Racist, am I?

Unleashing my shameful confession

To everyone who thought they have no prejudices, no racism, no sexism, and social equality, here’s a little confession, I thought I had none too.

It was a cold misty night of December last year, I was along with two friends discovering the streets of Istanbul, lights were gloomy yet we walked and walked till we went out of trail. As we stopped and looked around, nothing was familiar anymore, we were utterly lost. A friend of mine suggested asking someone for directions, since our phones do not have internet service out of Lebanon, and to that I agreed.

The last thing I wanted to admit was being racist; it wasn’t my thing, I didn’t want it to be.

Walking through the allies, we came across a man of colour in a hoodie; he was talking on the phone outside a small restaurant, I wanted to approach him to ask for directions, since he was the only one around, only a couple of feet away. As I took my first few steps towards him, I stopped, and that was when it hit me, I didn’t want to approach him on a gloomy night with no one around; I couldn’t. Was it because he was black? To my surprise, it was. I took my friends’ arms, turned us around and went along.

I continued my trip, and I couldn’t but think about why I took that decision, yet I couldn’t really find an answer to that. The last thing I wanted to admit was being racist; it wasn’t my thing, I didn’t want it to be.

A couple of months later, I had to attend a workshop in Berlin, Germany, it was my first time out of the Middle East. During that workshop, I was lucky to meet a unique French gentleman of colour, Zac, who was a joy to have around for seven full days. Through Zac, I tended to see beyond the skin color, it was never really a problem from the first place.

I thought this experience was my way out of racism, but yet it was quite more complex than that, and it showered down a new hail of questions. What if Zac wasn’t nice? Would’ve that made me become even more racist? Why does he have to represent the whole black community because he’s nice? Why should he represent it in the first place, I don’t represent all whites, no one actually represents anyone but himself.

Isn’t that what stereotyping is all about? Linking the actions of a person or a group of people, to a whole community, a whole nationality, a whole race? Isn’t that what I was hoping not to do? It’s even harder than I thought it would be.

In quite the same sense, being also lost in Lyon had a similar yet self-awakening experience on me. While twirling within low-spirited allies on gloomy nights and bumping onto strangers of all races and nationalities, I realised I was still trying my best to find a white person to ask for directions and I’m being extra cautious while talking to black people rather than any others; these small considerations brought me directly to the sad yet honest truth, I am racist… but why?

Why am I racist when I’ve been known within my circle of friends as the ‘Social Justice Warrior’ for more than a decade, the one who always defends social equity, stands against sexism, racial discrimination, slavery, prejudices, stereotypes… etc and theoretically, I always looked at myself like that as well.

Why am I racist when I’ve tried so hard to be someone who judges by actions and not by stereotypes? Why would I become what I was taught not to be as I grew up in a family that respects the wealthy and the poor, the black and the white and the yellow, helps the young and the elderly? Why am I avoiding people of colour while I’ve spent all these years convincing others that no skin color, no nationality and no disability can make any person neither less worthy nor any different?

Why am I racist when I’ve tried so hard to be someone who judges by actions and not by stereotypes?

To top things up, a black gentleman showed me the way the second day in Lyon; he even walked along with me until I reached my destination; talking to him was pleasant, it made me sit and think that same day, why am I undergoing these mixed feelings?

Perhaps some of the reasons have to do with watching movies that tend to criminalise people of colour and emphasise on repetitive scenes that link them to harassment, drugs, robbery and violence; that might’ve had a great influence on my subconscious.

Another vivid reason might be growing up in Lebanon, where I was never collaborating equally with a black people, for they tend to be either domestic workers or doing jobs that we as Lebanese wouldn’t want to do.

That reflection itself asks several open-ended questions: what other prejudices and discriminatory acts does my subconscious hide? Do I have some sense of dominant perceptions over people with disabilities? Would I also discover later on that I might have some sense of sexism deep down? Or some sort of nationality discrimination as well?

What other prejudices and discriminatory acts does my subconscious hide?

Reflecting upon my thoughts and questioning my ethics was actually very intense and made me discover myself, not to mention the burden brought up by the fact that I am a journalist and whatever I believe tends to be transmitted through my articles in a way or another. What might happen if every journalist transcends his/her racist, sexist, biased view of this world? Oh wait, maybe that what’s been happening this whole time.

We as humans, generally, and journalists, specifically, should take the time to understand ourselves, our fears, our thoughts and our biases. We should be aware of all the feelings that we think we don’t have, and we won’t have; thus being aware of what we write, what we shoot and what we transmit to our readers and viewers. We are not only responsible of ourselves – there are hundreds of others out there who tend to believe in whatever we send, and if they won’t believe, it will still somehow become stuck in the back of their minds, in every reportage they witness, every article they read and every movie they watch.

What might happen if every journalist transcends his/her racist, sexist, biased view of this world?

Realising all of that sucked me into a loophole of never-ending possibilities. Yet I do believe that being conscious of oneself and one’s psyche is the only way to control the thoughts. Admitting our inner thoughts of racism, sexism, discrimination might be the only way out of it.

An implicit bias against any race, gender, sexual tendency or disability can cause small discriminatory behaviors, like clutching one’s purse when a particular type of young man walks by, or imagining oneself in danger just because of the color of the folks around – assuming that one person or idea represents all and then abiding to it. Many of these behaviors might not be made on purpose, but the society we live in and the limitations of what (and who) we are exposed to affects us deeply in our psyche. Our society was massively, structurally, unequal and discriminatory in the past and continues to perpetuate those patterns in the present. So would there be any hope to change if each and every one of us would take the initiative to question our own biases, acts, and stereotypes?

In that case, it might take us days, months – even years (that is if we ever could do it), to try to control our actions and fade away prejudices for an equal world, a fair life, and a better future.

Would there be any hope to change if each and every one of us would take the initiative to question our own biases, acts, and stereotypes?

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