It is not enough to be against racism - we should all be doing
something about it. The New Internationalist offers a few tips
on how to challenge yourself – and the rest of society.
* Challenging yourself
To fight against racism you have to begin by looking at yourself. Here are some techniques that might help you.
Take two pieces of paper. On one of them write down the images of white people that come freely into your mind. On the other write down your images of black people.
Now try the test the other way round. Write down the skin colour of the person who is conjured up in your mind by the following words - mugger, beautiful. normal, savage.
These exercises should tell you a great deal about the racist images in your head.
We have grown up with these images - they are so much a part of the way we think that we can’t dispense with them just by abhorring racism in general. What we have to do is work to change the society that puts those images there in the first place.
Now test your awareness of anti-racist issues. Turn to the table (click here) of this issue. Get someone to read out a comment and see if you can say whether it would have been made by a genuine anti-racist, or by someone believing in either multiculturalism or assimilation. Better still. if you have access to a photocopier at work, make a copy of the table. Now cut up each comment into a separate piece and shuffle up the pile. Can you put the table back together again with each comment in its correct category?
* Challenging others
We should never let people get away with racist statements. But most examples that we encounter are not of the blatant avowedly prejudiced kind. They come instead from the mouths of people who would never consider themselves to be racist. Here are some typical comments - and a translation that might help you to put the anti-racist argument.
Translation: Black people should fit in and know their place. As long as they fill a servicing role they’re fine.
Comment: Even when serving, black people are not allowed to have a full range of character traits. If a white shopkeeper were cantankerous it would just be part of their character. But if an Indian were so it would be seen as part of their Indian-ness, or even as evidence against their community.
Translation: I don’t want racism coming too close to me. When there’s a chance that it might affect me and the people in my life I recognise that it is a serious problem. But I’m not going to do anything about it.
Comment: Children of ’mixed race’ face exactly the same racism as black children because society perceives any shade of brown skin as black. Why should white people only see the effects of racism as tragic when the child has some white blood?
Translation: Black people don’t have such a rough time that it justifies their standing up for themselves, fighting back and wanting radical changes to a system that I do quite well out of, thank you very much.
Comment: People of African origin are often called ‘negro by whites who assume that it is more polite than ‘black’. In fact it is just the Spanish word for black which has been corrupted by racist usage (e.g. into nigger’).
Translation: Black children can be taught about far-away places with their bright colours, exotic fruits and quaint customs. They can be taught anything you like as long as it doesn’t affect me.
Comment: Black children should also be taught about the economic exploitation of those ‘far-away places’ by the West both in the past and today. They need to understand racism much more urgently than they need to be told about their own culture by a white teacher.
* Challenging your workplace
Acknowledging your personal racism is only useful if you then set to work to change the institutions of which you are part.
One of the most important things you can do is to challenge your organisation’s approach to recruitment. Try and persuade your workplace to accept an equal opportunities policy. When appointing a new member of staff this would mean;
(a) Recognising the black contribution All Western countries are multi-racial now. So if your organisation does not include the black perspective it is not genuinely representative. This is one of the factors you should be considering alongside more conventional qualifications in assessing a candidate.
(b) Wording your ad Black people are encouraged to apply for posts if the ad shows that the organisation is committed to anti-racism. This is not only because it shows that their application will be taken seriously but also because it means the working atmosphere is less likely to be hostile.
(c) Placing your ad Your job should be advertised not only in prestigious established periodicals but also in those aimed specifically at the black community.
(d) Inviting black participation You should have at least one black person involved in both the shortlisting and interviewing processes. This may mean inviting someone from outside.
Bearing (a) in mind, now go ahead and appoint ‘the right person for the job’.
But ‘equality of opportunity’ too rarely results in ‘equality of outcome’. If you always end up appointing white people anyway your organisation may need to set itself targets. Setting quotas of black appointments is established government policy in the United States. But in other countries there is still debate going on within the black community as to whether or not ‘targetting’ is tokenistic.
* Challenging society
The most important challenge we can make is to the society that has fed us the images and set up the institutions - by taking political action.
One sign that people haven’t been taking racism seriously enough lies in the shortage of nationwide campaigns - against discriminatory immigration laws, for example. Most initiatives tend to be local campaigns raised within the black community against racist attacks - these do not receive enough white support.
The most important national group is the Campaign Against Racial Exploitation (CARE). This sprang up originally as an anti apartheid group opposing the Springbok tour. It now serves as an umbrella organisation for anti-racist groups and is the best place in which to seek information about local or state campaigns. CARE can be reached at P0 Box 51, Kensington Park. South Australia 5068. Tel; 08-332-6474. Bernie Clark. secretary of Aboriginal Affairs in the Commission for World Mission is currently setting up an Aboriginal and (Torres Strait) lslander Congress. He can be found on 08-296-041 6.
There are few statewide campaigns, but the British Columbia Organisation to Fight Racism is important. Started in counter the infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan from the US. it has managed to reduce the number of firebombings and attacks by organising locally. It offers legal support to people making complaints about racial attacks and is putting pressure on the Attorney-General to ban all racist groups. Address; Box 835. New Westminster. B.C. V3L 4Z8. Another effective campaign is that organised by the Ontario Federation of Labour. Contact Mutale Chanda. OFL Race Relations Co-ordinator. 15 Gervais Drive. Suite 202, Don Mills. Toronto. Ontario M3C 1 Y8. Tel; (41 6)441 -2731. Local action committees, like those in Toronto’s Riverdale and Parkdale areas, have also had some success in combatting racist attacks on the streets.
The biggest anti-racist campaigns of recent years were the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) and Rock Against Racism, which mobilised many people (especially the young) against the growing influence and provocation of fascist groups such as the National Front and the British Movement. The ANL can still be reached at P0 Box 82. London E2 9D5 (01-739-0914). But since the Tories came to power in 1979 (and started putting the ideas of the extreme right into legislative practice) there have been no comparable campaigns. Information about important local and national initiatives (e.g. against racist attacks) can be obtained from the Institute of Race Relations, 247-9 Pentonville Road, London N1 9NG. Tel; 01-837-0041.