Casual Racism and Individual Prejudice
"Now, more than ever before, we see the undeniable need for overarching changes to happen, but individual prejudice needs to continue to be addressed as well."
In the past weeks, we’ve seen systemic racism and the Black Lives Matter movement come to greater light, as the death of George Floyd and countless other victims of police brutality sparked nationwide protests for reform. For many Americans, institutional racism had for years not seemed as significant as other kinds of discrimination, such as that which comes from individual prejudice. In 2016, according to Pew Research Center, 70 percent of white people and 48 percent of black people believed individual prejudice was a larger problem than institutional racism. Now, more than ever before, we see the undeniable need for overarching changes to happen, but individual prejudice needs to continue to be addressed as well.
Bay Area students that completed the Bay Area Uncovered Student Experience Form last month gave several testimonies of discrimination based on different individual prejudices.
Casual racism, instances in which racial discrimination does not necessarily originate from malicious intent or a conscious belief of racial superiority, was prevalent as well. Casual racism can be an offhand comment or action, perhaps a carelessly tossed slur.
“In class, there have been multiple occasions where students would not include me among other Asians and racial minorities into their groups for academic collaboration. They claimed it was nothing personal and that they wanted to ‘relate with their group members more,’” one Bay Area private school student accounted in her response to our form.
Racist jokes left deep impressions on many students.
“Students would be racist toward me and make racist jokes that I have accepted as ‘normal’ but shouldn’t be: ‘She’s Asian she has coronavirus don’t go near her’ ‘Where are your eyes?’ ‘Did you eat my dog,’” wrote another private school student.
“On Halloween, the school has an annual costume contest. Someone decided to dress up as a ‘Chinese’ person by wearing a Vietnamese hat used to protect workers from the sun. I told them that they weren't Chinese and he, a PoC as well (Brazilian), said all Asians looked the same to him. He said it didn't really matter as they looked and sounded the same. Even after my corrections, he still called himself Chinese on top of dressing up as an Asian. Not to mention the huge amount of ching chongs and eye pullings,” wrote a public school student.
Casual racism might not come with the most focused, hateful intentions but it can have painful consequences, similar to any discrimination. Not only does it hurt those who are subjected to it but also perpetuates negative stereotypes.
"As long as casual racism is continued, it can easily slip to deliberate racial discrimination."
“I was told by a White girl that I didn’t belong in my honors class because I’m Hispanic and was told to deport myself,” wrote a public school student.
What could have been the difference between this discrimination and a joke about deportation? Almost nothing at all. Though the delivery might be slightly different, that doesn’t negate the effects of the words.
The nature of casual racism, and any casual discrimination, can discourage students who face it from speaking out. They can convince themselves out of the emotions that they feel and the thoughts they experience, or give up trying to have their voice heard. Many, if not all, of the testimonies that were received from Bay Area students, showed the alarming trend that their vivid experiences had hardly been addressed and sometimes not validated.
Throughout the testimonies appeared undermining and condescending variations of “The teacher that heard laughed it off and told me to not be sensitive”, “nothing personal”, a “misunderstanding” or because “I wasn't able to adapt to difficult learning environments”, “wouldn’t let me leave the room until ‘I did everything I could to remedy the situation alone without my mom coming to save me’”.
While these testimonies speak to the inaction of schools in properly addressing and remedying of cases of discrimination on campus, the prominence of casual racism and other casual discrimination in testimonies shows how often individuals can ignore the inner prejudices they have and not think thoroughly about the effects of their words or actions on others. Studies have shown we all hold an implicit bias that “occurs outside of our awareness but affects explicit behaviors” (Adam-Smith and Mendoza-Denton).
“Casual” racism may imply that it is in some way acceptable, which is a dangerous misconception, for those hurt by it and those who practice it. Stopping casual racism is not so much about cautiousness as consideration. We’re not calling for restraint but reflection. The root of casual racism, the same as other discrimination, is the prejudices we hold, maybe deeper than we have taken the effort or courage to reflect on or overcome. The recent events have spurred many to educate themselves about racism, and we students and our school communities can not distance ourselves from it. Our Bay Area schools are not by any means free of discrimination and racism. Many schools can do better to genuinely listen to their communities’ discussions and recommendations, and take more action to provide a safe and comfortable environment for all students, where they can also be sure they will be supported. Individuals who have not already taken the step to confront any prejudices they may have and inform themselves and their future actions can find many resources online and a few in other Bay Area Uncovered articles.
To share your own story, visit tinyurl.com/bayareauncovered or go to the Contact page of this website.
Works Cited Adam-Smith, Jeremey, and Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton. “How to Stop the Racist in You.” Greater Good, UC Berkeley’s GGSC, 27 July 2016, <https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/antiracist_resources_from_greater_good>
“Discrimination and Racial Inequality.” Pew Research Center, 27 June 2016, <www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/06/27/3-discrimination-and-racial-inequality/>