Thursday, 21 February 2013

Am I a racist?

So when I was at school, I asked my friend if he was called a chink. Or I just called him a chink. Or some other variation of that, but I think I hazed the memory in my head Professor Slughorn style because after, my friend assured me that it was definitely not cool to call a Chinese person chink, and I was damn ashamed of myself.

It's always been at the back of my mind, to clarify why I'd been so ashamed, and also why I thought it was ok to say that to my friend in the first place. Firstly, I genuinely didn't know. I'd never ever spent an afternoon googling what was 'ok' and what was 'not ok' to say to various people. The thought of having a name for another human based on anything other than how they identify themselves to the world was a foreign concept. So whatever was said, was said partly out of ignorance, but I'd like to think it wasn't the kind of ignorance that creates more ignorance in spite of itself.

Secondly, why should it be offensive if I didn't mean it in an offensive way? I am a loud advocate of equal rights, niceness is priceless and no other person is worth less than I am, based on gender, race, sexuality, height, weight, hair colour. If I say something without the historical context behind it, it just becomes another word, doesn't it? This isn't true. Language and it's ever changing significance exists for us to communicate and progress. If language was stagnant, these words wouldn't be offensive to begin with. As a user of language, you're an advocate of whatever language you use, and if there is a meaning to a word you use, that negatively generalises an individual or a group of individuals, you're not just ignorant, you're a bully.

Fast forward from my bout of ignorant racism, and I'm in a taxi with the same friend, as a taxi driver tells us he doesn't think they should be broadcasting with such ferocity the murder of the British family killed in France, "because they weren't really British". I look across at my quite obviously English-speaking Chinese friend, and observe as he's basically told that because he doesn't have English lineage, that if he and his family were violently murdered, there is a a group of people of the mind set who doesn't think he's worthy of English newspapers, despite being born and spending majority of his life here.

If I hadn't had the good fortune of a friend who perhaps hadn't worked out the damage I was doing by throwing around these terms so didn't send unrelenting rage my way, my thinking might have been much different.

Ignorance of racist terms is a small excuse, and if you get caught out with it, have the good grace to educate yourself.

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