They say stereotypes are there for a reason. That they wouldn’t exist if someone hadn’t experienced similar behaviour in a number of people from that specific group, and that stereotypes are not akin to racism.
Let’s sit back and ponder on that for a second. For understandable reasons, it seems that people tread around the word “racism” very carefully, and try as hard as they can to not be associated with it. Because racism led to slavery, and still to this day, leads to discrimination, and downright violence.
But in case you didn’t already know, you don’t need to beat someone with a stick, use slurs against them or look at minorities in disgust to be racist.
When you browse for the definition of the word “racism,” you won’t get just one. The main definition as given by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” Any other interpretation is a variation of that exact principle, extending it to not only racial prejudice, but an ethnic one too.
Therefore, whether we wish to admit it or not, stereotypes are racist—having an opinion about a certain ethnicity or race based solely on hearsay and social conventions is racist. Here are some examples.
When someone says Latino men are cheaters who will toy with your emotions until they get bored, and go onto the next, that’s racist. When Latinas are equated to crazy women with attitude, that’s racist. When people “can’t tell the difference” between Far-Easterns, that’s a whole level of rude. When Russian women are always seen as prostitutes, that’s racist. When Arab women are seen as either oppressed veil-wearing women, or sensual belly-dancers with all of Daddy’s money to spend, that’s racist. When Arab men are considered terrorists, that’s racist.
Now here is where I get a tad problematic and add to the generalization. When I hear such statements, I get even more enraged when it comes from a person of colour or a fellow minority. Simply because, someone who isn’t the latter wouldn’t be able to understand how it feels to be limited to negative connotations that date back to an age of discrimination. A white person wouldn’t be able to understand how it feels to stay silent when someone equates your people to terrorists because of the perpetuation of a false image.
So, when I hear a minority who has been a victim of discriminatory and crude comments regarding their race and ethnicity participate in this hateful discourse, it makes me sick—to say the least. What’s worse is when a minority uses their status to justify their racism.
“Oh, I’m Lebanese, I get to publicly insult all Arabs, because I am one, and I don’t get offended.” Honey, no. Just … no. Criticize if you must, no one is feigning perfection and claiming no culture has faults. But when your criticism further intensifies an already-racist image, that’s when you need to check yourself. Because you might not be offended, but many suffer at those unjust racist claims—and yes, it is your business.
To be clear, I am not exempting myself from this equation. I by no means am innocent of racial bias, and the tendency to equate something to someone just because of what it says on their passport. But moving to Montreal and experiencing this mosaic of culture made me realize that if I were to stay in this city, and if I just want to be a decent human being, I better get used to getting all my prejudices crushed—and I am not complaining.
Graphic by Sasha Axenova