I once had an argument with my sister about what qualifies as racism. I pointed out that everyone appeared to possess at least some prejudice or misconception about another (or even their own) race.
My sister felt labeling any and all of those prejudices with an ugly word like racist was too harsh (sis, if I misunderstood you, feel free to defend your views in the comments section).
Is it only racism in when the prejudices are extreme – and do they have to be negative? To give an example of a positive stereotype, I know there are people who think that black people are good dancers – or, at least, are naturally better dancers than people of other races. If you are one of those people, allow me to share a story with you…
Flashback (imagine the text is getting all wavy):
The scene is a school dance in Molo, Kenya and I believe the year is 1999.
It was one of the first times in my life when a boy had asked me to dance. I was still the new girl in school – I had just arrived from Geneva – with an interesting accent and unusual hairstyle. The boy coincidentally was one of the few white kids at that school. As we danced, another student, a tall Kenyan boy, began pointing at me and laughing with that incredible impassioned cruelty that only a teenage boy can muster. I remember we were spinning round and round, and I would see the boy’s laughing face whip past again and again, and then I would turn to my partner who looked truly and utterly mortified.
Yeah – I was not a very good dancer.
Back to present time. I believe my dancing ability has improved somewhat over the years and I eventually recovered from the ‘trauma’ that is teenagehood. The point of this story is that despite my gorgeous coffee coloured skin, I was an embarrassingly bad dancer during my formative years. So some things aren’t genetic.
Wait, was that the point of that story? I think it was more to lead to the question – is it racist to assume that because someone is black, that they can dance? … or – wait for it – is it racist to assume that because someone white, that they can’t dance? For while I thought so (but after reading a few definitions of racism I am not so sure anymore) – I believed that assuming anything (good or bad) about anyone based purely on their ethnicity equalled racism – although that view may be the result the bombardment of political correctness that we see in the news and on (some) blogs these days.
When I was a little kid attending an international school in Switzerland (a nation once famous for being neutral), I remember my mother telling me that I would always have to work harder in life because I was black and I was a girl (Let’s leave the issue of sexism for another time and post ). At the time, I had friends of a huge range of nationalities (we were mainly diplomats and expat children – see TCKs) and we loved and accepted our differences. I tried very hard to explain this to her that, times have changed and things are different now. Sweet, happy child that I was, I truly believed racism to be something that had happened a long time ago… like in the 60s or something… and Martin Luther King Jr. had sorted it out (I’d done a school project on him and made a poster and everything). I remember feeling sorry for my mom, and thinking how naive she was about the world I was growing up in – of course she was probably thinking the same of me.
Akaliza Keza Gara is the founder of Shaking Sun Ltd, a multimedia company.