Subliminal Racism, the Silent Threat That Divides Us

Ditulis oleh: Zefanya Aprilia
Disunting oleh: Adara Zalikha & Zania Putri
Ilustrasi oleh: Bima Oktavian

What first comes to your mind knowing that innocent people are killed just because of their race and the colour of their skin? Do you feel the urge to speak up against the prevailing issue of racism in our society? Nevertheless, does the fear of being labelled as radical or “woke” also haunt you? Never be afraid to stand for what’s right. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day when we become silent about the things that matter.”

Although the world seems to move in a rather progressive way these past years, racism also merges into a different form, a subliminal one. Subliminal means something that is not easily perceived, yet affects and manipulates a person’s mind unconsciously. Subliminal racism comes in all forms, it may involve subtle racial mockery, stigma, and beauty standards. An example of this is how the N-word was a common pop culture term in the 90s in America. Or how in Indonesia’s beauty industry, fair and white are the beauty standards to being conventionally pretty.

“How can I use my voice when I don’t really understand issues regarding racism?” Most Indonesian schools barely touch and discuss the issues surrounding racism. Indonesia is not a country free of a racist society, culture and history. Our racist history, especially, is one that is long and strenuous. An example of discrimination and mistreatement of other races in Indonesia would be the mass rapings of Chinese-Indonesian women in 1998 and the ongoing racial discriminations given to Papuans. Another example that we might be oblivious to is the racism towards native Indonesians during the Dutch colonisation era. It is time to stop accepting half truths. The history of Colonial Indonesia does not only include nutmeg and the VOC, native Indonesians’ basic human rights were infringed: they were called ‘monkeys’ and did not even have the right to adat land due to eigendom.

The tiring misuse of the N-Word is another significant issue of racism. Under no situation, whether there are black people present or not, is it okay to use the N-word towards a person or as an expression. The N-word originated in the 18th century as an adaptation of the Spanish word n****o and n***er, means “black” which has close correlation with the history of African-American enslavement and segregation in America. The word is inextricably linked with violence and brutality, riddled with the history of bloodbath behind the term. Racism comes in all shapes and forms, using the N-Word in any setting is condoning the racist culture and supporting the stigma that black people are lesser. 

Sadly, racial mockery is an on-going problem that only education can fix – I believe that at some point of your life, many of you have heard or even participated in the act of racial mockery. The most common occurence that has always been happening is the normalization of discrimination towards Indonesians with darker skin colours. I vividly remember being coerced into fake dating a fellow classmate during middle school because he was Ambonese and has dark skin tone. Although some will call or even tolerate it as a “prank”, that really struck me – the only reason my schoolmates made me fake date the Ambonese student was because of their perception on toxic beauty and racial standards that perceives only a certain type of physical attributes as “aesthetically pleasing”.

So, what should we do to prove our allyship and overcome this problem? The practice of staying quiet and neutral is not chasing away racism. We all have to be actively anti-racist — staying neutral is not chasing away racism, we have to alwas be  actively anti-racist. It is also important to acknowledge our personal privileges, confronting acts of racial discrimination, and working to change personal biases. 

Racism will not fade away tomorrow, the fight to erase racism from the face of Earth is one that would not be ending anytime soon. Start contributing to the concurring movement by bringing attention to the movement through both online and offline media, donate to the community in need, and most importantly educate yourself upon the topic. Although racial discrimination towards black people is one of the biggest “pandemic” that we need to face, changes can start within yourself and those around you. Get rid of subliminal racism by understanding what they go through, acknowledge it, and help make some noise. Do what you can, speak out and use your privilege to help those who don’t. 

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