By: Moses Ochonu
All racism is bad. That said, racism differs from place to place. There is something rather transparent and honest about most US racisms. In that sense, you can anticipate and cope with it, tolerate or counter it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived in the US for a long time and have mastered the codes and can identify them.
UK racism is, from my experience, more subtle, pretentious, and almost polite racism. It is the racism that if you lack an awakened racial consciousness you can easily miss. It is the type of racism that you complain about and the offender’s response may make you look stupid or doubt your own instincts. And, in my opinion, that is why it is very damaging. It’s a passive-aggressive endeavour that could kill you slowly because it does not show its hand. It is poker-faced racism.
The white servers at the hotel restaurant kept passing by me to take the orders of the white patrons/guests, to serve them their drinks and food, and to pick up cutleries and other items because my table was close to their register/store.
Finally, after waiting for about 20 minutes, I call the attention of this server and proceeded to give him a piece of my mind. He was extremely apologetic but had absolutely no reason to give for passing just a few inches from me several times without asking me what I wanted while attending to white patrons who had just arrived.
So innocent and contrite did he look in explaining that it was not intentional that I thought I might have overreacted or misread the situation. He was quite young too, so I even felt a bit sorry for the poor chap. But when he left my table, the anger returned because there was no way to explain what I had just experienced other than racism.
I called the attention of an older server who appeared more senior in rank. He too, along with several other servers, had passed right by me without caring to take my order. When I told him that they should treat all customers equally and that I had waited for more than 20 minutes without someone coming to my table, he, in his Eastern European accent, said “I wasn’t picking on you (sic); I’ve been busy.” Well, that is precisely the problem, innit?
Racism is most potent when it is plausible, when it has a ready, plausible excuse, and when it is not intended and the perpetrator is subconsciously racist without intending to be. This dude did not even realize that he was ignoring the black man. He just went about his business. He was happily oblivious to his own racist behaviour.
That is what I call UK racism. It is normal, banal, and it’s no big deal. Call attention to it and if you’re not attuned to the subtle mechanics of racism you may end up blaming yourself and sympathizing with the offender.
This article originally appeared on Moses Ochonu’s Facebook profile.