Friday, 2 March 2012

IN DISCUSSION: racism directed towards someone else expressed to you

We’re starting a new ‘in discussion’ style of post, publishing some of our thoughts on a topic that we’re talking about.


A few days ago on my way to work, I was waiting at a bus stop. A woman was complaining about buses (as people do) then about bus drivers, saying something along the lines of 'a lot of them are Asian and they're as common as muck.' She said some other things too. Of course then the bus came and two Indian men jumped up to offer their seats to her.

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a big deal (although it did lead me to fume along the 'them' and 'us' variety for a bit – not helped by the fact that I was listening to a Gil Scott-Heron album). The incident made me think of how often white people say something racist to me about someone else - in this case it was the same ethnicity as me (assuming she meant south Asian when she said Asian) but it also happens about others as well e.g. those African people, they're all drug dealers etc. I had someone a few weeks ago (white, middle class, privileged in other ways too man) tell me how wonderful colonialism was for everyone concerned and how all were working together for the 'common good' and we should go back to such a system. I just looked at him thinking, could you not realise that almost everyone in my grandparents' generation were freedom fighters, quite a few of whom spent time in British jails in India in the struggle for independence?

Every single time I wonder, how can they say this to ME? Are they just talking; they will speak to anyone in the vicinity and they don't notice the colour of my skin? Do they think I'm white - am I 'acting white'? Is this another use of their power and are they making the point of saying racist things to a black person? Thoughts?


My mother used to get this a lot from colleagues in 80s & 90s. They would happily confide their racism to her, a black woman, followed by, "I don't mean you Rachel, you're not like them". Utterly astonishing. I think it is the colonial mindset of dividing non-white races into categories of acceptability...sort of like house slave/field slave divisions.


I don't really get people saying racist things about other Caribbeans/Africans to me. I wonder why? I cannot imagine a white person in public saying to me 'all these drug dealing black people', 'all these stupid black people'. I really really really can't. Can't imagine it. I think that might be fear (of black people). I think maybe in the work place where they feel they are safe, they might (cf. Nicola's mum?) OR if they are on the tram in Croydon ;)

I get lots of homophobic statements that I don't always challenge, I think that is because people think that because I am African/Caribbean, I must be an ally in their prejudice, or something. I hate that. I'm not an ally in anyone's prejudice, don't make me complicit.


This is reassuring/disturbing to hear that this happens to other people too. I get this ALL the time and recently more and more as I’ve been doing some public facing work (totally not race related but people will always find a way to have a rant about what is on their mind apparently). I’m very obviously not white and comments are generally directed towards another race, but it does make me wonder. I believe the fact that I sound very English might have something to do with it, but that doesn't explain the irrationality of it.

I think it's partly to do with de-personalisation of 'the other' so when they actually speak to one of these 'others' the connection is not registered but then I also think it is to do with the fact that many people who consider themselves to be open minded and fair thinking do actually have some deep set racist opinions that they don't register as racist and offensive. This is often the case with younger people who say such things - they would be shocked if you pointed out how racist they were being.

Who knows? For whatever reason it is, I find that I really don't know how to react to such comments. On the one hand I am supposed to stay more or less detached for the job, but then even in non-work situation I generally bite my tongue for fear of winding up whoever and actually reinforcing their frustrations. Perhaps it's better they say it to me than to someone who agrees?


Hmm, I don't have personal experience, but in this political and social climate, I can't imagine (not saying it wouldn't happen) a white person saying to a Middle Eastern looking person 'oh, these Muslims driving the bus are all thick', so the offence and prejudice is so many fold here, I think.

Racists need to fear us? This kind of thinking reminds me of the Malcolm X type philosophy, it had its uses and was very powerful (though I know it needed MLK etc to work, they needed each other…)


When I lived in Bradford during my teens I got the same thing often about South Asian people, although the people talking about them wouldn't refer to them as that. Comments would go along the lines of 'I'm not being racist but those P**** are...' And like you Chaya I'd wonder of they couldn't SEE that I would not be okay with them trying to make me complicit in their racism. I agree with Nicola about this being a divide and rule strategy in which you're supposed to feel a sense of pride that you have been deemed 'a good little blackie'. This sort of racism works on the assumption that it can't be challenged because a) you have been allowed into the magic circle of what these sorts of white people think about some, if not all, black people. As though that was a massive secret to us! b) because when challenged it becomes political correctness gone mad cos 'I'm only saying what's obvious

I have also found that people think it's ok to say some really anti-Semitic stuff around 'Jews love money' and were surprised that I went as far as defending Jewish people. Apparently I'm only supposed to be bothered about gender and blackness. All other forms of oppression are closed to being against them!

Please do carry on the discussion in the comments below. Do you have any thoughts? Does this happen to you? What is your reaction?


  1. This has never happened to me (I don't think) but it is really interesting. I imaging the person expressing the racism view a)doesn't really see the person they are talking to as ethnic (or 'one of the good ones') and b)expects that the person listening doesn't identify as being like the person they are being reacism about!

    I guess to some extent it is a form of racist indoctrination, since the listener 'should' feel pleased that the speaker doesn't identify them as being like the person they are conplaining about; dear I say it a form of divide & conquer!

  2. I agree. Also I think it's a way of courting validation and expressing power, although the two might seem mutually exclusive! By asking a person of colour to agree with their prejudice about people of colour, a white person (or person placed above the responder on the colour 'hierarchy') is simultaneously looking for reassurance that their view is correct (because obviously it is if a person of that racial group agrees) and demonstrating their privilege/power in asserting their prejudice to the face of the oppressed. It's disingenuous, I think, because obviously the person with the privilege in this situation is not asking for an *honest* agreement, and would not enjoy a disagreement, but is only looking for the 'right' answer, thus further inscribing their power and the responder's oppression in the situation.

    A bit long-winded? Sorry, I got carried away. This is my first visit to your blog and I really liked the post :-)