8 Things You Wouldn’t Consider Racist That Actually Are
1. Mistaking the only people of color you know for one another
In small communities, where cultural and racial awareness is minimal, mistaking one black person for another might not be viewed as explicitly racist. However, this act is undeniably rooted in racism and portrays an individual’s inability to grasp the concept that not all people of color are alike. When you mistake me for another black woman on campus, you are essentially saying that, despite our individual attributes and extreme differences, because we are black-- we are the same. One aspect of racism that is often ignored by white people is the difference between racial identity/ethnic identity and individual identity. One’s racial identity is based on their physical attributes and how they fit into a specific demographic based on the color of their skin, hair type, eye color, etc. The ethnic identity of a person pertains to their background and what ethnic group they are apart of. Someone’s individual identity is comprised of not only their racial and ethnic identities but a plethora of other categories that they consider themselves a part of. When you mistake one person of color for another, you are stripping them of all other aspects of their social identity and strictly classifying them as a member of a larger group-- this overall generalization is a key player in existing racism.
2. Assuming someone’s race and confronting them accordingly
Assuming someone’s race is never a good way to judge how you should confront or speak to them. These assumptions are often based on common stereotypes from movies, TV shows, or books -- they often don’t hold true for most people that fit in whichever demographic you’ve subconsciously assigned them to. Other assumptions are often made from one’s limited knowledge of other cultures outside of those stereotyped in the media. When you decide to play this game of “Guess Their Race” you are, again, showcasing your lack of racial awareness and performing an act of racism. If you’re unsure of whether or not you’re using stereotypes to decide how you approach a person of color, think of these three questions:
- How much do you actually know about the race you’re assuming this person is?
- Is all your knowledge based on portrayals of their possible race in movies or the media?
- Is your first instinct to approach them the way you would approach their assigned media counterpart?
If you answered, “not that much”, “yes” and “yes”, your next step will probably be to act on instinct and it will undeniably be an act of racism.
3. “I grew up around black people, I should be able to say the N-Word”
Insisting that you, a non-black member of society, should be able to say the “N-Word” simply because you’ve been exposed to black people throughout your upbringing is both insensitive and can come off as offensive. You are expressing a lack of understanding of the word’s oppressive history and the many years spent transforming the word into a unifier within the black community. Whether or not you have black friends or grew up around black people does not make you an “honorary” black person and you will never be able to empathize with racial hardships faced by black people. If you or your ancestors have never been victimized by the original form of the word, you can not, nor should you be able to say the word, period.
4. Asking to touch a black person’s hair/touching a black person’s hair without permission
Although seemingly harmless, asking to touch a black person’s hair is a common racial microaggression. For many years, black hair has been classified as “nappy”, unkempt, unprofessional and even atypical. Throughout the years, black people have been denied job positions, suspended from schools, and deprived opportunities simply because of their hair. When you ask to touch a black person’s hair, you are disregarding the history behind black hair and turning them into props of fascination. Objectification of black bodies has existed for many years. Treating black hair as a foreign object, open for further probing and investigation is an extension of this race-driven objectification.Touching a black person’s hair without permission is completely offensive and considered a racial microaggression. In the black community, hair is sacred and a huge component of one’s racial identity. In black women especially, our hair represents a sense of empowerment. By touching their hair without explicit consent, you are:
- Disregarding personal boundaries
- Entitling yourself to her hair
- Ignoring her hair as a part of her racial identity
These actions are rooted in a lack of racial awareness and linked to racism despite your intentions when performing them.
5. “So, what are you?” or “Where are you really from?”
When you ask a person of color “So, what are you?” or “Where are you really from?” you are implying that they are either non-American, foreign, or a part of an ethnic group you are not familiar with. By expecting them to answer, you are deeming yourself entitled to their racial background and insinuating that you deserve to know where they are from. Although not explicitly racist, this action depicts a sense of racial insensitivity.
6.“You’re not like other black people”
Telling a black person that they are “not like other black people” is extremely offensive and unambiguously racist. This statement is often stated as a complement-- it is not. In this one phrase you have explicitly done all of the following:
- Implied the nature of all other black people as negative
- Given yourself authority to rank black people
- Used common stereotypes and limited knowledge surrounding black people in order to generalize the entire race
- Stripped the said individual of their blackness by separating them from all other black people
Essentially, you have asserted whatever privilege you have as a non-black member of society and have unquestionably insulted the said individual, as well as the entire black community.
7. Assuming your one black friend is the spokesperson for all black people
Not all black people are alike. Once you are able to understand this, you will understand that your one black friend is NOT the spokesperson for all black people. I cannot tell you whether or not ALL black people listen to rap music. Nor can I tell you whether or not all black people have rhythm. Why not? Because I am not ALL black people. The issue with making the assumption that one black person is competent enough to speak on the behalf of the entire black community is that you are once again, generalizing the entire black race. You are neglecting to understand that all black people are their own individuals, and although many of us may share similar hardships, struggles, and stories, we are not the same. This generalization (often a result of fabricated stereotypes) is an act of racism due to the perpetrator’s lack of racial awareness.
8.“There’s only one race, the human race.” or “I don’t see color.”
Saying that you “don’t see color” or claiming that there’s “only one race, the human race” is racially insensitive and can be deemed racist. By saying that you don’t see color, you are not addressing the issue of race in America, you are simply turning a blind eye to it. It is important that you “see color” and that you pay attention to, and push to further your understanding of other races and cultures. By neglecting to do so, you are basically telling people of color that their background and history does not matter; you are becoming a part of the problem, not the solution. Claiming that the human race is the only race is another way in which some people choose to avoid addressing the turmoil between the races and cultures that may struggle to coexist with one another. What many people refuse to understand is that a mutual understanding of another person’s race is the first step in being able to combat racism.