Casual Racism

When Mahj sent this submisison to us, Clare and I threw emails back and forth fiercely exclaiming, ‘OH MY GOD.’  ‘it’s too amazing’ and ‘I can’t believe we get to run this’… and I’m still completely in awe of the fact that we do.

This is an intensely personal piece of writing from the heavenly Mahj, it’s awkward and uncomfortable and beautifully written and asks questions that we shy away too often. It’s EXACTLY the kind of submission we dream of receiving here at AOW and yet the fact that it even has to be written is heartbreaking.

Mahj, we salute you and we stand with you.

Casual racism is such a gross phrase, no? Two little words that make my blood boil and my eyes go hazy through a red haze of rage. I don’t see how racism can be casual and therefore acceptable. Racism in any shape or form is wrong. End of. I don’t care for the varying degrees of it; in fact they make me a bit crazy. Because by saying there are degrees of racism, you are essentially saying that some forms are better than the other and you will never convince me that any form of racism is tolerable.

I’m not sure when I started to notice this sudden “trend” because I’m pretty sure I would’ve remembered the memo. But the more I look around and pay attention, the more I see it. On Facebook, Twitter, the way the media reports current events, its everywhere I look. And people are so casual about it; some don’t even try to hide it anymore. One of the most horrible and worrying things I’ve seen just this past week was via Moron Watch on Twitter where someone had screenshot someone on Facebook who was not only proud of his 4 year old son not liking Muslims, but he was actively encouraging him to call them “dirty brown people” and then boasting about it via his status.

Remember when The Hunger Games came out? And then remember the shit storm when some teenage girls decided to voice their disappointment on Twitter about the casting choices for certain characters? Here’s what they said:

“Why does Rue have to be black, not gonna lie, kinda ruined the movie.”

“Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the innocent blonde girl you picture”

“Call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad #ihatemyself”

 “sense[sp] when has Rue been a nigger”

Even more worrying was that these girls seemed awfully comfortable about the sharing their views on something as public as Twitter. All I could think at the time was, what would their parents say? Would they be angry and disappointed? Or do they share the same views and opinions as their children?

Not even during the Olympic Games this past summer were we spared from people’s idiotic views of the world. When Japan placed ahead of Team GB in the gymnastics, Team GB weren’t angry or bitter. They were extremely gracious and sportsmanlike and seemed pleased as punch with their bronze medals. But I guess it was more important to make the word “Japs” start trending on Twitter than to celebrate another medal for the home team.

I don’t see how there is ever a need to go there, to use a person’s race, colour or creed against them. And I’ve been a victim of racism myself. When I was younger, I used to be called a ‘Paki’ with startling regularity. I was bullied because of it, so naturally this lends to my somewhat low tolerance of it.

But who is to blame for this? The media has certainly played its part.  The Daily Mail is definitely not innocent. Not even Top Gear can be spared after an episode in which all 3 presenters made massively offensive comments about Mexicans when discussing a Mexican sports car.

I don’t know what I felt I would achieve by writing this. At first it was a way to vent my anger and frustration at the whole situation. But now? Now I just feel tired. Because there is no quick-fix solution to this problem. Nor can it even be fixed at all I think. People will always think what they think and believe what they believe. And friends, family, the media and the internet will help shape that.

Racism of any degree is still a massive problem and I don’t know how to fix it. But I wish I did.


Categories: Life, Politics and Feminism, Wise Women
35 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Becca
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s like saying ‘lets casually start murdering people and throwing them in dustbins’. Where does it end?

    I once had a babysitter who had an active hatred of the word ‘like’ as in ‘its just so…like….radical’. She used to say ‘either it is or it isn’t….it’s not like anything’

    The same goes for this. Just because other people say something, it doesn’t make it acceptable. It will never be acceptable. Society needs to nip this in the bud. And quick. Policy is defined by society. Obviously this is beneficial in ways (women should get the vote, 300 years later women get the vote etc). By permitting such attitudes, you are, in effect, starting a train of thought that might have serious repercussions. Do you know what I mean?

  2. Katielase
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I actually had a conversation about this recently with my best friend. He was saying that everyone excuses ‘casual’ racism in the older generation because “that’s how it was in their day”, and it’s bullshit, because they don’t live in “their day” anymore, they live now. It’s just about understandable if they make a mistake and say something that they don’t realise is offensive, it’s not okay for us to stand around and not at least try and let them know that it’s not okay to say those things anymore. Nothing will change until we start calling people out on racism and racist language, if we sit by and let it carry on, we are complicit.

    I think ‘casual’ racism is the worst kind, it’s racism without thinking, without caring, without malice or hatred, it’s just deep, ingrained prejudices and stereotypes, and it’s scarier for the way in which it has infiltrated so deeply into our collective social psyche. People need to be aware of it when it happens, and call it out. There is absolutely never any excuse for racism. People are people, you know?

    K x

    • Katie
      Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      I agree with you.

      Just a small question, when you refer to the older generation getting it wrong. My 88 year old grandma described her mixed race great granddaughter as a beautiful mulatto the other day. Nobody corrected her. She didn’t realise she’d said anything wrong. She’s also used the word Coloured to describe my cousin’s husband. She does genuinely like him, but is not up-to-date with political correctness. Should we be correcting her? We tend to excuse her, as being from another generation, and saying these things innocently.

      • Katielase
        Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        To be honest, I don’t know. I suppose it depends on how she’d be likely to respond. I have in the past not told my Grandpa he was using racist terms. Like in your case, he genuinely wasn’t racist, he was the most tolerant man, he simply didn’t realise his words were offensive. I wonder if I should have told him though, because perhaps he would have liked to know. He would have hated to think he was offending people inadvertently. I suspect it’s an individual case, but some people would want to know which words they should avoid in order not to cause offence, I guess my point was that it’s easy to ignore it, as it seems harmless, but after a while you almost get used to the words, and that’s worrying.

        K x

        • Katie
          Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

          I’ll bring it up, if it happens again. I don’t think she’s caused offence with these words, as everyone puts it down to her age, and that she means no harm.

      • Gemma C-S
        Posted November 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        I wouldn’t correct your gran –when we were in Cuba last year I was MORTIFIED when a Cuban woman said to me in Spanish that a friend had been looking for me and when I asked who, the woman said ‘A pretty mulatto girl.’ When I caught up with my friend, I said ‘M, you’re not going to believe this, I don’t even want to repeat the word she used about you.’ And M said ‘Mulatto? But that’s what I am! It’s not racist here.’ So I think the point is not the words we use, it’s what we mean when we say them. French and Spanish people, for example, would use the word Negro, which in English is fraught with connotations and undercurrents, just to say that a person was black. It’s worrying, really, that we feel the need to reference people’s race at all.

        • Posted November 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          I’ve never even heard that word?

  3. Cheri
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    I just find it hard to believe that in 2012, in a multi-cultural society that there are still people with racist views and prejudices. It just doesnt enter my head to be upset or offended by someone of a different race, colour or ethinicity, and I find it hard to comprehend how it bothers others. It’s sad, we are all God’s creations, were all human beings, were all the same.

    I think the main problem is the older generations, passing down their prejudices to the children and the grand children, and I’m not sure how we can fix that?

  4. Posted November 6, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Oh my. Thank you! This drives me nuts. So often I hear the “P” word and everyone just lets it slide. I can’t help myself. I have to call it. I’ve caused more than a few rows when people have the cheek to take issue with me for highlighting their error.

    One idiot used it in reference to his fake suntan, obtained prior to a trip to Dubai (i wanna look like a…) On pointing out his anatomical and geographical mistakes and complete lack of cultural and political understanding, and thus a missing intelligence chip in his brain, what was his response?

    That I was a stuck up bitch and a black-lover.

    But he’s not racist because one of his best mates is black.


  5. Mahj
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Thank you ladies for your comments, I’ll comment more later but just quickly, Victoria, it’s exactly that kind of “defence” that people keep for themselves when they say something racist that makes me really go all rage monstery!


  6. Zan
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    I think on some level, some people think it’s ok to be casually racist – like it’s ‘allowed’ these days. Sadly, I think at any one time there’s always a group of people who are demonised by society but these days it feels a bit like it’s even beyond that.

    I’ve been in situations before where I’m in a group and someone has made a casually racist remark and then looked directly at me as if to challenge me to say something. I usually do and then they try to make out that I ‘can’t take a joke’ (what’s funny about it??) or am ‘oversensitive’. I occasionally tell them that they’d be oversensitive too if they’d had the childhood racist bullying experiences I’d had. That if they’d been regularly called a ‘paki’ and told they smell of curry and no one would sit near them at school. If they’d had stones thrown at them by local boys and been told to ‘go home’. And so on…. then you get ‘but it’s now like that these days is it?’.

    Thing is…sometimes I feel it’s not so different and it makes me really sad and incredibly angry all at the same time. The best thing I’ve found I can do is challenge it whereever I see/hear it. If more of us did that, then maybe things could be different.

    • Posted November 6, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

      Zan, those people sound AWFUL. It’s those kind of people who are like ‘my friend is black/Asian and they use that word/laugh about it/think its fine’
      Sorry you had an awful time at school I am angry on your behalf! As a teacher I make sure the most important thing the children take away from school is learning to be tolerant of others, and being kind.

  7. Fee
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I think any kind of ‘casual discrimination’ is just inexcusable.

    I always try to speak up when I hear such delightful things being bandied about, I’m pretty sure I have a reputation in certain circles. What I find difficult is when someone I respect in every other sense said something akin to ‘I’m glad most of the children in my son’s class are British’ – when I know British means white. The person in question wraps this up as a religious issue and couldn’t understand my point that a) British does not equal white FOR CRYING OUT LOUD and b) If she wants her children to be schooled in a Christian environment (which is absolutely a choice she should be allowed to make) it’s her responsibility to send them to a Christian school (where, by the way, all the other pupils might not be ‘British’). Her response? That it’s a Christian country so all schools should adhere to that. As you can imagine, I do not think much of this person anymore.

    This reminded me that casual racism can be where you least expect it and doesn’t necessarily take the form you might expect. And that although it’s easier to say nothing, saying something is the only way to start stamping it out.

    Well said, Mahj.

    • Posted November 6, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Arrrgh! I had the same debate with some who’s a teacher who hissed at me “so you think it’s ok for a child to be the only white face in a class of twenty? Wait until you have kids!!!”

      Oh right… So when I birth a child I’ll become a racist will I? Eijit!

      And YES – if it’s the right school (and with only twenty kids in the class it sounds good!) then I’ll send my child there. And this woman was a flipping teacher for crying out loud!

      I also asked why is it ok if the black face is alone amongst a sea of white faces but not the other way around?

      Worrying isn’t it when the people looking after the future generation’s education holds such inherent prejudice without even realising it, but even so will tell you until they’re blue in the face that they stand against racism.

      • Posted November 6, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        My friend Lauren was in a small white minority in her school class – scroll down to the bottom of this post. Love these pictures so much. And I’m pretty sure she turned out ok :)

      • Posted November 6, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

        As a teacher I find it worrying that areas have been ‘ghetto-ised’ and it means schools are not as diverse as they should or could be. It’s nice for all children to grow up with a variety of different cultures around them, especially if they live in an inner city.

  8. Stacey
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Its very dissapointing in this day in age that people are still faced with racism on a daily basis and all the predujices that come with it. We are all human beings with the same basic needs, and go through life experiencing the same emotions and milestones. We all have feelings regardless of our skin colour/ethnic minority.

    As the child of irish emigrants, I have certainly been met with predujices about being a “paddy”. It doesnt particulary bother me, but even so, it certainly happens. I have also been subject to racial abuse from black people. I do think the media sometimes skims over this subject, it isnt just white people that are racist, black people can be too. Racism can and does effect everyone.

    Thank you Mahj for your post, I have really enjoyed reading it x

  9. Yanthé
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Mahj this is brilliant. Just brilliant. I can’t explain how utterly frustrating I find it when casual comments like this are made. If anyone ever says the phrase ‘I’m not being funny but’ I want to put my fingers in my ears and not listen to what they think they’ve just passed off as a non-offensive opinion. If you have to say ‘I’m not being funny but’ before you say something then I’m pretty sure you know what you are saying is wrong. It has become a long running joke that comments like these shouldn’t be made in front of me. The fact they are made at all is the joke.

  10. Sarah
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Wow, great piece Mahj. ‘Casual’ racism is everywhere – it’s so frustrating as you say – most of the worst comments I overhear are from people who would be appalled if they were described as racist and see themselves as liberal or upstanding members of society. Racism is at its most dangerous when it’s ‘casual’ and from these kind of people. It’s insidious and leads to the slow but sure escalation of hatred and violence and that’s why we shouldn’t tolerate racist ‘jokes’ or the defence of the right to ‘express an opinion’ if that is clearly racist.

  11. Siobhan
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I genuinely fear that we seem to be slipping backwards into the seventies with what seems to be allowed to be said when it comes to the casual racism and sexism about and the only thing I can think of to do it speak up when ever I can and say “That’s not on”. I think that is all we can do for now. We fought for legal changes and they were great. I studied them and saw the subtle ways discrimination was enacted. But this has to stop. It has to be spoken up against. I don’t know what to do either but we have to be the little drops if we want to see the sea change.

  12. Katie
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I thought we’d come so far forward, but hearing all your experiences, it appears not.

    A school friend (well more an acquaintance, but I was too polite not to accept his friend request), put a racist comment on his Facebook page, and I defriended him. I’m now thinking I should have been stronger, replied to his comment, and corrected him on his abhorrent views.

  13. Kate Q
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I worry a lot about saying things that are unintentionally racist or offensive to any groups – I don’t think I do but it’s definitely on my mind now I’m pregnant and worrying about what will get passed on. I grew up in a very white middle class area, I didn’t really have friends with different ethnicities or backgrounds until I went to Uni, and I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t really aware of racism until you start to hear of their experiences and I was pretty shocked that it still existed. For my general studies A-level there was a question about racism and I remember having no idea how to answer as it just hadn’t been talked about even though I knew it wasn’t ok. I think being aware of racism and how it exists in everyday life is really important in understanding how there can’t be a “casual” racist comment. I live in London now and I’m really hoping that having our child(ren) grow up in an area with so many different cultures, religions and backgrounds will help reinforce that prejudice of any kind is not ok, ever.

  14. Posted November 6, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    SO MUCH TO SAY! SO PLEASED THIS IS BEING DISCUSSED! Will come back later to comment x

  15. Posted November 6, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    (Am worried I’ll write an essay. Too. Much. To. Say.)

  16. SB
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Argh, casual racism/sexism/etc is just wrong and I really do think that things are starting to slip back to the seventies, as Siobhan has already said.

    I was in a meeting with a (retired, 70+) consultant this morning who was supposed to be advising my company on doing business in SE Asia. He mainly talked about how the local population are work-shy, will scarper as soon as you have paid for their education and can’t be trusted. He used the ‘n’ word (“I know you’re not supposed to say it …” “Well don’t then ….”) when talking about projects in Africa. He is a personal acquaintance of our CEO, should I have corrected him on the spot?

    To a certain extent I think there is a general trend to animosity towards “others”. I was really shocked at the language used by some uni friends when talking about the riots in London and whilst not condoning the behaviour of those involved, I have a real problem with anybody being tarred with a particular brush just because they happen to belong to a certain demographic.

    I hold my hands up to being a lily-livered leftie but I was also under the impression that people of our generation *knew* that racism/sexism/etc is just inherently wrong. I have no solution to the problem, just a very uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach if things don’t change.

  17. Posted November 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’m a bit naiive but the Rue comments have shocked me. People actually said that??? That is just insane.

    So many times I have said something and am met with responses like ‘course I’m not a f-ing racist. I always have a drink with black Pete in the pub’ errrm?. What do you even say to that? I honestly don’t know.

    Thank you for sharing Mahj.

    Racism is taught. We just have to make sure we teach our children and correct our peers that it’s a load of bollocks.

  18. Mahj
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all so much for your incredible comments and stories. With racism it’s always felt a little bit like me vs the world, which you have all today shown me is not the case.

    I think like many people have said above, the best way to try and stop casual, or any form of racism, is to be vocal about it. Stand up to these idiots that think its “acceptable” or “just a joke”. You are not being oversensitive or lacking in a sense of humour, you’re being a good human being.

    Thanks again for all your words, I’m quite overwhelmed.


    • Posted November 6, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      Agree. People need to speak out. Otherwise this completely unacceptable language and ideology gets passed on through the generations.

  19. Posted November 6, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Mahj, really pleased you have chosen to write about this. Such an important issue to discuss and I’m just sad that we have to deal with such bullsh*t from people in this day and age.

    I grew up in a multicultural area of inner London. In my primary school, white British children were in the minority. My friends were from all different cultures and nationalities. I loved it. At secondary school it was the same – my two best friends were black and Asian. We are still close now and *still* joke about being a walking United Colours of Benetton advert.

    At both schools I don’t think I ever encountered or witnessed racism, there was conflict but it wasn’t racial.

    At the age of 11 I went swimming in the local pool with a white friend. Two black girls our age were playing in the water throwing a hairband at each other to catch. It landed next to me so I helpfully threw it back to them. One of the girls started shouting angrily at me “Get your dirty white hands off it”. I was devastated and have never forgotten it.

    So I learnt from this young age that racism can be from any angle, and I knew that I HATED it with every fibre of my being.

    At the age of 19 I moved away from London to go to university in a city in the north of England. Rather than ‘opening up my eyes to a wide variety of people’ as they claim uni will, I found the student population on the whole to be very white, very middle class, and I felt quite startled by this as I just wasn’t used to it.

    What scared me and made me feel I was suffocating living there was the disgusting amount of racism I encountered. There are various cab drivers in Leeds who I had massive fallings out with over them using the P word. So ignorant, so disgusting, and all the while me housemates who were often with me used to find it funny, and most of them thought it was ‘NORMAL’ behaviour to use that word, aptelling me ‘Most people back at home do it’. Not to generalise but on the whole they were from small towns, these happened to be in the midlands and the north. I was livid and still am when I think about it.

    People talk about the north-south divide. I think there may be one, but for me the issue is not that. It is that as a Londoner I think I’ve realised there may always be a difficulty wiith me moving anywhere else. Far from me telling you there is no racism in London (I’m sure there is) on the whole I enjoy the levels of tolerance here, an acceptance of people being different. People with gay parents, from mixed race families, people who were brought up by single parents. I’ve found that you’re just allowed to BE. I didn’t find that when I lived in an area at uni which was a student area, next to an Asian area, next to a working class white area. Real life segregation in real life Britain. So sad.

    We need to educate our children about tolerance, acceptance and how hilarious best friends can be found in any ethnic group, any class, any cultural background.

  20. Posted November 7, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Completely agree. I particularly think it’s disgraceful when people follow their comment with ‘I’m joking!’ or ‘it’s JUST a joke’. No. No, it’s not.

  21. Posted November 7, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Late to this so not going to write an epic comment, but just wanted to applaud Mahj for writing this, publically vow to speak out more myself when I hear this kind of thing, and say that people who thought that about Rue are clearly morons – IT’S IN THE SODDING BOOK.

    • Posted November 7, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      What Amy said- too late to write an epic comment; applause to Mahj; will continue to publicly counter racism and am appalled at comments re Rue.

      Mahj, it’s definitely not just you against the world. I am so sorry people ever gave you cause to feel that way, it makes me well up with sadness…..having met you in “real” life, I can only say that those who bullied you missed out on the opportunity to make a hilarious, passionate, kind and beautiful friend. xx

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  • [...] Mahj thought long and hard about what being a woman means to her.    And ultimately, came up with this.  I don’t think any of us can argue with it in its simplicity, in its truth.  This is what you want to read when life’s getting you down.  This.  We’ll all be quoting it as “Mahj circa ’13″ :   [...]

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