"I'm not a racist, but..."
There's an odd saying going around these days. Whenever a conversation about Czechs and Roma starts, many in the Czech Republic invariably seem to use the phrase "I'm not a racist, but..." (Nejsem rasista, ale...) and then continue speaking, more often than not uttering racist statements along the way.
In many ways they are using the term "racist" in these instances to mean "hate-monger", and clearly very few people are boiling over with hate. People certainly don't want me to think that they are hateful, and the fact that they are speaking with a foreigner only heightens their sensitivity of the issue.
They are on the defensive. I often hear "It's absurd to claim that all Czechs are racists." Of course it is, and I regularly try to explain, that this statement itself would be racist in character.
It is far more fruitful to analyse words and statements rather than judge the people who make them. Let's not say a person is or is not a racist; let's say that this or that statement is or is not racist in character.
Here are a few of the racist statements, heard after "I am not a racist, but..."
All of these statements are racist, because they are racially or ethnically deterministic. They are prejudiced claims that an individual member of group X will have certain mental and social characteristics simply because he is a member of that racial group. The belief that underlies such statements is racism.
The phrase "I'm not a racist, but..." shows that many Czechs are on the defensive, and they are worried that "all Westerners" consider "all Czechs" to be racists. Certainly this is not true, but in a very real sense, these Czechs are now feeling the pain of racial prejudice: they are feeling what it is like when other people judge you simply according to your ethnic background.
Interestingly, these Czechs defend themselves by saying "I am not a racist" in the same way that some Roma defend themselves by saying "I do not steal, and I pay my rent." In both cases, the speaker is trying to break the stereotype that has been built up around the group he considers himself a member of.
On the plus side, the growing popularity of the phrase shows that at least people consider racists as unwelcome. Now, there remains the matter of getting people to know what racism actually is.