A few days ago, my friend burst out when talking about her crush: ‘he’s actually really racist!’ and a few lines later, ‘but nobody’s perfect, right?’
Why is it when somebody close to you says something inherently wrong we are automatically tempted to forgive them, and worse, to justify their actions? We feel compelled to forget the incident, as if it were nothing more than a bad joke. But, to avoid quoting an overused expression, if reasonable people do nothing, how can anything prevent unreasonable people from being so ignorant?
Despite the common assumption, we do not live in a post-feminist and post-racist world, even in the West. Instead of obvious threats staring us in the face, racism and sexism have become implicit problems that have unnoticeably integrated everyday life.
This has increased our blindness to these issues, which many deem to be out-dated and past. Students as well can become increasingly naive, because we are not necessarily constantly and directly confronted with racism and sexism. But even when we are, we tend to gloss over the issue as if it were never raised, and move on with our unconcerned lives. Of course, a majority of students are aware of gender and racial discrimination, but often this awareness only extends to spheres outside of our own. When it comes to our family and our friends, we can sometimes be blind or consciously choose to ignore problems that are staring us right in the face.
This passive acceptance of discrimination is dangerous because it perpetuates the illusion that we are not responsible for what other people say. And we aren’t. However, we do have responsibility to react to racist and sexist behaviour in order to prevent it, or at least to denounce it.
We are responsible to influence the perceptions of the people around us, especially if these perceptions are wrong. Just because your father is white and upper-middle class, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stand up to him when he thinks he is making a harmless joke about women. Just because you like someone, doesn’t mean you can simply ignore their views on crucial things.
The personal is political. Or rather, the political has become a personal matter. Disagreeing with the basic concept of gender and racial equality cannot be simplified down to a flaw of character – it’s an issue that needs to be addressed, an opinion that needs to be contested.
Some might argue that tolerance goes both ways. Yet, tolerance can quickly become acceptance, or transform into a state of biased passivity. Reverse tolerance is a trap. Because once you start to come to terms with the discriminating views of others, you inevitably contribute in perpetuating them. Racism, sexism, and all forms of discrimination can only ever be fought by denouncing them in the people and places closest to us.
Your boyfriend is racist? Let him know. And dump him.