R*cism …And Other Bad Words

I had never read a Hunger Games book when I went to watch the movie a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the movie, as I do most. There weren’t many...


I had never read a Hunger Games book when I went to watch the movie a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the movie, as I do most. There weren’t many black characters, but I found myself really impressed with the ones that were there. They were not playing stereotypical roles, they were complex, and on the whole, the most sympathetic characters in the film. As it turns out, that was a problem. Tweens took twitter by storm outraged that the fan favourite, Rue, was played by a black actress. The tweets fell along the spectrum of expressing surprise to KKK-esque. Somewhere in the middle of that spectrum was this young man who tweeted: “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad #ihatemyself”.



Ok my friend, I’ll call you a racist. And George Zimmerman, can I call him a racist too? Probably. Jason Russell? Ermm… is that pushing it? Mayor Rob Ford? Well no one likes him anymore anyway. What about the entire American criminal justice system? Can I call a system a racist? What about the South Asian security guard in the grocery store who insists on following me? But he’s South Asian, is he a racist too? Am I a racist? Are you a racist? Are we all racists? This witch hunt will take us nowhere, because the truth is, there aren’t enough fingers in the world to point. If only there were one word to explain the Hunger Games reaction, and the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the fact that 1/3 black men in their 20s is under criminal justice control, and why that security guard won’t just leave me alone! And if only we could use that word to describe a historically rooted, complex, systemic issue — instead of a cop-out or crutch for overly sensitive stuck-in-the-past radicals.

r*cism? [ahem]…RACISM!…yea I said it. Here’s the thing, it’s a lot harder to talk about racism than it is to stone a racist. It takes more words, more honesty, more love, it implicates us all, and yes it might get awkward and uncomfortable. But we must. Should you choose to confront this overwhelming beast, consider yourself warned. Once we deal with the easy topics – slavery, the n* word, Martin Luther King, George Zimmerman – then we need to deal with the harder ones. Racism is in the shadeism within communities of colour; it’s in entire education, political, criminal justice and immigration systems; it’s in our iPod’s; it’s in our families; it’s in us.

“It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It’s that they can’t see the problem.” G. K. Chesterton

Alpha Abebe is an aspiring academic, youth advocate and photographer from Toronto. She is currently pursuing a PhD at Oxford University and her research is focused on the Ethiopian diaspora. You can follow Alpha's blog 'Farsighted', photography, or twitter @alphaabebe.

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