Racial injustice and the danger of assumptions

Racial injustice refers to the unequal treatment of someone based on their race. It’s an ongoing problem that, despite recent progress, still heavily affects black and minority ethnic communities (BAME) - some more so than others. Contributing to this inequity is the racist assumptions that people can have, individually and collectively. For example, you might assume that somebody speaks a certain language, has a certain job, holds a particular disposition or political stance, based on their race. This encourages premature and unnecessary judgement. 

Assumptions can contribute to interpersonal racism by shaping beliefs and attitudes…

Racist assumptions can both consciously and subconsciously extend racial inequities. This can be carried out as ‘individual racism,’ contributing to interpersonal racism, one of the four ways that this discrimination is rooted in society - structural, interpersonal, internal and systemic

The danger of assumptions lies in the equally forthright and underlying form that this can take shape. The covert nature of some forms of discrimination can make it hard to identify and unwind. This is particularly true when interpersonal perspectives can seep into the beliefs and attitudes of an individual. Therefore, racism can be exaggerated as the assumptions create a false perception of others. 

Art can overturn racist assumptions by exposing wrong and dangerous perspectives…

James Earley draws focus to dangerous assumptions through the wrong, racist and western perspective on Africa. Often viewed as desolate, poor, and rudimentary, it is imperative to recognise the colonial and imperialist roots that eventually immerse itself into western views on the black diaspora. These notions originate from the backwards thought that Africa needed imperial, Western, European intervention to bring developments - when this simply was, and is, not true. Through his hyperrealism art, Earley seeks to overturn this thought; putting forward the fresh, and more accurate, perspective “Africa is rich, but we steal its wealth.” Therefore, highlighting the part that colonialism still plays in racist assumptions. 

James Early, Roar, oil on canvas, 2022.

…it can also visualise communities through fresh visual paradigms…

O.D. Adedeji’s painting A Sign of Hope shows representation as an agent of change. Within the colourful artwork, the artist uses their culture as a guide to create artworks that reveal the beauty and dynamism of Nigerian culture to new audiences. Many historical artworks feature people from the African diaspora as props or additions, but rarely as the main subject of beauty. Through her art, Adedeji seeks to create art with a meaning, artwork about culture, to show black beauty in a different light. The figure is wearing a Fila on his head and a Sanyan Agbada, which is worn by Men in Nigeria. It was one of the first handwoven fabrics to be introduced to Yoruba culture. The intent is to raise awareness for Adedeji's culture, which is often underrepresented in institutions founded upon the exclusion of people based upon race and cultural heritage.

O.D. Adedeji, A Sign of Hope, oil on canvas, 2022

Conscious understanding of diversity is imperative…

To be present within your thoughts and initial judgments on others is important. If you have grown up in a society where racial assumptions are ever-present, and you find yourself falling within that framework, allow yourself to consciously overturn those perceptions. By recognising the danger within potential thought patterns, both conscious and unconscious, one can help to unwind the cycle of racial inequity. Consider various strategies to reduce racist assumptions: stereotype replacement, counter-stereotypic imagine, individuation and perspective taking. Notice differences while identifying commonalities with others; by acknowledging the breadth of racial diversity within contemporary society is important to give space to identities that exist beyond your own.


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