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Why Are White People Shocked When They Witness Racism?

We acknowledge its existence, so why the surprise?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadioon Pixels

“To be surprised at a racist incident is like being surprised at seeing the sunrise at dawn.”

A Grade 3 teacher walks into the staff room where four Black staff members are chatting. He comments “Oh, it’s dark in here.”

A colleague coaches Martial Arts to kids on evenings and weekends. In a casual conversation, he describes a group of Brown attendees as “typical immigrants who think they are better than everybody else,” whilst looking directly into my eyes. His facial expression saying, “but you know what I mean though. Right?”

A Brown-owned greengrocer’s store, located in a diverse neighbourhood, has a hygiene check as per business standards. The inspector turns up with four police cars in tow. When the police were quizzed as to why they were in attendance for such a rudimentary check, an officer replied, “because everyone feels safer when the police are around.”

“Inevitably, the episode will be logged into the already overflowing journal of incidents that we have had to endure, through no fault of our own.”

Photo by Ezekixl Akinnewu on Pexels

Acts of discrimination happen. They happen often. They happen everywhere.

Of course, some people wouldn’t agree, and they are unlikely to ever change their minds. However, the events of 2020 have made the existence of racism clearer to many, even to those with even the most severe of cataracts. On the whole, White people are (apparently) more conscious towards racism and its consequences.

So why are White people still shocked when they witness racist incidents? To be surprised at a racist incident is to be surprised at seeing the sun rise at dawn.

“Oh my gosh. I can’t believe that just happened”; “I am so shocked they said that”; “I would never have thought [insert name] was like that” are all standard, immediate reactions to overt incidents. I find the “I can’t believe this is happening in [insert year]” phrase incredibly irritating. As if the passing of time and the cessation of racism are inextricably linked. “They are a teacher. How can they say such a thing? They should be a role model.” When you remember those who murdered George Floyd (and countless others) were Police Officers employed to ‘Serve and Protect’, it’s not so far fetched, after all, is it?.

“Whether you are a perpetrator, bystander, activist or victim- everyone interacts with it, in some way shape or form.”

In contrast, the response of us victims couldn’t be more polarised. It’s more of a “here we go again” reaction, rather than an unexpected bolt from the blue. If you have been a victim of racism once, you likely have been a victim of racism a thousand times. And something that happens so frequently will fail to engender any feelings of surprise. Inevitably, the episode will be logged into the already-overflowing journal of incidents that we have had to endure, through no fault of our own.

Seemingly, many White people acknowledge that racism is currently active in the world, but assume that it’s something which occurs elsewhere, outside of their life. In other people’s workplaces, families and social circles. Not their own. It, therefore, absolves such individuals from any involvement of its presence. The feelings of shock and surprise are, thus, in some way, predictable. Apparently, very few acknowledge how closely associated they are with racism.

Whether you are a perpetrator, bystander, activist or victim- everyone interacts with it, in some way shape or form. We are all, therefore, affiliated to it.

All types of discrimination, including racism, are woven into the fabric of our society. We should therefore expect to see it frequently. We shouldn’t be shocked. Shock should be reserved for the times when we don’t see it. By proxy, racism affects each and every one of us. Hence, it is all our responsibility to be active in addressing it.

So go and address it. Go and address it today and always!

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

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