Photos by Kaye Ford.
Today I wanted to delve further into a topic that I raised a month ago, and touch on the subject of internalised racism. I’m growing increasingly aware of how important it is that everybody plays their part in breaking down the established norms around racism and, more importantly, my own part in the system. Because yes, even minorities can be held accountable. Hear me out…
internalised racism; (n.) Internalised racism is defined as the internalisation by people of racist attitudes towards members of their own ethnic group, including themselves.
Internalised racism is a different ball game altogether. It’s an alchemy of ignorance and the way in which we’re conditioned to believe something is okay.
”Oh but so-and-so said this, which means I can, right?”
Well, no. Such ignorance is what has led us to the modern day, where racism continues to be rife. And, well, we’ve let it happen.
In recent years, I’ve become strong enough and educated enough to feel that I can defend myself against racism and call out less-than-appetising remarks. From that time a woman came up within an inch of my face and screamed that ‘your people are why I don’t have a job’ to hearing people mock Chinese ‘accents’ or the language in my vicinity, I have been known to turn around and say my piece. No, my people are not the reason that you have no job, in fact, did you know there is a huge inequality in employment dependant on race? And I can speak completely fluent, native English and Cantonese so please do not mock an entire race and language believing I’m underneath you and therefore unable to understand.
Let’s dial it round to the internalised racism topic.
The way in which I can best describe internalised racism is an inside joke. Mocking stereotypes within your own race, sometimes because ‘haha’ you live up to it! For example, every time that I mention ‘I eat all my food with chopsticks, lol so Asian’, I’m fuelling the fire for racism. It’s suppressing feeling offended when somebody uses an accent when talking ‘for comedic effect’, and it’s even things like not standing up for yourself when someone references ‘you’ll always get good nails from the Chinese’. A document published by Racial Equity Tools very eloquently described [the internalisation of racism] as ‘developing ideas, beliefs, actions and behaviours that support or collude with’ those racist behaviours.
To be frank, I’m done with being told that others’ thinly veiled ‘innocent’ remarks are not meant to be offensive. My feelings are not there to be ignored and if they’re caused by you, I’m going to call you out. I don’t care if ‘your other Asian friend’ has never been offended. Chances are, they’re very offended and don’t want to cause any trouble. And by constantly allowing these ethnic stereotypes and awful comments to continue, however true or untrue they may be, we limit the progression of equality. Thankfully the millennial wave of being ‘woke’ has done wonders for us all to call out distasteful remarks and I’m in awe daily of some of the progress that we’re making.
Some ways you can help to break down constructs around internalised racism:
- Actively calling people out for their inconsiderate language. Phrases like, ‘Do you mean my birthplace or my nationality?’ are helpful when asked ‘Where are you really from?’ without triggering any conflict, or ‘That’s an awful stereotype to keep bringing up, did you know…’ when a stereotype is mentioned. Offer up a personal anecdote.
- Ask your POC friends about their experiences and ask meaningful questions about how you could help the situation.
- Put yourself in their shoes. Would you like to be stereotyped just because of the colour of your skin?
- Be more aware. Often it’s ignorance that leads to internalised (or any) racism, so take this a cue to question people’s intentions and remember that it isn’t your place to decide whether or not something is offensive — it’s the subject’s.
Some further reading:
- Dating as An Asian Woman: The Things No One Talks About via The Everygirl
- Speaking Of Race…. Discussing Diversity & Racial Issues via Tape Parade
- An Open Letter to the Guy Who Didn’t Believe My Ethnicity via McSweeney’s