acism is a problem that many white people are oblivious to. When confronted with racial disparities and discrimination, we often manage to downplay them at best, or justify them at worst. Before I moved to London, I grew up and lived in an all white town. Although I did have one or two African classmates at some point in school, they had, by then, undergone a great deal of cultural assimilation that they might as well have been European – at least in public. Those who were born in the same country as me had been taught from birth how to ‘successfully integrate’ into white society. Those who were immigrants themselves, were so far removed from myself and my own little world, that real interactions were almost impossible.
Fast-forward a few years and I move to London. My circle expands and diversifies, but still, I naïvely think: racism does not exist, and if it does, it is the sickness of the poor and uneducated classes, and not that of the average, educated ‘new generation’ person.
My ignorance of the blatant racism in our society has probably caused much pain or offence in the past. That is why I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone, and indeed, everyone that I offended, misunderstood or dismissed in my ignorance. I am truly sorry.
Two years into living in London, I meet my other half, the one who completes me – an African. And what was the first sentence that blurted out of my mouth when we talked about racism? ‘Don’t be silly. Racism does not exist in Europe anymore.’ Boy, I could not have been more wrong! Living with and loving a black person has been the most enriching experience of my life. I will forever be grateful to him for having opened my eyes and my mind to the world that black people are facing every day.
It’s Time To Wake Up
Now, seeing the world from a non-white, non-privileged point of view was probably also my most shocking and upsetting experience. I have seen the systemic and lurking racism, the dismissive attitudes, and mostly, white people’s denial when it comes to race. I have never felt this on my own skin, I have always just been a bystander, but even at that, I have seen how incredibly painful and almost suffocating it can feel – and I’m not even black, but I saw it. Contrary to black people, I can choose to walk away, to not see, to not feel the pain – I can chose to be colourblind. That is what it means to be privileged. No matter where I go in the world, my skin colour will protect me, and even when trouble manages to find me, I will always be innocent until proven guilty. It’s not right, but I can’t deny it. It’s undeniable. Denying it means undermining the real suffering that black people experience on a day to day basis, while going about the most mundane of activities.
I have come to understand that the white world can be shockingly disillusioned, wrapped in the comfort of privilege and the luxury of ignorance. I have experienced first-hand how really privileged we are, in the sense that I could live in this society for over 20 years and never, not once in my life, be forced to worry about racial disparities. Imagine that!
So if someone did not know what white privilege is, now you do! White privilege is, among other things, the ability of being ignorant of other people’s suffering as a result of the colour of their skin, the luxury of not having to think about race and racially motivated discrimination. It is the ability to assume that it does not exist and actually get away with it.
It is okay to not know, but now that you do know, will you act?
What Can I Do?
Knowing how ignorant I used to be, I try to share what I have learnt with other white people. Why? Because the problem does not lie with black people, they know how to organise, how to help themselves, how to voice their problems. The problem lies with us. But are we willing to listen? Like Malala once said, the women’s movement can never reach its full potential without the help of men. In the same way, I submit the opinion that racial justice can only be achieved if white people are as active in the quest for equality as black people are.
Black people do not need white people to tell them how to feel, how to protest, how to organise. The energy of well meaning white people would be better directed at telling other white people where they are erring. Black people have tried, but whenever they do, they are either dismissed by us, or told that maybe they are too whiney, too lazy, or simply too dumb to really succeed – the well-known ‘Get over it! It’s been so long ago!’ phrase.
It is us white people who need to wake up from our collective trance, leave the curses of our ancestors behind, and strive to build a better and fairer society. But of course, that will hurt, that will require us to face the facts, not deny them, listen to those who are oppressed, instead of creating the narrative for them.
No more fear of the past, let us face it, accept it, learn from it, and never repeat it. But above all else, let us stop denying it.