Is casual racism ok if it’s making a valid point?

I’m in two minds about this question. I’m the kind of lighthearted person who doesn’t take things too personally, and, having experienced many different manifestations of racism on my travels around the world – from having “white” shouted at me in Uganda to having my skin-tone admired in Korea – I generally tend to believe that racism is simply a part of our world. Most of the time, it doesn’t have negative connotations. It’s about curiosity, a recognition of the differences that undeniably exist, and sometimes it’s just voiced in a way that isn’t received well.

The way people of one culture speak to and about people can be very different from the way another group of people do. Often racism isn’t meant in an offensive way at all. Statements that may be meant in a complimentary way can come across as incredibly rude – the gap that’s attempting to be bridged may often be its own cause. A simple misunderstanding can wreak havoc.

Yet racial stereotyping, hate-fueled anger towards someone just because they are different, tarring a group of people with the same brush is something I cannot abide by. Purposefully negative or generalising portrayals of people really get me riled.

So, seeing a piece of dance theatre that trod the line between simple misunderstanding and purposeful racial stereotyping was a hard one for me to swallow. There were times at which I found some of the stereotypes incredibly demeaning, and it was a shame that artistic director Luca Silvestrini barely used the wealth of experiences of his multicultural cast, but I mostly enjoyed Border Tales. I think Protein Dance got away with it – just – by their use of a very British sense of humour. Their casual racism went down well in a tongue-in-cheek appreciating city, but I very much doubt it would work nearly as well in smaller cities or in other countries.

Protein Dance © Chris Nash
Protein Dance © Chris Nash

Luca Silvestrini’s Border Tales at The Place, London

Is multiculturalism still a sensitive issue? Can we approach racism with humour? Repeatedly challenging their audience with “I think you think…”, Protein Dance present the stories of twelve individuals plucked from an array of different cultural backgrounds about living in Britain. Luca Silvestrini’s Border Tales at The Place is a colourful, humorous look at multiculturalism in modern Britain.

Click the link in the title to read my full review.

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