Can racism ever be casual?

A still from Fusion Comedy’s video ‘How microagressions are like mosquito bites’? (Fusion Comedy)

In Australia, most of us have heard of the phrase ‘casual racism’. According to the Human Rights Commission it refers to ‘conduct involving negative stereotypes or prejudices about people on the basis of race, colour or ethnicity’ – which sounds a lot like racism, and doesn’t seem particularly casual either, at least not from the perspective of those on the receiving end.

The website goes on to explain that it is different from other forms of racism because ‘some associate racism with a belief in racial superiority or deliberate acts of discrimination. Casual racism concerns not so much a belief in the superiority of races but negative prejudice or stereotypes concerning race.’

It seems like a fine line distinction, and one that doesn’t necessarily negate the possibility of an underlying belief of ‘racial superiority’, or it being a ‘deliberate act’. I always assumed it was a term that was used to make it more palatable to white people, because white fragility.

I always assumed that was why people needed to create the term ‘white privilege’, because white people were no longer comfortable with the connotations of the phrase ‘white power’ anymore, and since white people have the power in society, other terms which make discussing racism less confronting for them need to be created.

Judging by how over the top the reaction of many white people to the phrase ‘white privilege’ is though, I have long suspected that the real issue is not with the terms ‘power’ or ‘privilege’, or ‘fragility’ but with the phrase ‘white’.

Common examples of ‘casual racism’ include the classics ‘You’re so pretty… for an Aboriginal’, or basically any ‘compliment’ that needs to be racially qualified; ‘But where do you really come from?’, ‘But you’re one of the good ones!’ and many more. It also includes loaded assumptions, challenges and assertions on people’s identity.

Kiyun Kim, Racial Microaggressions

Image: Kiyun Kim, Racial Microaggressions

There have been plenty of campaigns about this, including Racial Microaggressions, where Fordham University art student Kiyun Kim asked her friends to hold up posters describing some such comment they’ve received in their lives.

White people have long enjoyed not needing to be described as ‘white’ in countries they have come to be the majority within.

White people never have to deal with the follow up question ‘but where are you *really* from?’ in Australia, as though white people actually come from here anymore than any other non-Aboriginal group of people who have come to call Australia home in the last 200 years or so.

White people are also the only group who are not expected to use an adjective to describe their Australian-ness, and are often legitimately surprised and confused when pushed on this point ‘I’m just an Australian!’. The rest of us are used to using our qualifiers – ‘Aboriginal Australian’, Chinese Australian’, ‘or Lebanese Australian’.

Many white people seem to recognise this in some basic form, and try to bestow this racial invisibility on others by the blatantly inaccurate statement ‘I don’t see race!’. The ‘colour blind’ theory, which they believe is the answer to addressing racism in Australia despite it being literally impossible is ignoring the ongoing realities of race and racism in Australia and the rest of the world.

White people have long enjoyed not needing to be described as ‘white’ in countries they have come to be the majority within.

But I digress… we were talking about ‘casual racism’. Do you know what many other people call it in other countries? ‘Racial Microaggressions’.

I can see why such a term would be hard to get off the ground in a place like Australia, where we have regressed so far in our understanding of race and racism that white politicians can now argue that giving an Acknowledgement of Country is racist because it singles out one specific group. Seriously.

You might wonder why I am being so mean to white people right now (because white fragility), but I assure you my motivations are purely altruistic. The reason I have opened this can of worms is because I saw this really cool animation from a website called Fusion that explains ‘How microaggressions are like mosquito bites’ and I wanted to share with you all for your entertainment and/or enlightenment but realised that it might not resonate as well with Australian audiences as we have been taught to call it ‘causal racism’, so here we are.

So, anyway… I hoped you enjoyed that, and I hope this helps us to stop refer to it as ‘casual racism’ because as you just saw, getting a million bites a day might be casual for the individual mozzies, but it sure as hell doesn’t feel casual to get bitten by them a million times a day, and they can actually be quite dangerous.

NB: if you really don’t see colour, please consult your optometrist.

Also, reverse racism doesn’t exist. *smokebomb*

Article first published on NITV 7 February 2017

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