"What's your problem? You're white!"
Being white and being offended by racism can be tricky at times. I'm not talking about 'anti-me' racism. I had that when I lived amongst the Catalans of Spain who would routinely cast sly comments and looks my way as well as fling food, water and 'muy mallo' vibes about on a daily basis. I wasn't bothered. Even when they set fire to my washing on the line I thought, 'Maybe they were just trying to dry it faster- bless 'em.' And I'd just pick my nose and scratch my bollocks before I served them their morning Churros, happy in the knowledge that ignorance is total so, if you're unaware of the cultural sensitivities of others, you probably don't know the old, 'never piss off the waiter' rule either.
It gets trickier when you're offended by racism aimed at others, especially those who aren't there. Bigots will gladly spew all manner of idiocy when they feel safe that there aren't any of their victims around to hear them.
I've been in work situations where 'coon' and 'jigaboo' have been lazily dropped, mid-sentence, by not only colleagues but bosses into seemingly harmless conversation. How does one stop the guy who pays the wages and say, "Err, sorry boss but that's horribly racist and I have to insist you don't use those terms in my presence again... now, about that promotion?"
At least you know your boss. At least you can try a pathetic display of discomfort, roll your eyes, maybe even meekly offer the old, "Woah there... ha! Come on now, cheeky. Can't be saying that kind of thing these days, can you?" With the tone being more about how we're living in a PC world gone mad rather than how you despise their playground bigotry and cowardice. Moreover how it has turned you, in fear of rocking a boat that pays the gas bill, into as much of a coward as they are.
Strangers- now there's a hot potato. I wear my 'nearly got into a fight with a brickie on the underground' badge with smug, self-satisfied pride. It was a situation that my mouth got me into before my brain had a chance to carry out a full risk assessment.
I suppose that it shows how we're all a bit racist that I didn't need to tell you that it was a white brickie. We just assume he was white because, well he's a racist brickie isn't he? Are there black ones? I could have said, 'cabbie' or 'Stock-broker' and I wonder whether I'd even need the 'racist' flag to have us all instantly imagining a pale complexion.
He was white, as it happens, but I've had the even more sensitive situation where two black guys were calling someone they were far from happy with a 'dumb nigger' on a train platform. I'm about as well versed on the 'N word amongst black people' rule as Mark Clattenburg is on the offside rule but this was no term of endearment. It was derogatory, hurtful... racist.
To borrow the opening of Hong-Kong Phooey (a black man voicing a cartoon dog that aped Chinese stereotypes) I could have been one of three people:
Was I the righteous anti-racist shouting, "Dr. King is turning in his grave!"? No.
Was I the witty observer, shining a torch on their errant ways with pithy sarcasm- "Jeez! Are you going to Kings Cross so you can burn it?"? No.
Was I the mild mannered white guy, force-reading the print off his Metro and 'minding his own' while fuming inside? COULD BE!
I've heard people say 'it doesn't count if they can't hear it' and that most ancient of chestnuts, 'If they can say it- why can't we? That's racist!' and of course there are those too old to change their ways who lived in a time when 'they didn't mind' as well as those just too fucking dumb to understand context and, to be honest, I'm getting tired of carrying their excuses for them. Unfortunately, I'm also tired of being 'that guy' in a social group who has to point out someone's 'innocent' remark and bringing the mood down. Or explain, yet again, why 'they' can say it but we can't and what the glaringly obvious difference is.
Looking at an article about Ruby Bridges (google her) I am at least reminded that today is better than yesterday, even if by tiny increments. I doubt even my old bosses would want a black child treated like that today and would probably argue that the world is far less racist than it was so 'let's call it quits' and stop getting offended by every little thing.
But they wouldn't be right, would they? Isn't racism like a virus that needs to be eradicated down to the last sneeze? Apparently it's not my problem- I'm white.