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Listen Up: Not So Casual Racism

Some late night thoughts from River Lin on “nice” racism and the importance of shutting your mouth once in a while. Illustration by Hope McConnell.

For me, the worst kind of racism isn't the passing comment telling me to go back to where I came from, or a joke about my slanted eyes, but the casual, covert racism of everyday life.

The sort of comments that are meant to be interpreted as compliments: The woman who praises my lack of a foreign accent; the co-worker who gushes about my "good English"; the lecturer who repeatedly asks if I can follow what she’s saying. They are just being nice, they expect me to smile and thank them.

On the other end of the spectrum are the people who think the answer to ending racism is its erasure; the stories and experiences of people of colour – all blanketed under the broad stroke of uniting in 'progress'.

A white friend once said to me in earnest, “when I look into people’s eyes, I don’t see race – I see an individual.” She truly believed that everything would be alright with the world if everyone simply saw things the way she did – nothing in her life had ever told her otherwise.

The problem I see with this way of thinking (which I admittedly struggled to articulate when she asked), is that in order to see the world with this rose-coloured vision, I would need to erase the very experiences of difference which make up who I am. But I don't have that option, that privilege, to pretend that the colour of my skin doesn't affect how others see me, because it does and probably always will.

Racism is hard to talk about. I get it. People are always quick to defend themselves from being branded a racist. But there are times when people need to just stop and listen.

I'm not trying to be hostile – far from it. But, in a world where our voices are constantly drowned out by the resounding chorus of white voices, I just want to feel like I'm being heard. Because when I struggle to talk about my perspective in the heat of the moment, it isn't because of a single experience of being silenced, but each and every one of them.

If I am to educate people, I need to first be heard.

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