Australians are generally known for being relaxed and laid-back. It is not surprising, then, that the type of racism most people experience in our culture is casual racism. Gone are the days when overt and blatant cases of racism thrived in society, enter a more subtle and ‘normalised’ manifestation of this bigotry. Casual racism is a form of racism whereby racist words or phrases are used in everyday life without the intent of being racist or is simply underpinned by ignorance.
Casual racism is often masked as jokes or off-handed comments. In some situations, it is clear when a joke or statement will be racist. For example, if a joke starts with “an Australian and an Indonesian walks into a bar…” or if a statement starts with “I’m not racist but…”, then it is evident that what follows will be racist. However, there isn’t always a clear dichotomy between what is considered racist and what is not. For example, if someone asks me where I’m from, is he/she being casually racist? Or would that question only be considered casually racist if it is used in the wrong context?
Has casual racism become so embedded in our relaxed and laid-back culture that our sense of what is racist and what is not has become skewed? We often hear people being called a banana, an oreo, or a coconut. There is clearly a racist undertone to the comment. When someone is called a banana, an oreo, or a coconut, their roots are discredited by implying they are trapped in a disguise that is deemed inferior. In fact, their whole identity is devalued. But most people don’t think twice about comments like these and instead shrug away the comments as humour. By doing so, casual racism is inadvertently derided as a social issue that is blown out of proportion. Worse yet, those that call out the perpetrators are deemed “too sensitive”. As a result, casual racism has become an issue that is frequently rendered invisible by our culture.
We need to acknowledge that casual racism is, at its core, still racism. It is no laughing matter. It is destructive. It impedes fair treatment, interferes with equal opportunity, hinders the ability to engage within society, creates divisions in society, and damages a general sense of solidarity within the community. We need to call out on casual racism. But most of all, we need to stop and think about our own behaviour.