Confronting Indirect Racism
Racism, or the belief that one race is superior to other races, can take many forms. Direct racism occurs when something obvious and blatant is said or done, while indirect racism occurs when something subtle or covert occurs. This "hidden nature" makes indirect racism very hard to identify some times, and even harder to challenge. Refusal to engage, benign ignorance, jokes and banter and imitations and mockery are all be types of indirect racism, but all can and should be challenged just as long as you remain safe while doing so.
Confronting Indirect Racism: Refusal to EngageRefusal to engage is a type of indirect racism in which others treat an individual of a certain race as an object rather than an individual. This may mean staring at the person, making comments to each other about the person, remaining silent around the person, looking past or through the person or otherwise engaging in behaviours that devalue the person. These behaviours are often calculated to make the individual feel like, at the very least, an outsider. Challenging such instances of refusal to engage can be as easy as introducing yourself and forcing a conversation or otherwise drawing attention to the unacceptable behaviours. If these tactics do not help then ignoring the behaviours and joining another group for small talk might be an easier way to get through an event.
Confronting Indirect Racism: Benign Ignorance"Benign ignorance" is a term that can be applied to behaviours others believe to be helpful or complimentary but do not understand are actually hurtful and degrading. Usually such behaviours or comments are well-intentioned, and the person responsible may even believe that they are paying someone a compliment, but because their words and actions are predicated on stereotypes or prejudice this is not actually the case. When you are faced with an example of benign ignorance, don't be afraid to let the other person know why his or her assumptions make you uncomfortable. Simply saying something like "Thank you, but I believe my abilities are due to my studies and talents rather than my race" is a polite way to confront the issue but keep the conversation as cordial as possible at the same time.
Confronting Indirect Racism: Jokes and BanterJokes and banter can be a hard form of indirect racism to challenge because those involved tend to claim "But I was just joking!" or "It was just a bit of fun!" Use this excuse to let the perpetrators know why you didn't find something funny, or why it wasn't fun for you to have to listen to their thoughtless words. Of course, this tactic works best if you were not joining in the jokes and banter at any point and it may be that you need to be willing to agree to disagree on the actual meaning of a joke. If nothing else, strive to get everyone involved to agree to avoid racist jokes and banter in the future even if you can't get them to understand why you haven't found their previous words and behaviours all that amusing.
Confronting Indirect Racism: Imitations and MockeryMuch like jokes and banter, imitations and outright mockery are often defended as just a bit of fun. Even when someone points out that imitating an accent or mannerism, particularly attributing stereotypical characteristics to someone who does not show them him or herself, might be hurtful, those engaged in this behaviour often defend themselves by saying that they didn't mean anything by it or by countering that the person who was offended was just overly sensitive. These excuses can be deflected by letting people know that even if they didn't mean anything by it, whether they think you are too sensitive or not, you were still hurt. You may ultimately feel that it's unfair for you to have to take some responsibility for your honest opinion, but by keeping the focus on how you are feeling you might be able to have a better discussion about the impact of their behaviour.
Indirect racism can be hard to challenge because those who engage in it may not even be aware of what they are doing. Refusal to engage, benign ignorance, jokes and banter and imitations and mockery are all forms of indirect racism that can and should be confronted.