I was speaking to a man, probably in his 60s, the other day and he was vaguely racist. He was nice enough to me because I'm white and educated and middle class. He would have been nice enough to someone from an ethnic minority, but I'm not sure he wouldn't have some reservations about it.
Maybe I'm being unfair, maybe he wasn't as racist as I thought. But I met him the day after Charlottesville and I wasn't in the mood for any form of casual prejudice. It was very subtle of course. He was reading the Sunday Times and every time he thought something was ridiculous he'd mutter and tell me the headline. One of them was something about non-English speaking students, or students with very little English, being admitted into English universities. "How ridiculous!" He said. In my mind I knew immediately to distrust the headline and the article, it was obviously going to be misleading and dishonest. I tried to explain that sometimes in scientific degrees, for example, excellent English isn't entirely necessary. His muttering that followed had the same tone as the muttering about the evil foreigners you hear from Daily Mail readers. Later there was Indian music playing and this man looked up the title of the song on Shazam. He was genuinely interested. But then he read out the title and said "that's enough to get me into university". Not really racist, not overtly awful, but just enough for me to wince.
I didn't say anything because I was at work and frankly it wasn't worth it. I hadn't managed to convince him that lowering the GCSE boundaries was probably a good idea considering the reform hadn't gone smoothly. I wasn't going to pick an argument with him about something maybe I had misconstrued.
Was I being over-sensitive?
It's not because I'm brainwashed by politically correct lefties, but because it is such an unfair sweeping judgement against an entire country of people. I wince because it doesn't sit well, it doesn't seem right. I feel guilty because I keep my mouth shut and smile meekly.
I would have picked it up if I hadn't woken to news of a bunch of Nazis in America doing actual harm. I would have picked it up, but maybe I wouldn't have thought about it for so long.
People always say that casual racism is for old people and old people will be dead soon anyway. I don't believe that this man would ever attend a Nazi rally, that he would ever cause that kind of violence and hatred. It would be completely unfair of me to equate his tiny comment to this incident of terrifying prejudice. I don't know the whole of his views, I don't know what he would have said if I had picked him up on it. Maybe I could have changed his attitude, made him see how inappropriate comments like that are.
But what about the casual racism that isn't actually casual? Why do we allow ourselves to brush bigger things off as casual, as unique, as some white guy with poor mental health? Casual racism becomes something much darker when you let it. A lot of the mainstream press call their casual racism news. Racism as news is dangerous. Who can tell you you're wrong when it's in the papers, right?
The incident in Charlottesville was an incident of terrorism, obviously. But it didn't happen by accident, and it isn't an isolated event.
When someone tells you that, say, not being allowed to tell a racist joke is political correctness gone mad, ask them why they want to tell it in the first place. Political correctness means not spreading that casual racism that turns into harmful racism. Casual racism is boring and outdated. Casual racism sometimes ends up with events like Charlottesville.
Sorry if you're racist and you can't just spread your hate.