Before moving on we need to define racism. Here is my own definition in two parts:
- The belief that one race is superior to another.
- The belief that any particular individual is any more or less capable because of their race.
Knowing this, here are three examples people typically confuse as being racist which should not qualify.
- Mentioning someone's race to describe them. If you're trying to find out if someone knows a person you're talking about, it's okay to describe them as black, white, asian, or hispanic. I've seen white friends try to avoid bringing up this obviously helpful attribute to the point of it being comical. As another example, in a recent Yahoo article, author Calvin Hennick makes another common mistake, assuming that a person who mentions a person's race to describe an encounter that scared them is racist. The woman described a angry traffic encounter with someone she described as "a big black guy". In this case, the description probably wasn't the most relevant, but unless she described him as a big angry guy and then followed that up with "whisper-cup hands" and softly but intentionally accentuated "...And he was black!" it was probably just the psychology of trust and appearance and not a specific indictment of race.
- Connecting a person's race to cuisine. People of similar cultures often prefer similar fashions, music, and foods oddly enough. Most of us also know that not everyone of a similar culture will like all of the same things, so this may bring questions. So if a white person asks a black person if they like chicken, ribs, or watermelon it may just be an honest question (or jab between trusting friends), but even if a person incorrectly makes assumptions about what someone else may prefer to eat or drink based on race, stereotyping is a far cry from racism.
- Loosely correlated subjects or coincidences. Newsweek was recently blasted for this cover about the risks of smuggled bush meat spreading ebola. However, because of the hypersensitivity around past racist literature drawing parallels to people of African decent and chimpanzees, the mere mention of a disease from Africa and a chimp cover made people go ape shit (that was a joke not racism). Even if the editors of Newsweek are racist, there's no proof in that pudding. Another example I have is based on personal experience. In the above mentioned Yahoo article, the author states he doesn't have to worry about being followed in a store even though his son will. While I have no doubt this happens, not every instance of being followed in a store has to do with racism. For example, I would often go to department stores after work with a tie and my ID badge on. This would make people mistake me for a store employee and ask me where the
product was located. Then I'd have to explain I didn't actually work there. One time I happened to be browsing similar merchandise as an African American woman. I didn't really think anything about it until she looked at me angrily and said "why are you following me?".