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Notes on Casual Racism in Travel and Travel Writing

United States Culture
by Oneika Raymond May 23, 2016

FOR THOSE WHO AREN’T familiar with the term, casual racism is just like “regular” racism in that it is rooted in prejudice and negative stereotypes about people based on their race, colour or ethnicity.

However, this form of racism differs in that it’s not necessarily deliberately discriminatory or intended to cause harm or offense. Instead, it’s rooted in unconscious bias. Examples of casually racist conduct range from making off-colour jokes to voicing unconsciously negative and unfair conjectures about people from oft-marginalized racial or ethnic groups.

Despite its lack of malice, however, casual racism can be just as hurtful, inappropriate, and damaging as types of racism that are more overt and intentional.

So make no mistake, even though it’s “softer”, it’s still racism.

I bring this up because a recent incident reminded me about the degree to which casual racism is prevalent in travel writing, particularly amongst non-POC writers. Last week a popular travel blogger wrote a post on their social media feeds about the disrespectful practices (namely littering and impoliteness) of Asian tourists in New Zealand. See a screen cap of the post below and try to figure out why I took issue with it:

Sigh. I was completely on board with the message until the hashtag. Using “When Asians Attack” as a coda to a rant on respect is reductive, simplistic, and totally not the way to initiate intellectual and non-emotional dialogue. This comment, though made in jest, is divisive and reinforces social barriers. It could also potentially lead to discrimination fueled by hate.

Perhaps the saddest part of the whole debacle is that neither the blogger nor a large segment of their fans were initially able to understand why that remark was problematic, and earnest attempts to “call in” the offensive behaviour (as opposed to “call out,” see this article for an excellent explanation of the difference) were met with defiance, defensiveness, and vitriol. (The blogger has since reflected and apologized for their behaviour.)

Worse still is that this is but one example of many in an industry awash in this sort of seemingly innocuous prejudice and negative stereotyping.

I don’t want to belabour the point too much, but this stellar piece by the super-talented Bani Amor sheds light on the issue of casual racism in travel writing and the travel industry overall.

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