you - me


On Saturday, I was leafleting people aged between 15 and 23, mostly completely misreading ages. Everyone was either 14 or in their 30s. I came up to a woman with dark black skin and asked her age. She was with an asian man who looked like he was probably in his 40s but I still thought it was possible that she was 23. She said, a bit stiffly, that she looked much younger than I thought. She said it in a way that implied that I couldn't read black skins. I countered with the explanation that I misread everyone's age. I am 33 and everyone is my age.

I know that it's true that white peole often read black people as much younger than they are. A friend who is a nurse said that white people, including doctors and nurses, fail to see anaemia in black people for similar reasons. I know if a friend has very dark skin I can't see it when they have a tan. But I wasn't doing that. The majority of people I mistook as younger had very white skin.

So I've been thinking about internalized racism. I know I hear anti-semitism more often than it is probably intended. I also have a radar for disguised prejudice. It comes from being brought up in a racist society - you know what to look for. But, like the Woody Allen joke, when he heard a WASPish tennis partner say, "Jew, not did you, but Jew", we can hear even when it's not there. I know that's why Jews are often seen by non-Jews as paranoid and black people are seen as chippy. People who encounter prejudice their whole lives are sensitized to it. And we have internalized it.

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