15 Ways You’re Being Racist Without Knowing It

It could be because of the presidential election, but lately I’ve noticed an increase in the amount of defensive fronts put up by people who are saying or doing racist things. It’s not just coming from the usual suspects – outwardly liberal, progressive people can be racist without even knowing it. When they get called out on their racist behavior, they get super angry, saying things like, “How can I do or say something racist if I, myself, am not a racist?! You’re wrong – you’re so wrong.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but believing in equality and having friends of different races does not make you an impenetrable hero incapable of doing or saying anything racist.  The most telltale sign of someone who refuses to see their behavior as problematic is a defensive confusion resulting in turning the argument around to make sure that you feel like the jerk.

I get it – talking about race is uncomfortable. I’m mixed race and talking to my white mom about the racism I face on the daily makes her wildly uncomfortable, even though she’s the one who birthed me and was married to an Asian man in the first place. It’s hard to have a comfortable discussion about race in a real way without making one person feel like they’re being attacked or totally erasing the very valid experiences of those people who have to deal with racism in their everyday lives. So, now what? Well, somebody has to say it. Totally don’t mean to shame any of you because you should “know better,” because truthfully, you might not. Without further ado, these are 15 ways you’re probably being racist without even knowing it.

1) Saying you aren’t attracted to a certain race because it’s just your personal preference.

People have types, I’ll admit, but to say that you don’t like Asian people in general as part of your preference is racist as hell. Within one race there is still a ton of diversity – everyone does not look exactly alike, and on top of that, personalities can be completely different. So, you can see how it’s nonsensical to say “I don’t like Asians” right?


2) Fetishizing someone based on their race alone.

I feel like each race comes with their own weird sexualized stereotype that isn’t okay. Latinx people are supposed to be “firey,” if you’re black, you’re supposed to be overtly sexual, and Asian women are seen as subservient. I know I just said you shouldn’t write someone off based on their race, but dating people exclusively of a certain race so that you can reap some stereotypical benefit that isn’t even real is also racist. It goes from one extreme to the other!


3) Saying that you can’t be bothered to learn different terms that different cultures and nations use to describe themselves because it’s so annoying.

Learn. Your. Terms. The “too many labels, I can’t” excuse isn’t valid. Learn to respect the labels and terms others use and then use those words when speaking about or to them. The end.


4) Unnecessarily using race as a qualifier.

You know how when things are gendered arbitrarily it’s hilarious? Pens for women? How are they different than regular pens? Well, the same thing goes for race. Saying someone is pretty for being dark skinned, or referring to someone as “that Indian guy over there” is just as arbitrary and weird. Why did that need to be the main descriptor? Using race as a qualifier makes these sub categories where they don’t need to be and uses race as the most special, salient, other-izing fact about that person. Just say that someone is pretty or say it’s that guy wearing a blazer. You don’t need that extra stuff.


5) Unofficially electing the one person you know of a certain race to be ambassador of their whole community.

Stop looking at your black classmates when your teacher brings up slavery. Just stop it.


6) Assuming someone’s nationality or fluency in other languages without asking them.

Not everyone speaks the language you think they do. I sat next to a family at a Malaysian restaurant, who was not of Asian descent, who kept insisting on speaking to their waiter in Mandarin Chinese even though their server was American, not Chinese, and did not speak that language to them first.


7) Saying everybody of a certain race looks the same.

Lies. How is it that we allow and celebrate the diversity within only certain races and completely paint everyone else with the same general coat of sameness? Unless you’re literally identical twins, not everybody belonging to one race looks the same.


8) Saying that somebody is “white on the inside” like it’s a compliment.

“I know you’re black, but you’re like really white on the inside, you’re like an Oreo!” Kill this phrase. Kill it with fire. White is a social construct and not automatically aspirational. This falsehood also keeps people ashamed of their own cultures, which is a shame, because diversity is awesome, so stop being racist by assuming everyone wants to be white.


9) Culturally appropriating in the name of fashion or humor.

Do I have to tell you this isn’t funny or cool, again? Do I? Stop it.


10) Claiming reverse racism.

Lol, racism isn’t about you, white people, as you only stand to benefit from systemic racism. So yes, people can be prejudiced against white people – which is completely unfair and not okay – but this reverse racism nonsense just redirects a very real problem back at you so you can claim some version of victimhood that you made up because you feel what you believe to be “oppression.” So, yeah, no, affirmative action isn’t reverse racism, but nice try.


11) Saying that you “don’t see color.”

Erasing someone’s identity, their point of view, their stories, and their history does not make you evolved for being able to treat them as a person instead of a race (good for you *sarcasm*), it actually makes you a racist for not acknowledging their struggles, identity, and how their experience may differ than yours.


12) Using outdated, racist words and phrases.

G*psy is a racial slur, pass it on.


13) Derailing important movements with nonsense.

Yes, all lives matter, but we’re saying #BlackLivesMatter for a reason. Learn that reason, and quit it with this nonsense.


14) Denying that everyday racism exists in the first place.

People don’t need to come with proof of purchase in order for you to validate their experience. Denying someone’s perspective, making jokes about it, or saying that it can’t be that bad puts you on the side of the oppressor which, surprise, kind of makes you a racist.


15) Staying silent when you should speak up or defend someone.

Ah yes, racism by omission. You’re protecting your privilege and the status you hold by not disrupting racism when you see it. Your comfort is put at a higher premium than being an ally. Standing up for equality just makes you a decent person, not a hero. It’s no big deal to call out Islamophobia when you see it and it makes you an awful person to let it happen without saying or doing anything.

Do you do any of these things? Do you know someone who does? Let us know in the comments!

You can follow the author, Aliee Chan, on Twitter.


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  • ripinandatearin

    Not a comment even after a year. I’ll be first.
    Quit playing the poor little victim. I have zero idea what color you are. In case you haven’t figured it out by now people are sick of self victimization. I would advise you put on your big girl pants and quit crying. Or don’t. Personally I hope you don’t. It’s always good to see how a person thinks. Especially before you hire them….or don’t. Grow up child.