Dear White Person,
(First of all, sorry for a long intro)
In the last couple of days of me brooding over the subtle racism (read: implicit bias) I am experiencing in the mostly white expat social scene here, I came across two things. This tweet:
To understand racism you need to understand power dynamics.
To understand sexism you need to understand power dynamics.
To understand poverty you need to understand power dynamics.
To understand power dynamics you need to listen and believe the stories of the powerless.— Nate Pyle (@NatePyle79) October 17, 2017
And this article from The New Yorker that talks about “white fragility” i.e. white people’s defensiveness when talking about racism (pretty common especially among white liberals/progressives) and how it holds racism in place.
“[Sociologist Robin DiAngelo] finds that the social costs for a black person in awakening the sleeping dragon of white fragility often prove so high that many black people don’t risk pointing out discrimination when they see it. And the expectation of ‘white solidarity’—white people will forbear from correcting each other’s racial missteps, to preserve the peace—makes genuine allyship elusive. White fragility holds racism in place.”
This piece was particularly helpful, because it helped me make sense of my experiences as a woman of color flitting through the mostly white expat social scene (made up mostly of aid workers and moneyed business people) in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. I knew there was a disparity between how I was being treated, compared to how a white person was being treated, but I never thought of it as racism. What I knew about racism is what I saw in pop culture/media: white people saying the “N” word, white people attacking people of color, etc. Somehow, the white-controlled pop culture I grew up with didn’t prepare me for the implicit bias that is fairly common in the Juba expat social scene.
Do not get me wrong: I’ve met dozens of white people who didn’t treat me differently. But, sadly, a lot of them have been complicit (however indirect) to the kind of racism I’ve been getting in this social scene.
Dear White Person,
You are complicit every time you dismiss us when we get hurt or get angry about how we are treated. You are complicit every time you claim there is no racism in the Juba social scene (and every time you think you should be the one to dictate what is racist and what is not). You are complicit every time you choose not to listen to us because talking about race makes you uncomfortable *coughs* *white fragility!* *coughs*. You are complicit by shutting us up or by refusing to listen to us. You are complicit and may even be not aware that you are contributing so much to the extra burden we (PoC) carry as we work/socialize here.
To commemorate your complicity or, fine, to make you aware of how you’ve been complicit, here are the words that were harmful to us…probably even more harmful than the actual racist encounter we complained to you about. (Note: These are actual quotes)
“Just stay cool and relax! Life is short! Enjoy life and don’t think about it!”
“You are just being sensitive, melodramatic.”
“You are just overthinking it!”
“He was just being playful…he was just kidding around!”
“You are being divisive and don’t want to keep peace in this fun group!”
“You are racist against white people!”
“Rolls eyes Of course it’s only white people here, we are celebrating a white holiday tradition here.” (Uhh, thanks, I guess for being invited to an all-white holiday tradition?)
“There’s no racism in the Juba social scene…people are just comfortable hanging out with their own kind!”
“It’s all in your head!”
“He’s not being racist towards you! He doesn’t come from a white country!” (Dude, Lebanon is richer than the Philippines. And, in Lebanon, they look down on Filipinos as domestic workers and, uhh, house slaves)
And, my all-time favorite:
“I don’t want to hear about this anymore! Can we just talk about myself and my problems?”