Don't be a bystander to racism

9/20/20

By: Hina Haider

We, as a nation, have hid behind the illusion that racism is a relic of the past, rather than a reality in the present. Racism appears to be condemned by the masses, yet the spirit of racism is still widely present in our society. Covert racism can be seen through microaggressions, racial profiling, and insensitive jokes. Covert racism is often referred to as everyday racism, silent racism, or casual racism. Racism, stripped from its overt components, is still racism. 

Covert racism is hard to call out because people will claim plausible deniability. Claiming that their comment had no racial intentions while still perpetuating harmful stereotypes is no excuse. Being called a racist is pejorative, so people have adapted their behaviors to hide their true intentions. The backlash for racism, instead of opening their eyes and changing their mindset, has trained people to find different ways to express that behavior. 

 

What is covert racism?

Covert racism conveys racist attitudes or beliefs in an indirect manner. The sentiment might be expressed subconsciously by an individual, but the racist rhetoric remains. This behavior goes unnoticed by many people because it is indirect; however, this behavior in the workplace or at school can create a hostile environment for minorities. Covert racism can be seen in the media, making people believe that this is an acceptable social norm. 

Covert racism can be expressed in many ways, but the most common is through microaggressions. An article, Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life, highlights the themes of microaggressions:

“We have been able to identify nine categories of microaggressions with distinct themes: alien in one’s own land, ascription of intelligence, color blindness, criminality/assumption of criminal status, denial of individual racism, myth of meritocracy, pathologizing cultural values/ communication styles, second-class status, and environmental invalidation.”

The article illustrates numerous examples in order to better understand how racial microaggressions are expressed. When a person of color walks into a store and the clerk pays noticeably more attention, there is an assumption of criminal status. A person of color being told that they “speak very good English” reinforces the theme of being an alien in one’s own land. A popular movie with no diversity in their cast or a makeup brand without a wide shade range is an example of environmental invalidation that is commonplace in today’s society. Assuming someone is a criminal or foreign based on their skin color are examples of racial microaggressions.

 

Why is it important to call out?

Covert racism perpetuates stereotypes about minorities, many of which are negative. The undertone of “You’re so articulate” is the belief that people of color are not as educated as white people. The message behind “I have black friends, so I can’t be racist” is that friends of color can shield you from accountability. The suggestion behind “You only got admitted to fulfill a race quota” assumes that a person of color can’t have the same qualifications or intelligence as a white person. 

These stereotypes are not harmless. These derogatory and hostile comments are often dismissed as insignificant. People of color, or anyone who points out covert racism, will often hear “Stop being so sensitive” as a response to their concern. These comments will continue to be normalized unless called out. In response to these comments, point out why it can be insensitive to say and educate them on the matter. Casual racism thrives because people feel comfortable saying these comments and exhibiting this behavior. 

The dilemma is the “catch-22”  in calling out racial microaggressions. Many question whether they should call out this behavior in risk of offending. In addition, the article points out that many people of color question whether or not the comment they received was covert racism. The intention is always subtle making differentiating exponentially harder. Sometimes, a person is unaware that their behavior can be perceived as covert racism. Don’t minimize your feelings for the sake of others. Make an effort to call these comments or behavior out. 

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