Can You Be Accidentally Racist?


Racism, like sexism, ageism, or really any -ism, is somewhat of a hot button topic for me. But, probably not in the way you are thinking. I realize that discrimination and prejudice happen all over the world, and even in our own neighbourhoods, but I do not think that the way we perceive or handle it (at least in North America) is beneficial or productive.

I find that many people tend to have verbal diarrhea when it comes to terms like racism and discrimination. Calling someone a racist does not automatically make you “win.” Screaming discrimination does not automatically entitle you to whatever you want. Sometimes, probably usually, race or culture or sex or religion has nothing to do with it. Now I realize that there are some instances when it’s clear that there is a bigger, underlying problem (such as Ferguson) and I’m not talking about countries/areas that have obvious concerns (like the middle east), but in most circumstances we need to take a step back and reflect.


1.  a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2. racial prejudice or discrimination


Racism is not defined as not getting the promotion or having your feelings hurt. It’s not defined as treating everyone exactly the same all the time, or ignoring facts. And, it’s most certainly not defined as something you do without a specific set of beliefs.

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of stories about people who did something that was perceived as racism without actually intending to be racist. Can you be racist without the underlying beliefs about racial differences and superiority? Take a look at this story from Missouri. These girls competed in a high-school football game with their faces painted black. Their school colours are black and gold and they always paint their faces for this particular competition. When they went to get ready for the game they realized they had forgotten to bring the gold face paint. Instead of breaking their school tradition they used what they had and just pained their faces black. They had no racist intentions and didn’t even realize the potential implications of their actions until somebody got upset.


Is it even possible to be accidentally racist? The very definition of racism states that you have a specific set of beliefs. If you don’t have those beliefs you might offend someone or at best be insensitive, but you are not racist. If you do something with no ill intention and someone sees racism in it and gets offended who’s issue is it really? Getting upset at racism is really only beneficial when there is actually an injustice happening. Taking a stand and defending your rights if someone actually believes you to be inferior and is discriminating against you is absolutely the right thing to do. However, getting upset due to some perceived insult, I believe, makes things worse.

These girls put on face paint with the intention of having school spirit and intimidating of their opponents. If their school colours had been gold and blue would we be having this discussion? This had nothing to do with colour or race. HOWEVER. Now that this has been blown up into a big deal what do you think these girls are going to be thinking every time they see the colour black or paint their faces, or encounter diversity. Some might argue they will be more racially “sensitive,” but I would argue that they are going to be more prone to racist thoughts.  I’d rather live in a world where people didn’t see colour or race but accidentally insulted someone rather than a world where everyone is walking on eggshells and constantly thinking about race.

Let’s assume the best of people and see where that takes us…

One response »

  1. Pingback: Black-ish, Mexicans and Ted- A Humourous Look at Race in Pop Culture | Adventures for the Chronically Ill

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s