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Unmasking Subtle Racism

Subtle racism, also known as covert/implicit racism, refers to discriminatory attitudes, behaviours or actions that are less obvious and not easily identifiable compared to traditional forms of racism. Because subtle racism can be indirect, unintentional expressions of prejudice or unsconsiously expressed, they are often more challenging to recognise. Subtle racism can manifest in various ways, such as comments, actions or behaviours that subtly marginalise or demean individuals based on their race or ethnicity. Whether people might not be fully aware of their biases or actions or may even deny their racism when called out, subtle racism helps perpetuate discrimination and inequalities. Some examples of racially-based subtle racism are: Verbal: "Are you his nanny?" assuming that a person of colour is not a white child's parent; Action: a teacher not calling on students of colour; a server automatically serving white people first over people of colour; Racial profiling: stop-and-frisk policy meant to reduce crime but mostly targets people of colour Subtle racism is hard to detect at first glance unlike overt racism which is blatant and easily recognisable. Although subtle racism operates in a more covert manner, its effects may cause harm whether it was unintentional or not. Let's shed light into subtle racism, its impact on relationships and well-being, the challenge of recognition and how we can avoid being a subtle racist.

Kinds of Subtle Racism

  • Colorblindness or Microinvalidations - ignores the unique experiences of different racial groups. For instance, the "All Lives Matter" as a response to "Black Lives Matter" may mean well, but can be considered racist as "Black Lives Matter" do not mean only Black lives matter or that Black lives matter more. The BLM movement only asserts that Black lives matter too, to address historical and current events, and some institutions' tendency to not treat Black lives as mattering equally with White lives.

  • Stereotyping - assumes that someone's abilities, preferences, or behaviour are based on their race. For instance, assuming that an Asian woman is a mail-order bride, or a Mexican woman is a cleaning lady.

  • Tokenism - including a person of colour solely to demonstrate diversity. For instance, hiring a person of colour to comply with diversity even though the role is essentially insignificant.

  • Microaggressions - are small, everyday acts that communicate derogatory messages towards racial minorities, including: * backhanded compliments (e.g. "You're beautiful for a dark-skinned girl.") * Cultural appropriation - loving a part of a culture (like Hip Hop) but fail to speak out for or recognise its people's struggles, or dominant groups erasing origins of certain cultures and taking credit for something they did not create (e.g. Elvis regarded as a pioneer of rock and roll but failing to credit Sister Rosetta Tharpe as an earlier rock and roll artist who influenced Elvis and referred to as Godmother of rock and roll). * questioning someone's nationality or abilities. Saying, "You must be good at math" to someone with Asian descent or "I don't even see you as [insert race]".

Effects on Relationships and Wellbeing

Subtle racism can erode relationships and negatively impact mental health. Constant exposure to microaggressions can lead to feelings of invalidation, frustration and stress. Over time, these experiences can strain personal and professional connections, contribute to a sense of isolation and introduce an atmosphere of negativity and even hostility in personal relationships, the workplace and community groups.

How Do We Preserve Wellbeing and Avoid Being Subtle Racists

Self-education - recognise and acknowledge your own biases and actively seek to educate yourself and others about different cultures and experiences. Active listening - strive to create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their experiences, and listen without being defensive or dismissive.

Empathy - simply try putting yourself in others' shoes and strive to understand the impact of your words and actions. Language matters - choose your words carefully, avoiding assumptions or stereotypes.

Speak up - if you witness subtle racism, address it respectfully to help raise awareness. Subtle racism is a pervasive issue that demands our attention. By shedding light on its existence, acknowledging its impact, and taking proactive steps to prevent it, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society. Remember that change begins with each individual's commitment to unlearn biases and treat all individuals with respect, regardless of their background.


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