Sam Smith’s brush with racism

Sam Smith headline

By Jae-Ha Kim
January 20, 2016

Singer Sam Smith got skewered on social media for a series of tweets. After witnessing his friend being abused due to his race, Smith said he was astounded that something like this could happen in London.

His tweets clearly were well intentioned. But some folks wondered how he could be so naive as to not know that these things happened on a somewhat regular basis to people of color — especially since the anti-Muslim, anti-Pakastani, anti-Syrian sentiment in the U.K. has been covered extensively in the media there.

For many people who don’t belong to a minority, racism doesn’t seem real because they don’t experience it firsthand.

Sam Smith

When I talk about my experiences, I can tell that it makes some of my friends uncomfortable. They tell me that they don’t read my race-related posts or that they don’t want me to be a downer. They try to downplay what happened by saying that they, themselves, had never witnessed it.

Here I am telling them that it happened to me. And yet, they still negate it. Well then. It must not have happened, right?

When I joined the Twitter dialogue, I mentioned a racist incident that occurred to me in London. A Sam Smith fan took the opportunity to whitewash my experience with his condescending mansplaining. His reasoning is the same as those that other white commenters made when I wrote about some of the racism I had experienced growing up in Chicago.


Jonathan Hasen_Sam Smith

If you’ve never been on the receiving end of racism, I’m truly happy for you. But, don’t presume to know what did or didn’t happen to other people.  Just because you didn’t see it, that doesn’t mean it never happened.

© 2016 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (35)

  1. Peter says:

    I choose to believe Jon Hasen is a big douchebag. White privilege at its finest. White man telling Asian woman that she couldn’t possibly have experienced racism because HE chooses not to believe it. In my experience, racists don’t attack blacks, Asians etc. when other whites are around. They prefer to lash out when they think they have the powerless cornered.

  2. Jae-Ha Kim says:

    • Emerson says:

      What a fucking twat! He finds it difficult to believe. I find it difficult to believe that he can type and breathe at the same time.

    • Alan says:

      He finds it difficult to believe because he’s a moron. But don’t you dare doubt him. He’s white, so he’s right.

    • Sam Gidsley says:

      Da fuq? Smug white guy didn’t see it happen to you so he doesn’t believe you. I read his series of tweets claiming that unlike the U.S., there is minimal racism in England. Maybe, if you’re WHITE. But brown folks don’t have it as easy. I hope he enjoys life with his blinders on. Fucker needs to move somewhere where he gets his ass beat every day for being white. Maybe then he’ll see that racism is a real thing that needs to be eradicated rather than swept under the rug.

      Good article, Ms. Kim. I look forward to reading more.

  3. Junho says:

    미스 김재하, 화이팅! ??

  4. Jae-Ha Kim says:

    • Audrey Matthews says:

      As an adoptee living in an area with almost all white people, I can tell you that racism is alive and well in the 21st century. I’m so sorry that your son had to go through this, and you as well of course. Hugs.

  5. Alvin says:

  6. enseoulment says:

    Sooooo, if that term is not a racist slur in the UK, why was that the go-to word when the purpose was obviously trying to degrade you? This guy must have pulled his arm out of its socket with how far he’s reaching there…

  7. Zarnia says:

    I don’t think Sam Smith is racist and as he pointed out, he has been marginalized because he’s gay. So he understands bigotry. His problem here though is that in his tweets, he becomes the one who was victimized rather than his friend, who I’m sure has experienced these kinds of racism more than once. Like the previous commentor posted in her fictional movie, now Sam Smith the white guy becomes the star of the movie, when it was really his minority friend who was the victim. I don’t think it’s right to make fun of Sam for this because he was trying to help and he did bring attention to racism just by tweeting it out. Hopefully this was a learning lesson for him too though.

  8. “I’m hurt” – a tale in which a white man discovers that racism does, in fact, exist, even in London. Starring a white man and his feelings on the matter of having his rose-tinted glasses smashed. Not starring the POC to which that racism happens. Co-starring some other white guy whose glasses are still firmly in place.

    I grew up in London and was happily under the impression that we were all joyfully multicultural and racism was confined to the loony right. Because I’m white and therefore it didn’t happen to me. (Let’s just ignore the fact that the term ‘Paki’ was hurled around the playground as an insult on a daily basis. And not think about what those people were rioting for in Brixton and Tottenham. And Stephen Lawrence’s murder? Nothing to do with racism, that….)


  9. Mavelous says:

  10. Pat Lewis says:

    Wow. It was so disheartening to read those comments and the ones from some of your previous posts. FWIW, they’re idiots who can only see what’s directly in from of them. Keep on with the great work!

  11. Todd Fulton says:

    Bandwagon-ing on a 23 year old for being naive?

    • Anabelle Lewis says:

      What dose this dude even mean? Does he think you’re attacking Sam? I love Sam and didn’t think that. Everyone makes mistakes and Sam didn’t do anything really wrong, but hopefully he will think about who really suffers.

    • Karen Chang says:

      I’m 19. I don’t like being talked down to. I doubt Mr. Smith or Ms. Kim does either. Maybe you’re the one who’s naïve, Mr. Fulton.

    • Pat Lewis says:

      Yes, because 23 year olds are babies who should be coddled, rather than adults who can drink, join the military and vote.

    • Kim Jaehwa says:

      I’m just guessing you’re white.

    • Peter Kang says:

      If you don’t like her opinion, fine. But accusing her of jumping on a bandwagon for taking a piece about Sam Smith and tying it in with her personal experiences about racism…and having people tell her they find it hard to believe that happened… You’re really stretching, there.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Taking a current topic dealing with celebrities and racism; having an opinion about it based on my own experiences with actual racism (rather than being the person watching it happen to someone else); and then writing a piece about it is bandwagoning?

      • Mark Ardito says:

        You need to preface all your posts by apologizing to the white people who may be offended and shed white tears. And I say this as a white man who knows all too well the privilege that I enjoy every single day of my life.

    • Todd Fulton says:

      What would have been more appropriate action for him to take? Do nothing? Look the other way? Have his publicist edit his tweets?

      Far as “I’m just guessing you’re white,” goes… does being white preclude one from experiencing racism? In the US or Europe, probably so… Perhaps you also assume I’ve never left… and lived for years in a non-caucasian place… never been called big nose and monkey man on a daily basis… (Yes, parts of Seoul can be just as welcoming as London, even if you’re not walking down the street with Sam Smith.)

      Kim Jaehwa- your assumptions are no less ugly than the racism you pretend to lament…

      • Stephanie A. Miller says:

        Here’s a mason jar. Let me fill it with your white tears.

        * I am white, too.

      • Jae-Ha Kim says:

        Todd, I never said what he should or shouldn’t have done. I reported on what he did, the backlash and then wrote a column that included this line (which is also in my FB post): “For many people who don’t belong to a minority, racism doesn’t seem real because they don’t experience it firsthand. And when they do witness it, it’s an eyeopener.”

        So…what’s your problem with that? That he’s 23, so therefore I shouldn’t have posted this? That other media have posted about this, so therefore I shouldn’t have jumped on the bandwagon? That you don’t think what he did was wrong (neither do I), so therefore I should’ve have posted about this?

        The fact that this was his first experience with racism — at the age of 23 (and it wasn’t even directed at him) — is so different for many people of color. Mine happened when I was 5, and it was directed at me. Two different realities.

      • Kim Jaehwa says:

        Saying, “I’m guessing you’re white” makes me racist? Just out of curiosity, were you an English teacher in Korea? Comparing yourself to Sam Smith’s friend is ridiculous. You were called names in Korea, but could move back home where you continue enjoying your white male ststus. Sam’s friend is English and is already home, where he deals with the kind of racism you won’t have to.

  12. Todd Fulton says:

    I didn’t say your assumptions were racist, I said they were ugly.

  13. Todd Fulton says:

    Enough of this, though… we are way off track. None of us seem to be racist… we all seem on the same side…. same goal in mind.

    My point, which should have been better articulated, is that I admire Smith’s (albeit feeble) attempt to do SOMEthing, regardless of how unsuccessful it turned out to be. I also harbor some resentment at his treatment since. To put a more personal perspective on this, my mixed race children are nearing his age, and in similar circumstances, I’d be far more disappointed with their inaction than in their naivety. I hope Smith is not discouraged by this experience and continues to stand up- even if he trips over his own feet again. Far better to try and fail than not try at all.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      He got the word out about a racist incident (that many of his fans will never experience in their own everyday lives) — but perhaps his actions will encourage them to support their friends as well. All too often, people standby and watch as a person is being harassed. If more people nipped it as it was happening, there’d be less incidents like this. His celebrity means that this incident got traction and got people talking about race issues. That’s always a good thing.

    • Cody says:

      I agree, Todd. Always better to do something, even if people end up laughing at you. Good for Sam for sticking up for his friend!

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