Watch your words, they become your actions

Gemma is pondering the topic of racism in this week's Good Life column...

During one of my nightly walks this week, I called into one of the fruit and veg shops to buy an apple. I picked my green apple with care, selecting the freshest, firmest one I could find. When I got to the counter, I realised I had no change therefore I asked the shop keeper if it was okay to pay with card.

“Usually no..,” he said, in a thick Maltese English accent.

“That’s no bother at all,” I chipped in, knowing fine well that the cost of the transaction would nearly be more than the cost of the apple.

You might think it’s nothing, but profit is profit and a business is a profit making entity. If they don’t accept card for small transactions, the rule was put in place for a reason.

“But I recognise your accent,” he continued, “and you remind me of my aunt, so I want to give it to you.”

I looked at him, in a tiny box shop with four other customers hurriedly filling their baskets after a busy day at work, this man was giving something away for free. Ears pricked and heads cocked.

“You are from Ireland,” he affirmed.

“Yes?” I responded, quizzical.

It turns out, this man has family in Ireland. McGuinnesses, dairy farmers from County Louth. I told him I was from Cavan, not too far away from where his family lives. He had a faint recognition of the area. Although curious, I was also eager to turn the conversation away from my home country; my fellow shoppers were all gawping at the encounter. I insisted on using my card to pay for the apple. He argued otherwise. With a promise of my return with the forty cent, I thanked him and left.

I really appreciated the gesture. However, I was out on the late night walk because I was agitated following a deep discussion with my flatmates about racism. I understand this man was not intending to be racist by his actions. In fact, I think he was trying to achieve the opposite. However, I thought of the other people in the shop. I got something for free based on where I come from. The Cambridge Dictionary defines racism as “policies, behaviours, rules, etc. that result in a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race". Does it meet the full definition? No. It does fall under some of the criteria though. Did I take the apple? Yes. I did think about putting it back, but I felt this would be rude. Racism, marketing strategy, or a nice gesture based on nostalgia for a family member? We all perceive things in different ways.

The topic of discussion before I left for my walk was if racism can be categorised. We discussed racism. What it is and what it isn’t based on our own opinions and experiences. I thought hard about the question. Are there different types of racism? My initial thoughts were that racism could be described in its extremity, so somebody could say something slightly racist or extremely racist. I think this is true but, unchecked, the slight can lead to extreme.

The subject of murder and its classifications was brought up. First degree, second, third, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. We tried to create classifications of racism in the same way. Thinking back now it was a strange comparison but not without its significance. By being racist, you are killing your chances of interacting with others and learning about cultures different to your own, trapping yourself into your own bubble.

While the others spoke about the topic, I found myself disagreeing. Isn’t grouping people the reason for this issue? How will classification help? The only other “type” of racism I suggested was unintentional racism, where somebody is acting in a racist way without realising. This is what I believe happened at the supermarket. This man had only good intentions, his gesture was done out of goodwill. However I will be returning to the supermarket with my continued custom and an extra forty cents with my next purchase. I don't wish to be treated any differently to others in the supermarket.

I discussed the topic with a friend whose opinion I value highly, he told me this:

Watch your thoughts, they become words

Watch your words, they become your actions

Watch your actions, they become your habits

Watch your habits, they become your character

Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

* Gemma Good is from Killeshandra and a third year journalism student in University of Limerick


Things are rarely black and white