Racist talk comes in many guises, write Hanneke Felten and Maurits Boote.
‘Those African sides may be physically strong but of course they have no strategy. They’re all over the place.’ These are the words, more or less, of a football pundit earlier this week. Replace the words ‘African side’ with ‘negroes’ and the comment would have led to a commotion on a level with the ‘Gordon-and-the-Chinese’ or ‘Black Pete controversies’. But in this instance: nothing. Hidden racism, how is it done?
Avoid ‘race’ talk
The first strategy is the one exemplified by the football commentator. Skillfully avoid any mention of race or skin colour. Use ‘culture’, ‘Muslims’, ‘Africans’ or simply ‘migrants’ instead. Now see if you can get away with saying exactly the same thing that was said a century ago about ‘negroes’, ‘Arabs’ or ‘foreigners’. We could call this one make-over racism.
Blame the victim
Should the person you are talking to catch on in spite of your attempts at disguising your nasty message, there’s always the ‘blaming the victim’ technique as a way out. The young Moroccans who aren’t invited to a job interview? Well, their attitude can’t be up to much. The technique works for other groups as well. Women denied equal pay for the same job surely don’t work as hard as the men. Gays who are being bullied out of their neighbourhoods were probably nasty neighbours. They only have themselves to blame.
You were having a laugh
And if that doesn’t do the trick you can say you were having a laugh. Take the group of ‘white’ pals watching a game. One of them calls a dark-skinned player a ‘monkey’ or makes ‘jungle noises’. Everybody laughs. A lone critical voice is silenced by cries of ’Don’t be such a bore, can’t you take a joke?’
What to do when you spot news about a business openly proclaiming it will not employ ‘negroes’? You would be hard put to deny racism, or would you? There’s a way out of this one too. You could say that the company must have had bad experiences employing ‘these people’. So why do it again? In this case judgement of the person isn’t based on his or her individual characteristics but on the prevalent prejudices regarding his or her ethnic background. And that is racism, whether you like it or not.
Many people think racism is something that used to happen. Something to do with Hitler and the slave trade. Something that happens in the United States or South Africa. As long as we don’t have signs on the buses telling black people to get in at the back it’s not so bad, is it?
How do we deal with this denial? It would be nice if we didn’t have to wait for the next red card from the Human Rights Committee or even the UN. We know what is happening so let’s put the ball on the penalty spot ourselves and score a goal for racial equality. Local councils, local organisations and individual citizens can all help. The city or village that scores the most goals wins the cup. But in the meantime we all win. Racism is for losers, after all.
Hanneke Felten & Maurits Boote work at Movisie
This article appeared earlier on Sociale Vraagstukken
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