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I'm Not Being Racist, But...

If there is one sentence that you know isn’t going to end well, it is one that begins with ‘I’m not being racist, but’. It’s up there with ‘no offence, but’ where you know what you’re about to hear next is going to be offensive.

This sentence has always fascinated me, and I’d like to think there was some part of our brain that could immediately hit the brakes whenever we feel the desire to let those infamous words bumble out of our mouth. One of the most interesting parts of it is the absolute and unpredictable choice of words that follow. Sometimes, and more often than not, the comment is outright racist. Sometimes it is an ill-thought, knee-jerk reaction, said without thinking rather than meant maliciously. Some of them are so bizarrely presumptuous and absurd it makes you wonder what on earth the speaker has experienced to make them come to the conclusion they have. However, a lot of the time the comment has nothing to do with ethnicity at all, it is a genuine and reasonable observation and sometimes it is even complimentary, kind and sincere. On many occasions it is said almost without thinking as a simple pre-warning or apology to reassure the listener of the speaker’s intent.

As a result, I thought it would be interesting to share a collection of some of the pearls of wisdom I have heard over the years. Many of these are from my own experiences, whether people I know, conversations from strangers overheard in passing or rare acquaintances proselytizing their righteous beliefs, while the remainder have been shared with me.

All of the quotes are true, however, I confess I have altered them. This has been done for several reasons. First of all, I believe it is important to make the quotes ambiguous, so as not to indicate the ethnicity of the writer or their target, I have done this by changing any references to groups of people to ‘they and them’ or ‘one of them’ when referring to an individual. This may seem like a cowardly cop-out but I think it is critical. Only by doing that can we see how absurd our own views can be and it is left to the reader to guess, if they wish, on who is being referred to (I suspect you’d be surprised by the results).

The second purpose is to ensure I do not reinforce any negative stereotypes. This is not the purpose of the book, the purpose is so strip people’s opinions down to their bare bones, without favour, bias or prejudice to examine our own irrational fears and beliefs.

Finally, I have altered any information which identifies individuals, this is not a name-and-shame exercise, and everyone is entitled to drop a clanger now and then, as long as we learn from it.

A final thought is that, if we knew this is what some people thought of us, and how ridiculous it was; would that give us the wisdom and understanding to realise how nonsensical our own beliefs could be in return? Do we actually think this tripe, or do we just say it because it’s something we heard an old grandparent say once upon a time?

So grab a coffee, sit down for half an hour and enjoy a selection of quotations to make you laugh, frown and be bewildered.

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