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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

How racism and discrimination are meted out daily in the West

Shelina Janmohamed asks the question: are you a racist? 

White nationalists rally in Charlottesville earlier this year. Reuters
White nationalists rally in Charlottesville earlier this year. Reuters

Are you a racist? And if you were, how would you ever know? It’s just not the kind of thing we say, or sometimes we aren’t even aware of it.

No one is ever going to admit that they hold a secret hankering to join the Ku Klux Klan.

You know the famous phrases, “I can’t be a racist, my best friends are black / Asian” (*delete as appropriate).

Or the alternative: “I’m not a racist but…” Hint: if you need to say that, then you probably are.

Or even the dismissal through sheer incredulity: I can’t be racist! I’m brown / black / Arab / Muslim, I’m the victim!” Wrong. A victim can also be a perpetrator.

So, are you ready to find out if you need to weed out those discriminatory tendencies and unwitting racism?

Here’s my handy four-point guide for you.

First, All Lives Matter rather than Black Lives Matter?

If so, you probably like to make the point that the sky is blue and grass is green. Of course every life is important. But to deny that some lives are given inherently less importance including the right to life and freedom – in this case black lives, but it could apply to many others – is to deny the very real and often fatal discrimination against people who are considered "the other".

Second, do you believe there are other groups in society that are the cause of our social problems? And that if they have certain rights and freedoms restricted that is for the benefit of all?

If someone tells you that they are experiencing a form of discrimination, don’t blame them. Don’t say they are playing the victim. Too often, racism isn't even given another thought when it’s dished out to others even if we aren’t involved. We see it as a problem only when we are affected often inadvertently.

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Read more from Shelina Janmohamed

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This week in the UK, a white head teacher of an elite public school has complained that the Prevent strategy, which requires schools to assess pupils for extremism, is putting an excessive burden on him in administration terms.

The news coverage talks about how the policy is aimed at Muslims and unfairly targets Muslim children – even though the government has always claimed this is not specific to Muslims. It doesn't get coverage until unwittingly a leading white male points out that it is a ridiculous statutory requirement.

Think carefully, are you exhibiting a Selfish I’m Alright Jack form of racism?

Third, even when faced with the evidence that you are doing something racist you don’t admit that you are actually doing racist things. Also known as Don’t Be A Charlottesville Racism Denier.

The photos of the Charlottesville protest featured 20-year-old white student Peter Cvjetanovic shouting angrily as part of the white supremacist rally. But seeing his picture circulating globally he claimed that he was not an "angry racist". Buddy, you need to see what your actions stand for and admit it. He also added that he "cares for all people". See point one.

Finally, are you trying to make the world better but people keep telling you you’re actions are racist?

This is the hardest one to admit. But if by tackling racism you are actually using racist means and ideas then all you’re actually doing is perpetuating stereotypes.

A Channel 4 documentary in the UK aired following a white woman living with a Muslim family. My Week as a Muslim saw her "brownfaced" and a big nose prosthetic and new teeth given to her. She underwent an epiphany about how Muslims are human "just like us". Heartwarming, human and a huge challenge to those who have never spent time with Muslims, right?

Here’s the problem: it perpetuates stereotypes of Muslims that they are brown, that they look different, that Muslims should make more effort to reach out, that there is only one way to be Muslim.

And an even bigger problem: racism exists only when white people say it does. Those who experience it are not believed.

It’s not hard to not be racist. Just be a decent human being. Simple.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World