I believe that no matter what race or culture you are, you have been a victim of racism in one form or another, whether or not you realize it…or perhaps, just perhaps, you’ve been the one who has been racist against someone else and you don’t even realize it. That’s what I mean by accidental racism….
That’s what happened to me just the other day – I was a victim of what I believe (or would like to believe) was accidental racism…the type that sort of sits in your mind going “did I just imagine that or was it real? Was I in a terribly bad mood that day and maybe have misconstrued what the person was trying to say?”
It made me numb at first, then livid, then annoyed and snappy (sorry Luv Luv) and then introspective. Was it racism? When else have I experienced racism in my life? Is racism still alive, hidden but sneakily present? That’s when I realized that I could identify at least one incident of racism at every stage of my life, and that I believe, yes, racism is still alive, but very often it is accidental.
When I was a little girl, my parents chose a private primary school (in Trinidad) for me. I had no clue what racism really was back then, and unbeknownst to me, this school was known to be the “white people school”. As you have seen in my photos, I am not of caucasian descent. As I’ve grown up, yes, the truth is that the school did have a high percentage of caucasian children, but at the time, I did not know one way or another. I grew up in a mixed race household and, for the most part, there was no incidents of racism within my home. At school, however, there were. There were a couple of children who I simply thought were bullies – but in retrospect, I realize that they “bullied” me because I was not part of their clique, and perhaps, a different colour to them. I can immediately think of three incidents, which I won’t get into, that were perfect examples of racism – possibly accidental, and possibly learnt from their parents.
At the same time, I recently had the opportunity to start a relationship with the sister of one of those children and avoided it because of hidden (and ridiculous at this age) hurt from one of those incidents. That’s when I realized one incident of racism affects you for life, and very often reverses itself at some point in time. So yes, I’m guilty of reverse racism in this case, and have let it affect me. I had wanted to interview the person who came up with and marketed an amazing tapioca gluten-free flour in Trinidad, and it happened to be this lady. As soon as I found out who it was, I gave up on the interview, without even trying.
In high school, the fact that I went to a “white” school was not ignored by my non-white classmates. I was shunned by many of them throughout high school because of that fact. Again, racism at its finest…I believe that these classmates had either been victims of racism at some point, early in their lives, or had been taught racism by their parents (who would have been victims at some point) and just carried it on, shunning those that they believed were racist/elitist thus bringing reverse racism into play. Or perhaps, the racism just goes both ways and because I went to school with “white” people in a “non-white” country, I alienated myself from the general populace in their minds. It became that bad that, to prove myself, I really hurt one of my “white” friends from primary school when he walked into my school – just to fit in. That relationship was broken (and is broken in my mind), and I immediately recoiled at my own behavior and to this day, I regret it.
When I went to boarding school in Toronto, I was in a bit of culture shock. I was very protected as a child and a teenager and was “released” into the world, as such…yet still protected in the boarding school to an extent. I was homesick – very, very homesick, and I found a Canadian of South Asian descent in my class that I believed I could easily be friends with – mainly because I was used to being treated well by those of South Asian descent, after all – half of my family was of that type of ancestry and I felt comfortable and felt that I fit into that niche. I confided in her that I “hated Canada and wish I wasn’t here”. (Again, I stress – I was homesick, it was the first time I was on my own – I don’t really hate Canada now, or then…I was just craving the familiar). That’s when the Canadian of South Asian descent turned to me with scorn and stated “then go home , no one needs you here” and walked off. I was stunned and confused and took it to mean that she was a b*tch….but in retrospect I realize that we were just from different backgrounds, and that perhaps, in her mind, it was a case of racism/culturism….and now, in my mind, I realize that something so innocently said could be misconstrued by others to be accidental racism….when really, I just wanted to express how depressed and lonely I was, at the time. I have to say though, that that incident kept me from identifying with many of the “day school” Caucasian Canadians ….in my own version of reverse racism as such I guess…
That event led me to being wary of what I said and who I identified with – and through my University years I was not sure who to identify with. I had two very good South Asian friends in my first attempt at University, who, at one point ended up being my roommates, who tried to introduce me into their South Asian cliques and clubs. Most people were accepting, but I did overhear a conversation that my Sikh roommate got “trapped” into after bringing me into a bhangra club with a Sikh gentleman. He was admonishing her and told her, in so many words, that I was “not their kind”. I got up, interrupted and told my roomie that I was going home and left. There was no reason that she should suffer for my failure to identify with her culture. At least, so I thought for years until I finally realized (more than a decade later and only because I met a group of amazing South Asian women who helped me through it) that it was his problem, not mine.
At the same time, I had this huge crush on my neighbour in res. He was the cutest, kindest guy – and he was of Asian descent (not South Asian …he was Asian..of Chinese descent. This is a little difficult to keep track of what each country calls what….*sigh* he was of Chinese descent). We were in my room chatting one night (don’t worry my roommate was there and the door was open, Mother, it was completely innocent), and he fell asleep with his head on my lap. Man was that tempting. I was stroking his hair and completely head over heels. He was in Mechanical Engineering and was very smart, handsome and a complete gentleman. I believe that he sorta liked me a little too (I still believe that – not sure if I’m holding onto an old pipe dream). I never did anything because he was Asian and from my experience in Canada, I was not “Asian” enough. It hurt immensely when he dressed up and went to events with beautiful Asian girls, but I never said anything to anyone other than my roomie (who btw is a lovely caucasian lady who happened to grow up in Jamaica – and yes she is still one of my besties) who kept encouraging me to tell him. Why didn’t I? Because I turned the racism on myself and immediately thought that I was not good enough for him because of my skin colour and background.
That brings me pretty much to the present day – and the “incident” that occurred to me a few days ago that prompted this entire post. I was chatting with the sister of a good friend who both happen to be visibly of Caucasian descent but grew up in Trinidad (I say visibly because under the skin they are mixed up with lots of things as Trinidadians often happen to be). She, unlike her brother, has embraced the Caucasian “culture” in Trinidad and has married into it. She was complaining that she was accepted into a Masters program, here in England, but that her husband’s boss, who happens to be in Houston, Texas was not letting him keep his job while moving to England. The boss was suggesting that the family move to Houston and that she could do her Masters in Houston (no I don’t actually know what the program details are). She said it did not sound like a plan to her.
Now, this lady has complained that they are not happy in Trinidad for years now because of the recent political and economical situation there – which I understand – it is not easy to live there right now, but at the same time, Trinidadians have to realize that their problems will not be solved just by moving out of the country.
Sorry I digress.
So she has complained to me before, but this time she was saying that she was more educated than her husband – she holds a degree – he doesn’t. He got into the he got into the “oil field in the time when skin colour guaranteed you a top spot in Trinidad oil fields. now that time is long gone and he has a lot of experience but that wont stand in an international market“…she went on to, in my mind, say how they were a middle class, white family and could not get very far in today’s market unless you had education and that it was a shame. In my mind, (and notice I am saying in my mind), I was insulted because it made me feel as if she were saying that Trinidad (and the international market as a whole) should go back to the days when skin colour would get you further in life if you were Caucasian. And I immediately took offence and was reminded (by the rest of the conversation) that sarcasm really, truly does not come across in the written word (a mistake that I often seem to forget…but at the same time led to me meeting the Luv Luv IRL).
A pure case of what I would like to believe was accidental racism.
I have to say that she probably slept really well the last few nights because she has not realized the implication of that conversation on me, nor on my bloggy friends who I vented to and who, in turn got upset even though they are as white as Canadians can be.
Then I thought about my situation today, here, in England, where I believe racism has taken a turn and comes from the other side. As we know, a certain part of England has become “brown” – with high levels of South Asian immigrants who have settled here over the decades, you find more curry and balti houses than fish and chips or burgers (*cough cough* Huddersfield *cough cough*). Now, I haven’t experienced racism here (yet), except for one possible person, who I’m not 100% sure is avoiding me because of racism or because of difference in opinion, social standing and education. That’s a whole other ball game that would keep us here forever.
When I first came to Huddersfield, we were walking to Sainsbury’s and this Caucasian’s man’s grocery bag split. The contents were strewn all over the sidewalk and, on the windy day, the bag went floating down the road. I ran to fetch the bag, the man scooped up his groceries and the Luv Luv ran after me, grabbed me by the arm and scolded me saying that he didn’t want the bag now that I’ve touched it. The man continued on walking with his groceries in his hands, and I realized the bag had split too much to be able to hold them…but I was confused by the Luv Luv’s comments.
You see, the Luv Luv, since he has come here has identified with the South Asians more than anyone else. Many of his friends are “imported Pakistanis” whose families have either moved here, or who have come into the country to study…and they do not mix with the Caucasians at all and question anyone who does. Unbeknownst to me, they told my Luv Luv that the English Caucasians consider the “Pakis” to be dirty – and therefore will not touch anything that one has touched. I’m not a “Paki” though I said….and the Luv Luv informed me that it did not matter – once I was not white, I was.
My experience has been completely different – except for that one lady I mentioned above, I have identified and gotten close to actual Caucasian English people more than anyone else. There is no reason for this, other than the fact that those are who I’ve met – I’m not working and I meet people in the shops, online and through my MeetUp group….and those of South Asian descent who happen to be in shops tend to be Islamic men who do not speak to me directly unless they absolutely have to. I live in the area in Britain where there is possibly the highest South Asian community in the entire country, yet I can honestly say that I do not know a single one of them after four months. I know quite a few Caucasian Brits though, and they have all been lovely to me (except for that one lady who I’m still trying to figure out and may just chalk it up to our “blood don’t take each other”).
So where is racism these days? What’s the answer? I have absolutely no clue because it is all very confusing to me and is a very, very sore subject with me – but I’m very interested to see if this is all something that I’ve focused on and that everyone else is oblivious about (because sometimes, it really feels like that!).
Have you experienced racism in any of its forms? Have you been the victim or the accidental racist? Do you believe racism is alive and well or do you believe this is all a bunch of hoo ha? I would love to hear your experiences.