How do you define racism?
Type in ‘racist jokes’ on google. Go on, I dare you. Click on images. Why are most of the jokes about black people? If you don’t understand why I’m writing about this topic, I hope this gave you an insight.
I was walking through Chinatown one day, and a guy shouted out ‘Hakuna Matata‘ to me. Now, I wouldn’t be offended assuming the man actually knew what it meant (it means no worries by the way). But let’s assume he didn’t know and just decided to shout that out because he associated it with Africa. Racist or nah?
I’m planning an island trip with a few friends. One of my friends is a bit hesitant because we’re all black and she fears that we’re more likely to be stopped and searched by the Malaysian police. Apparently, it is unfathomable for a group of (educated) black girls not to be prostitutes. Some of you might think this is far-fetched and unjust but this assumption wasn’t borne out of thin-air. Should we be wary or nah?
I know for a lot of people the topic of race is a very touchy subject, but I decided to address it anyway because if you know me personally, you’ll know I’m not one to shy away from ‘awkwardness’.
Being an exchange student from the UK, I expected to come to Malaysia and be enlightened on various cultures, attitudes, habits and perhaps even learn the language. What I certainly didn’t expect was to come here and have to personally enlighten people on the topic of race. What a wow!
For instance, I always refer to myself as black and people tend to look at me in shock and ask ‘isn’t that racist?’ The first time I got asked that question, I was a bit baffled as I didn’t know how else to refer to myself. I then gave those that asked an in-depth explanation of why it wasn’t racist. The second time I was asked that question, I gave a more brief explanation. The third time I was asked, I simply responded by saying ‘no’. One person even asked me to call myself British rather than black – I’m guessing it made them that uncomfortable.
Judging from the tone of this article so far, one would assume that I am upset, but that’s really not the case. In fact, I laugh every time I’m asked about the issue of race. However, it does start to get repetitive constantly answering the same question, thus, from henceforth I shall be referring people to this article.
Although Malaysia is hugely multicultural, it appears as if everyone shies away from the issue of race for fear of offending, so here are some serifun (serious but fun) tips to enhance your ‘political correctness’:
1) It is not racist to call people black, but this is entirely dependent on the tone and the context in which you use the aforementioned word.
2) Do not make assumptions (this goes for any race). I once had someone tell me that I liked spicy food because I was black. Erm, no hun. I like spicy food because I like spicy food. Nothing to do with race. (And not all black people like chicken either!)
3) It’s alright to ask questions, you know. Ignorance truly isn’t bliss.
4) The media tends to portray black people as excelling solely in either entertainment or sport. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that, unless you’d like to remain in an abyss of idiocy. As I’m sure you know, excellence knows no bounds and isn’t dependent on race.
5) We’re not all criminals or gangsters either. It’s funny how the other day someone asked me if I was from ‘the ghetto’ because I was rapping along to a song. What a wow.
6) Last but not least, the issue of race isn’t and shouldn’t even be an ‘issue of race’. People are people. Izz dah oraii (Is that alright)?
I’m sure there’s a lot more I could write about but I’d rather not bombard you like this is a history lesson. Oh, and before I forget, racist jokes really aren’t funny…
Thanks for reading!
By Joy Ayomide Adeleye
Disclaimer: This article was not intended to offend. Neither was it intended to diminish other races (which I hope it did not), it was purely for enlightenment purposes.
Featuure image credit: Girl With a Bamboo Earring (2009) by Awol Erizku