It is hard to fathom that racism still sprouts amid twenty-first century Britain, yet it is still nonetheless a present growing weed decoratively springing up to sting in tediously mundane situations. And it’s not always the in-your-face street harassment that we so often associate racism with.
In fact, even more alarmingly as Jamelia points out in the above video, racism often appears in the form of microaggression whereby the attack or remark appears subtle but nevertheless steeped in racial and discriminatory prejudices. On board a train, Jamelia refers to a woman who confronts her over the possession of a first class ticket. While her intention to challenge Jamelia isn’t explicit, the assumption lies with the fact that Jamelia is young and black and is therefore either unable to afford the ticket, or is boarding the carriage without one and is therefore stealing; both of which are characteristic of racist black stereotypes. Regardless of her supposed polite intention shown through her back-tracking and self-defence of the remark, the woman instantaneously disregarded Jamelia’s fortunate financial and class status due to the colour of her skin. In other words, the woman could not believe that a young black female could sit in a first class seat, the symbolic throne of the upper echelons of society.
However, what makes the remark alarming and alike so many other unpublished and personalised cases that haven’t drawn attention under the media limelight, is the simplistic and innocent-like unawareness that the oppressor(s) and ignorant white privileged folk possess. The racism is so subtle and so ingrained from years of racial hierarchy, that anything other than definitive hurled abuse in the street is apparently difficult to define and is therefore “political correctness gone mad” when anyone attempts to challenge it. You need look no further than the comment section underneath Jamelia’s video on Facebook or the comments under The Mirror’s article to witness what I’m talking about. And I expected them to be there too, because society has not yet come to terms with microaggression as the commenters so eloquently prove through their defence of the nameless woman, despite crucially being absent from the actual incident themselves. Yet they remark that the woman was “trying to make conversation” while Jamelia is “simply playing the race card” or being melodramatic at a supposed “simple and innocent question”. Overriding this ironic portrayal of aversive racism in these comments as the commenters seek to replace Jamelia’s voice and eye-witness account with their own modified and more “realistic” white voice and imaginary scenario, these comments are just a drop in the ocean when it comes to white-defending-white.
The bottom line is that no one wants to be called a racist, and therefore it is the ethnically marginalised victim’s fault for casting it upon the white individual, or even group, which is entirely the problem within itself. By ignoring racism, we perpetuate it, and by defending racially prejudiced comments, despite of “causing any real harm”, no one learns and grows from their mistakes.
And really once you look, subtle racism is all around us. As Vice pointed out in this article, even highly regarded black designers often get associated with marketing casual ‘streetwear’ clothing, echoing the cliched assumption that black people come from the ‘ghetto’ and again linking to Jamelia’s encounter whereby the lady assumed Jamelia would not be boarding the first class carriage of the train. Subtle racism knows no bounds, and it’s time that we started paying attention to it. It’s time that white people learned their own privilege. Racism doesn’t just thrive in the streets, it silently brews in our middle-class homes and trickles over into our everyday encounters. Look for it and you will see it, or don’t look and you never will.