Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Do you work here?"

Institutional racism means that when you are Brown, you're taken to be a low-wage worker. Not that you might want or desire such a job, but that these are the opportunities open to you.

Institutional racism means that when you're in a clothing store, some White people will assume that you work there. You might be holding a few pieces of clothing over your arm, as you look through the shelves and racks. These are not things that you're browsing for and that you can afford to buy, but items that were already tried on or misplaced and it's your $5-per-hour job to fold and put them back.

Institutional racism means that when you are seeking something more beyond the 9-to-5 grind, some Rich people assume that you're unemployed and would be grateful for any job offered to you. You may have been privileged enough to get a degree, but educational qualifications are invisible. A rich person may look at your skin colour, and the skin colour of their loyal chauffeur and secretary, and offer you those jobs. These are not jobs you are necessarily interested in, but you are supposed to be grateful that you were offered them at all.

Institutional racism means that when you send out dozens of resumes with your Arabic-sounding Malay name, some White people will offer you a secretarial or administrative job, if it's not a cleaning job. Some White people will offer you unpaid internships. Some Rich people will, during your interview, tell you that they are glad you are not wearing hijab, because women that wear hijab "think differently". Institutional racism means that when you hyphenate your father's name to your husband's Dutch family name, you get an interview and you are assumed to be of mixed parentage.

Institutional racism means that when you find yourself too close to a person who has more privilege, other people might mistake you as the domestic worker of the person you are helping. You might be just offering a wet wipe to a Chinese woman who fell down, or helping a wheelchair-user buy something or get somewhere.

Institutional racism means that when you're doing anything resembling manual labour, some Chinese people will assume that you are the cleaner of the premises humbly doing your job. You might be moving boxes and equipment because you train with athletes in this hall everyday. It's your last day in this place and you have to pack everything to be picked up the next day. You know the Malay pakciks and Indian aunties that set up and put away sports equipment and furniture in this hall. Institutional racism means that a Chinese person may see you as just another Brown menial worker.

So the first thing he asks you is, "Do you work here?"

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