Nothing clears or quiets a room of White people faster than mentioning race, it’s the one topic where you are sure to be the “buzz kill”. But why is that? What is it about the subject that makes people squirm in their seats? Is it because it’s the ultimate trump card? Do they feel that no matter their responses, they will be labeled a racist, so remain silent? But what about all of the other grey areas in between? The nuances? The silent acceptance of an imbalance we all see but refuse to “see”? What about the allyships and White Saviours? There is literally a mirage of discussion points to be had, yet mention race and bam! A door is slammed shut. What about the micro aggressions, the backhand comments, the subtle undertones which are felt but not breathed life into? How do we begin to unpack them? See them for what they are and open up the dialogue that they are inappropriate? This week on the blog, we get direct about our views on racism and how ultimately being racist doesn’t leave room for proper discourse. Share your thoughts on your experiences!
Trust me when I say this, some times people can be guilty speaking well before they actually think- I have been known to put my foot in my mouth many many times, especially when I’m nervous. But there is definitely a line I would never cross, be it because I was raised properly or because I’m a bit more socially aware, who knows. While I accept that not all of the things I have been told were meant or even used in a racist manner- the very fact that I have been asked/told this BECAUSE of the colour of my skin- definitely makes it problematic, Disclaimer: there are probably more, but these are the ones which stuck with me and in some ways have impacted the way I see or think about things.
Things Said To Me
“Wow, your skin is actually so soft!”
“Your hair feels like a sheep’s wool!”
“Can you get sunburnt? I thought your skin was protected from the sun.”
“The darker your skin, the deeper your voice. That’s a fact.”
“Does your vagina look like a White person’s vagina?”
“You must be good at sports.”
“You don’t speak like you’re Black”
“You’re an Oreo”
“How long can your hair grow?”
“You’re so well-spoken for a Black person.”
“Does your hair move in the wind?”
“Does the N word really offend you?”
“Can I ask you a question about this racist thing I saw?”
“Where are you from?…No, but like where do you originate from?”
“You must like spicy foods”
“Your dark skin makes your teeth look so white.”
“I bet you’re a really good dancer.”
“How come you don’t speak with an accent?”
“I’ve never been with a Black girl before.”
“Do you practice voodoo?“
“I bet you’re really into basketball/hip hop/rap.”
As I write this, I’m 35…think about that. 35, not born in 1920 or 1805 where you would easily and far too simplistically brush it off as one offs or just a sign of times gone by. These have legitimately been things I have been asked or told, some with an added giggle in an attempt to soften the blow, while holding my stunned gaze, but all equally offensive. We won’t even give lip service as to why it is offensive but know this: none of these questions would be posed if I wasn’t being “othered” in some way, shape or form. So yes, while I am extremely “lucky” or privileged to be living in Canada (and have lived in England for many years)- where the possibility of being lynched for my skin colour is potentially lower- it doesn’t reduce the impact these events have had on me. The very fact that you cannot hide or shy away from your appearance, the very idea that people will look at you and instantly make an assumption or even feel like you are their sounding board for all things “Black”. Or better yet, the fact that they suddenly forget Google is a thing and decide “hmm token Black person, must engage with off the cuff remarks about their colour, in case they aren’t aware of it themselves”.
The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people, but because of the silence of good people.Unknown
Most definitely, the public lynching of George Floyd, ripped open wounds and scars, it exploded onto our collective conscience- but it also opened up dialogue. Truths; a community sharing their own experiences, some life and death, others only scathing the ego, but all traumatic. I know what it’s like to look at myself in the mirror and wonder why my skin tone isn’t the picture of beauty, wondered what it would be like to be a beautiful blonde woman. Also, tall, we can’t forget tall. But also having to manage your emotions and outrage, sometimes smiling and grinning through it because it’s not the right place or time, because you don’t want to be THAT person, or simply because it’s not actually worth it. Every time someone begins to say some racially insensitive, I begin to feel tingly and I do a quick mental gymnastics calculating, whether it’s worth being the person to speak up. Because that’s yet another traumatic situation- instantly knowing it’s your job to be the flag carrier, for all things minority, for all things other, for all things tokenism. It’s hard work, even in a diverse country like Canada; there is no tap out on being Black; especially growing up in certain areas of the West Island.
Existing while Black, can be exhausting, knowing when you walk into a meeting/board room you will most likely be the only person of colour, has its own kind of trauma, I don’t know if White people really ever register this. Always having to be THE ONE to bring up points from a wider/diverse perspective, that it’s a torch meant to be carried alone. I think we all share a collective responsibility to be more culturally and socially diverse. If the only exposure you have to people of colour is through entertainment, then you’re not looking hard enough. But it shouldn’t be my job to educate you; that’s not allyship- that’s laziness and it’s sloppy and it’ll show. This post isn’t meant to attack any particular group of people, but merely to show that even small quips and comments can be deemed as insensitive and flirting with racism. We all need to be mindful of the things we say and the things we post on social media. Our words hold weight, and those weights leave an impact on those around us. #kindnessallaround