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Monday, 3 August 2015

RACISM HAS NOT ALWAYS BEEN A BIG DEAL



Here's the thing: racism has not always been a big deal to me.

Let me explain. No, I'm not heartless, nor am I all that negligent. And yet, growing up in a predominately white and affluent area, racism was not in my life. On reflection, I feel so privileged and grateful to be able to say that I feel like I grew up unscathed from other people's prejudices because of the colour of my skin. I was never the subject of racism - I didn't get accusing looks from simply walking into a shop. I've never had racial slurs or insults shouted at me when walking down the street. I was never discriminated against because of my skin colour, and it was not affecting me. Ignorance is a fleeting bliss, and racism didn't bother me because it simply wasn't real to me. 

Of course, I acknowledged it was a happening. But, to me, it was merely a story and it was someone else's story someplace else. It was just a theme in a classic novel, a plot line in a period drama. Slavery, genocide, all abominable things - but hey, at least it was a thing of the past! Racism wasn't a thing now.

Maybe even today, to a child, racism is not real. Except it was, and it most certainly still is. 

Many factors are to blame for this lack of  awareness of the racial discrimination at large today. Many people will argue that the massive presence and influence of media in our lives has a huge effect, and that it bypasses details and events. 

To be honest, I am not an avid newspaper reader, but I - like many - will pick up on some stories or see internet posts on particular events. Again and again I'm finding that with tragedies like shootings and terror attacks the media will pick up on the race of the perpetrator if they are coloured and the victims are white. How often do you read an article about a white person committing a racially aggravated offence which labels them as a terrorist? Reports of events will eventually label one  skin colour as a radicalist, whilst the other is assumed to be a mentally unstable lone citizen. Needless to specify which ones which. How often is the mental health of a coloured criminal to blame? This presentational bias is dangerous because it distorts our processing of events, and it seems that this alteration of our perception of happenings has a devistating effect on our blueprint for interpreting future tragedies.

Terrorism is a disgusting and undefendable act no matter who it is committed by, that is not what I am disputing. Sure, the story and the criminal may still make first page news, but the big and significant factor is the way in which terrorism and murders are reported and presented to the public.

As you may know, during an evening prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17 this year, a gunman killed nine black people in a mass shooting - the youngest being just 26 years old. Now this event had a lot of media attention, however much of which emphasised the idea that the white gunman was a lone and mentally disturbed outsider. He actually later revealed that his aim of the attack was to ignite a race war as he beleives strongly in racial segregation. The definition of Terrorism is 'the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims'. The reluctance to label the gunman as a terrorist speaks volumes.

Further to this, in the aftermath of the attrocities of the Charleston shootings, seven black Churches have been burnt down across the Southern USA. Yet media reports hardly touched upon these arson attacks. I could spend a good while listing the many many white terrorists whose crimes were - and still are - being passed off as 'hate crimes'.

Another one of the most recent times that it truly dawned on me that racism is very real - and real today -  was whilst watching an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians. I know, I know... but hear me out: during a family trip to Vienna, a man felt it appropriate to dress in Black Face to meet them. Now, I was not familiar with the concept of Black Face, and for those in the same boat as myself it is essentially an old form of make up for theatre and film which involves the blackening of the face apart from the eyes and mouth area on a white person, which was common in the 19th and early 20th Century. It is an obvious mockery to black people and is incredibly offensive. This white 'comedian' wore Black Face and tried to interact with Kim, making reference to her new husband Kanye West. 

The fact that racism effects even a family deemed so pristine and perfect with all the riches and wealth in the world really hit home. There is absolutely no escape from it. Even on the return flight from the trip, Kim was subject to verbal abuse from a woman who was screaming at her for being romantically involved with someone who is black.

This really troubled me. But even more interestingly, as a semi-frequent visitor to the Daily Mail Showbiz page (an extremely guilty pleasure) I was shocked and saddened by the reporting that this story got. Articles focused on the family's reaction to the issues, not the issues themselves. I've seen longer articles on the Kardashians leaving the gym than the ones describing the racism they experienced. I've realised that a great tip to suppress an entire race is to distract the world from the real budding issues and attrocities of our time with shallow reports of lunch dates, outfit repeats and rumoured fueds.

Initially I was not exposed to how prejudiced a place the world is, but through questioning and awakening, racism became real to me.

And damn, is it real.

It's real in our schools, television, newspapers, workplace. White supremacy is a disgusting presence today, and is so widespread and regular in the media that without some effort it is almost undetectable. But it is there underneath the shady reports of the shootings of graduate Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, 12-year-old Tamir Rice and the missing footage of the brutal arrest of Sandra Bland, and the lynchings of Amber Moore and India Clarke. Media controls our outlook on so many things - what to buy, where to go, what we should look like. It influences so much about our society that we aren't even willing to question it. That's how you hide something, put it in plain sight so that there is no choice but it accept it as the norm. The fact that we gobble it up and accept it as OK really does break my heart.

I am so sick and tired of hearing stories on the down low like this. And if I - a white person who has never been subject to discrimination because of racism - am sick of it, I don't even hesitate to think what victims of racism feel by now. The suppression and the lack of attention is not fair. Where is the justice? Where is the compassion? Where is your shame?

And this where animosity starts to take over. It's funny (although it's totally not) what fear can make a person do. It's the most vicious of circles, the media-induced fear of different groups just induces further racism. It begs the question that if, in a country with a black president in power, these race terror crimes still occur, where does the power really lie? Is he truly the 'most powerful man in the world' when not even video evidence is enough to punish a guilty officer? Another argument for another day maybe, but a related and important issue. The media is more influential than we think, and that's the key - to be interlaced so well to our everyday lives that the brainwashing is almost unnoticeable. 

I can walk with a group of friends, and I feel safe. For some, even walking down the road and into a shop is a battle, and the battle is constant. Black lives MATTER and this is NOT ok. I was hesitant to post this initially because of the need for respectful terminology. But I am so mad. I am still mad. I will continue to stay mad.

As the Black Eyed Peas so rightly put it "If you only have love for your own race then you only leave space to discriminate, and to discriminate only generates hate - and when you hate then you're bound to get irate". Compassion and unity of all peoples is the only way forward. Racism is real and needs attention now more than ever. This is not black people against white people. This is not #AllLivesMatter. This is all people for black people, and all of the time. This is a massive screw you to the media and the man holding the puppet strings. This is an forward giving of attention to the fact that the links and labeling of white supremacy in the west and terrorism needs addressing.


LINKS:

If you're interested in learning about and hearing a break down of presentational bias in the media, I highly recommend checking out the Trews YouTube channel.

If you would like to show your support to the Lowcountry Ministries fund by the Palmetto Project who work to promote community security in South Carolina you can donate here, and you are also able to donate to the families of the victims of the Charleston shootings here, or directly to the Emanuel AME Church on their website.

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