“Active racism” vs. “Passive racism”– blatant, intentional acts of racial bigotry and discrimination versus more subtle forms, such as laughing at racist jokes, not challenging exclusionary hiring practices, accepting as appropriate the omission of the history of people of color in the curriculum (Beverly Tatum)
Coming back home, I feel like I have two big mirrors in front of me. At this point, they place me in the middle so that I can see my reflections of what I see, feel, hear, and touch.
The first mirror is Indonesia where since 20 years ago, this country has admitted me as one of its citizens. While the second one is the USA, a place that has nicely accepted me to deepen my insights for a year.
This situation sometimes puts me in two different worlds. I can see the differences or the similarities between them. When it comes to racism, as Indonesian, I need to think about it again, to think about my position related to race or ethnicity.
So now, I’m going to ask the readers, are we actually racist?
If you say that you are not racist, that’s completely a wrong answer. We all are racist, but the difference is the intensity or the visibility of it. And if some people say whether Americans are more racist than Indonesians, sadly I have to say that we Indonesians are more racist for some reason.
Born in one of the most diverse countries in the world made me think more about who I am related to race and ethnicity. Since I was a child, I often see prejudice and bias covering people’s face and mind. I even see people around me look down at others. In some cases, racism around my surroundings goes intense, and it’s getting worse when most of us don’t really care about it. We barely study about race understanding in our school.
No wonder if our understanding towards race and ethnicity is very blunt. Every day on TV, I see racist programs showed. For example, most of the TV comedy or variety shows are full of race-related jokes. It’s not something weird if some comedians in Indonesia TV shows insult their friends based on their race and physical condition, and the worst thing is, that makes us laugh out loud without noticing if that is actually bad.
When I’m hanging around with my friends, our verbal jokes mostly to look down at someone race, ethnicity, and skin color. This is very sad because it happens on every single level of society, and we as students are part of it. I’m not saying that I’m not racist because it’s very hard to be a pure anti-racist person. Further, the most difficult is how to control my mind and my facial expression when I see a person who is physically different from me.
So, I came to the US and learned about some forms of racism there. As a country formed by many immigrants, USA experienced a dark history related to racism in the past. Most people from the third world countries see racism in the US is all the way against Black people, but actually it happens to all races outside of White people. Racism and discrimination in the US happened to African-American descents, Asian, Latino, Jewish, Muslims, Indian Americans, and several other races.
However, people awareness towards racism in the US is increasing significantly especially among them who are in colleges. Ethnic Studies major has become people’s attention lately. Well, I know all of this doesn’t mean people in the US perfectly respect people from other countries. Racism and discrimination still exist there. But at least, some people have taken a step ahead and realized that racism in most cases lead people to keep hatred in their heart.
From the discussions in the whole semester, I concluded that American college students’ views towards race and ethnicity in the US, and in other parts of the globe is getting better. They become simply quiet when they don’t want to talk about it. Some of them are a color blind when they don’t want to differentiate the difference of the skin color.
Now I’m in Indonesia again, and I see there’s nothing significantly changed in the society related to racism. People still laugh when they see some comedians use physical differences as they jokes as if it was just fine. I still can see and hear some of my friends make fun on race differences, and even, there’s no such a movement in colleges and schools to teach us how at least to respect other people. Racism, discrimination, bias, prejudice, stereotype, profiling, and hatred have become our close friend now.
I don’t know what this country is going to be in the future if it continuously happens. The very saddest thing is when I see those elementary school children are very easy to look down their friends, make fun on their physical condition, skin color and ethnicity. We do need to plant the awareness of race/ ethnicity and religion differences in Indonesia if we want to keep this islands country as one place for all.
I learned a lot from Beverly Tatum everything about racism. She said that racism cannot be defined by prejudice alone as what we mostly think about, but it is also about a system of advantage based on race. It is a system involving cultural messages and institutional policies and practices as well as the beliefs and actions of individuals.Others define racism as “prejudice plus power”. When racial prejudice is combined with social power – access to social, cultural, and economic resources and decision-making – leads to the institutionalization of racist policies and practices (primarygoals.org)
This is true because as Sundanese and people who live in Java, I feel I have more access to resources than others who live in other island. However, mostly people didn’t realize about it. We as dominant usually get more advantages of our society, and that is racism too. In the US this race-advantaged system of racism favors white people as dominant group there. And in Indonesia, it mostly favors Javanese and Muslims. Believe it or not but please think about it.
Tatum also writes about what it means to be anti-racist. “I sometimes visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt… Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. Some of the bystanders may feel the motion of the conveyor belt, see the active racists ahead of them, and choose to turn around…But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt -unless they are actively anti-racist- they will find themselves carried along with the others” (wikibooks.org).
From that, even if we admit our selves as an anti-racist, we can still be called as a racist. But we can see where our position is based on what Beverly Tatum says above because we cannot say that we are not a racist. Are we an active or a passive racist?
Bandung, Indonesia 2012
– Moodle reading Ethnic Studies 105 Humboldt State University