Perspectives

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

I never considered myself a racist. Despite the many shortcomings of my catholic education, one of the most fundamental teachings in my childhood has been to “see beyond the colour of the skin”. Of course, I knew what racism was and I could hear it in the words and perceive it in the behavior of many people around me. Those people made me feel uncomfortable and that, I thought, was the proof of my anti-racism.

Given these premises, I had still to take into account a dilemma: Asians were all looking alike to me. I never said it openly, but look: they all have dark, straight hair and their eyes are dark and have a peculiar “Asian” shape. Was that racism?

I had once a conversation on the topic with a Korean friend of ours. I call her Sunny for the present purposes.

We were crossing Marienplatz in Munich and I straightforwardly asked her about the widely shared idea, at least among Europeans, that Asians look all the same. She stared back at me in puzzlement. “I actually thought Europeans looked indistinguishable! Asians are very different from one another!”

I didn’t want to offend her. At the same time, I thought there was something amiss in her recognition of the relevant evidence. I told her “Look! There are blond Europeans, dark-haired and red-haired! We have a shade of eye-colour for almost each individual! How can’t you distinguish among Europeans?”

Sunny frowned. “How can you? I mean, how can you tell that someone comes from Spain, Great Britain, Poland or Greece? You all have different hair colours, but you really can’t pick casually one European and tell at first sight where she is from! With Asians, that’s different. I could for most of the cases tell If a guy is Korean, Chinese or Japanese without having to look at his passport or speak to him!”

Yes, that was striking. I’ve always been thinking in the individualistic way belonging to many Europeans, that of differentiating people independently of their context, but only with respect to individual qualities. For Sunny, on the contrary, what was relevant for the categorization was the possibility of ascribing people to a certain nationality. And  yes, in that sense, “Westerns” are more hardly distinguishable.

So, who is (racially) the most uniform population? That depends on the perspective, and this perspective is a racialized one, if it is to take the question seriously. Race, therefore, is not on the skin, nor on the facial traits or in the culture. It is in our eyes, and it is so strong that it creates a universe of “factual evidence” very hard to deconstruct.

So, am I a racist after all? If I were to answer “no”, that would be problematic, for how can I tell to what extent my whole perception of reality is racialized? I think the best way to answer is that I try to fight racism, even the one still lying in me.

There is hardly a colour-blind person, and hardly a person who is not racist at all. On an average, if you aren’t anti-racist, you let racism define you.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Advertisements