‘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?


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9 responses to “‘Black people won’t hurt you.’”

  1. archemdis says :

    Hello only you can decide that question for yourself, but I would just be myself. You know the answer facing it could prove more difficult to admit it than to actually change the behavior, if indeed you believe that you are a racist.

    • Nicole says :

      Well I would say consciously I am not a racist, and I try to fight against racism in my daily life. I speak out specifically against racist language pretty often. I think at the same time because I grew up in the US and was exposed to inherently racist media (I once did a flip through of a women’s magazine, something like 10 out of the 200+ pages had any people of colour) for a long time without questioning it, there are still traces of racism in me.

      I wouldn’t say I am a racist because I know these are bad things and I try to work against them. But I would say most white people have at least slight racist tendencies that they can’t always blame themselves for, as long as they are trying to fix it.

      • archemdis says :

        You are not alone I think that we all have a little prejudice in us. I have said it in many a post that I have never met anyone without prejudice and I am 56 years on this planet. Fighting against letting it get the best of you is good, recognizing it when you see it and do it will help change things. These things are taught to us from the time we are born out of a sense of fear, a preconceived need to protect, or a bad experience of a family member’s. All we can do is try our best to be the best peoplewe can be and pass on a new way of looking and intereacting with others.

  2. socialkenny says :

    Wow-this is powerful.It’s kinda difficult for me to judge it also(as to an innate/subconscious fear of us/yourself or if it’s mere habitual.Wow this is a tough one.

  3. socialkenny says :

    But I can see why any black guy would be taken-aback by this.I’m the most racially tolerant and understanding guy one could ever meet.But I can see this having the potential to tick me off also

  4. archemdis says :

    Hello Kenny, Getting ticked off won’t ever solve the problem, Understanding where that fear comes from and why and trying to make peolpe understand who you really are may though. We are all victims of taught prejudice and what seems like being tolerant to us may not seem that tolerant to others. ” Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.

  5. angrylittlelion says :

    I like the bits of discussion going on here 🙂 Intolerance is definitely something that needs to be dealt with inside of each of us. I consider myself an incredibly tolerant person (maybe tolerant is too weak of a word, it almost conveys something begrudgingly done), and I’ve found that pointing out other people’s prejudices has helped me to recognise and eliminate my own. When you’re brought up from birth in inherently racist, sexist (etc.) societies, it takes work to acknowledge that prejudice and then to eradicate it.

    • archemdis says :

      Talk is always good. My wise Mom now dead told me, “Son anyone can hate, but it takes great power and wisdom to turn an enemy into a friend. If we fight our enemies the war continues until none of us are left. If we make a friend of an enemy the war is over and all of the suffering, heartache and stress that goes with it. Try to make friends out of enemies it is the only way you will find peace”. It took me a long time to stop encouraging and participating in the never ending war of racism and prejudice, but it is an achievable goal, but as you say it takes first looking at oneself in the mirror and making the change.

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