Being aware and putting an end to casual racism

Photo by Tyler Meuter

One of my greatest regrets is that the half of me that is Iranian is not outwardly visible. But sadly, this has likely served me well. Being discernibly of Middle Eastern descent would have probably, and unfortunately, have led to a great deal more anxiety and stress throughout my life.

Racism persists. And there has indeed been increased discussion on blatant discrimination in the  wake of highly publicized incidents of killings by police in very questionable circumstances. But it’s my opinion that more casual and subtle forms of racism deserve their due censure.

What do I mean by casual racism? It has to do mainly with the perpetrator. If I asked a person who makes “5’10” black male” jokes whether they are seriously racist, they would likely say no. Questioning the source of a “bad Asian driver” joke would likely yield the same result. However, simple denial unfortunately does not vindicate actions or words. These are mere examples, but they can be applied broadly to anyone who engages in that sort of socialization. Making a snide comment about someone’s race for a quick laugh is very commonplace these days. The large majority of the culprits would probably never see themselves as racist and therefore do not realize what they are doing. However, to me, innocence does not always accompany lack of intent.

Those individuals who do partake in casual racism are certainly not discouraged by mainstream media and pop culture. In fact, the opposite is often true. Recent films “Pitch Perfect 2” and “22 Jump Street” both portray foreign cultures as if they are merely fodder for (unfunny) one-liners and banter. I saw both movies in the theatre, and, depressingly, these jokes tended to regularly elicit the greatest amount of laughter from the audience.

Iggy Azalea, for instance, is a pseudo-satire of black hip-hop culture. While she has allegedly stepped away from music, her legacy as an Australian-American star who imitated a “black voice” to gain popularity remains immensely disappointing to me.

So am I decrying humor? Not necessarily. I am asking for consideration of the impact of words and actions. Because a comment or joke might seem to be nothing more than that. But it might also be fuel for further discrimination and prejudice.

Further combat of casual racism can be carried out by stopping to view the world from another’s perspective. It may seem like a tall order to do so on a regular basis. If that is your sentiment, you should pose the question to yourself before you make a joke — is another’s peace of mind and nice day worth my consideration? I hope the answer is yes.

It grinds my gears to no end when, faced with questions about their casual racism, perpetrators trot out the First Amendment and proceed to hide behind it. Too many times I have listened to the argument that “it’s a free country,” and “I can say whatever I want.” Truthfully, there are some things you should not say, regardless  of the extent to which you desire a taste of that sweet racist-joke-making freedom.

Truthfully, I am not very surprised that there is little talk of casual racism. Innately, it goes unaddressed the majority of the time. Sincerely, it’s my hope that this will change. Tech shouldn’t require another Phi Delta Theta-type incident in order to instigate serious discussion on this facet of the ever-present issue that is racism.

When a friend or acquaintance finds out that I am half-Iranian and as well as a nuclear engineering major, a common question is, “planning to take some nukes home?” And while upsetting, I deal with it. Yet I cannot begin to compare my experience with what I imagine those of the black community go through on a regular basis.