Casual racism is a unique category of racism. Overt racism is when someone says to a bilingual American who is speaking another language other than English, “You’re in America now! Speak American!” That’s easy to recognize and call out for its wrongness and stupidity.
Casual racism is when an American person of color who knows more English words and their meanings than 99.9% of all Americans as evidenced by her winning the National Spelling Bee – who while being interviewed for her accomplishment, a comment is made where the reason why a 12 year old girl wasn’t familiar with the word “covfefe” was because it didn’t have its origins in Sanskrit, an ancient language in another part of the world.
All racism is dependent on intellectual laziness, but casual racism is its own category of insult because it happens in the context of privilege – where the speaker doesn’t have the fear of consequence to speak with said dehumanizing intellectual laziness. The racist part of the comment is the implication that she is “foreign” because of her background as an Indian American. The nuanced form of this type of racism is seen in the ability to pull out a fact that Sanskrit is related to Hinduism, meaning that there is a capacity for the racist commentator of being knowledgeable. So unlike overt racism, where broad ignorance is potentially at play, this casual racism reeks of privilege because the person has the capacity for intellectual effort, but projects otherness and condescension anyways, and does it casually.
So which one is worse? Overt racism or casual racism? They are both offensive because they are both RACISM. Just because some educated CNN anchor says it seemingly unaware doesn’t make it any less wrong. In fact, you could make the argument that it makes it worse because their more insidious racism can’t be so easily dismissed as ignorant or stupid, and they are less likely to get called out on it.
The good news is that casual racism can be readily addressed with attention, humility, empathy, and effort. The bad news is that the way that most people will take this incident is that someone like me is making a big deal out of nothing, which is the proof of casual racism’s pervasiveness and that the dismissiveness surrounding it has its roots in privilege.