mid-October, I’m looking to unwind and chill out, maybe drink a little but mainly to socialise.

I stumble into conversation with a girl from the uni down the road and we begin to talk about different current topics at this party and up comes race (yeah I know not the right setting).

So she then asks me the same question I asked ‘what is racism?’, I reply the same as you would have above, and she laughs and says ‘wrong’, at this point I’m like:

Then I’m like:

I ask her why, and then she hits me up with this — the current definition of racism is wrong, intrigued I ask her to tell me more. The definition of racism is not to do with discrimination on the basis of the colour of someone’s skin. That is the definition for colourism.

Now here it comes — racism is actually discrimination against someone else in terms of skin colour, ethnicity, or geographical region with the backing of the system. Therefore you can’t be racist to someone who does not share the above attributes with you unless the system and government you live under has those same racist values ingrained in its foundations and practice. You following me?

So this answers our next question of can a black person be racist to a white person, taking the UK for example, the answer is no because the governmental and societal system in the UK does not have discrimination against white people ingrained in its foundations and practice. BUT a black person can discriminate against a white person on the basis of colour — this is colourism. Still following?

Now let’s delve into this a little deeper for those who keep up to date with the Israel-Palestine conflict. ‘Can an Israeli be racist towards a Palestinian and vice versa?’. Yes, an Israeli can be racist to a Palestinian in terms of ethnicity because they have a governmental and societal system backing them, whereas a Palestinian can’t be racist to an Israeli because they don’t have that same governmental and societal backing as Israel has illegally occupied Palestinian land since 1948. However a Palestinian can still discriminate against an Israeli on the grounds of ethnicity. You get me?

I went off and did my own research after thinking on all of this (something I encourage all of you to do when you read or hear anything!).

Now I didn’t forget our last question, ‘Are you a racist’? Still firmly shaking your head?

One last pitch — we’ve all heard of the autistic spectrum right? There is also a spectrum for anaemia, other illnesses and social/behavioural complications. Another one is the spectrum for depression and anxiety ranging from mild to severe.

Now can’t we apply this to racism? After much careful thought, I believe it is too simplistic to say you are either racist or you are not, it is too black and white. You have to ask yourself these hard questions.

Now I’m not pointing fingers, I think there is a spectrum for other types of oppression, discrimination and ignorance. I definitely couldn’t say that I didn’t place on the scale for misogyny even though I respect women and wholeheartedly encourage equality between men and women. However I would still have some misogynistic tendencies due to influences from the media, society and certain aspects of my culture.

The key is to recognise your faults and to minimise them. I am working on mine, as we should all be doing with our negative attributes. This is done through seeking knowledge and empathising with the struggle of others.

I think putting racism in this spectral context makes it less black and white, this outlook allows people to be honest with themselves. I have noticed that white people especially can often feel very uncomfortable talking on the subject of race, maybe this approach will open up more relaxed opportunities for dialogue and we can start addressing those elusive grey areas.

Now what are your answers to my questions and have they changed from before?

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