‘Black people won’t hurt you.’
One evening a few months ago I was walking my usual route from my flat in Harrow (I tell you where it was because I don’t live there anymore) to the tube station. Normally about halfway through my walk down one road I cross to the other since I have to be on that side anyway; it became a habit, when it was clear I crossed. I started walking down one road and saw a person walking in my direction in front of me. In my conscious reasoning I figured I should cross the road since I do it anyway and that way I won’t get the whole awkward ‘which side should I go to when we cross paths’ moment. Therefore I proceeded to cross the street and go on my way, since the road was clear.
Then I heard it.
‘Black people won’t hurt you!’
‘What did I do wrong?’ I thought. ‘Asshole!’ I thought. How dare he. He didn’t know me. He didn’t know why I crossed the road. He just assumed something horrible about me: that I, as a mixed race woman who passes for white, am a racist. I was livid. I thought about it for most of the ride to my partner’s place.
Now, months later, I caught myself thinking about that incident. Was my crossing of the street really just about my usual convenience logic, or was there something subconscious going on? To this day I’m not sure. I would say what I did wasn’t racist, because I did that sort of thing all the time. I always cross the road a bit down it, whether or not there is someone approaching me. However, being raised in an inherently racist society, I no longer want to dismiss the idea that I have subconscious prejudices ingrained in me since birth. I start seeing things about myself after the fact. I sit down in a crowded train, and realise there were many seats near a Black man close by where I wouldn’t have been crowded. Is this just because I didn’t see it (I am quite bad at spotting things) or because my subconscious veered me away from sitting near him?
I am now constantly thinking about how my actions affect people around me. Whether or not my road-crossing incident was racist, the person interpreted it that way. That person felt like I was being racist against him. If he thought that enough to call me out on it in the middle of the street (whether or not I’m guilty of it), I’m left to wonder how many times he’s experienced that same thing. How fed up he is at people avoiding him, consciously or subconsciously. And then I realise how racist this world is.
But then I come to a weird dilemma: should I make deliberate efforts to sit near people of ethnic minorities simply because they are ethnic minorities, or should I just sit wherever I actually want to sit and acknowledge that some of my actions may or may not be influenced by deeply ingrained subconscious prejudices? How do I even figure out if my actions are prejudiced, and how do I change them if they are?
- Message To White Folks Who Call Me A Racist (curmilus.wordpress.com)
- I’m Not a Racist But … (blogcritics.org)
- What Makes You A Racist In Canada / Is It A Crime To be One / How Do We End It? (archemdis.wordpress.com)
- “Because… all Black people are n****s” (mosmalls.wordpress.com)