This is something I really wanted to write about. It’s too hard to ignore but at the same time an easy issue to dismiss if you’re not the victim of a system designed to trap you in the glass cage of prejudice. This is also the most difficult thing I’ve ever written about. This difficulty is not so much because of what to write but more how to write it. I am bolstered down by ignorance because I’m a rich, fair-skinned, Indian girl. I don’t want this to be shallow or self-congratulatory. It’s already off to a rough start because so far I’ve made this entire introduction about me. I will acknowledge this now: I’ll ALWAYS be ignorant but I have a duty to make myself less so.
It’s an easy issue to dismiss for those unaffected. Of course racism is the most destructive form of oppression to plague humankind but I say that it’s easy to dismiss because it’s constantly being disregarded. Racism is often normalised since standing against it is seen as “heroic”. This shouldn’t be the case. Speaking against racism should not be an act of martyrdom. Every time a blatantly, racially-fuelled incident occurs, a bunch of people have to say “BUT…”. The second you hear or spot this word, you know that the lived pain of an entire race will be brushed aside. “But…” is usually followed at some point by “not everything is about race”, “stop playing the race card” and “you’re just victimising yourself”.
One of the major points of criticism to the phenomenon of the “social justice warrior” is that these people use so called “infantile spewing” of arguments based emotion rather than fact. However, the criticism of anyone who speaks out against racism and sexism doesn’t take into account how relevant emotion is. Racism is a lived experience. It impacts people’s lives on a daily basis. It’s an inescapable part of our society. It’s something intimately involved with people and will therefore elicit an emotional reaction. Laws don’t cure racism. Laws can’t cure racism. Facts and statistics can’t bring into account a person’s personal story. Statistics don’t tell you all the times the person of a colour’s skin made people assume they are “the help” or that they only hold their job position because of BEE/affirmative action and not their skill. Statistics can’t tell you about every time a black person isn’t taken as seriously due to decades of ingrown beliefs about their entire race and the unending manifestations of years of disadvantage. They don’t tell you about every time black men are assumed to be thieves or thugs. Racism isn’t always blatant but it’s largely present. When racism is brought into discussion, people want obvious examples of it. They want to hear about the *David Dukes and *Hendrik Verwoerds in order for its existence to be proven. Even when a variety of black people relate their experiences and all have similar stories to tell and examples to give, people are still not convinced. It baffles me that we hear the same stories of institutionalised racism repeated over and over, and yet a lot of people still maintain that these stories are nothing but ways to pander to victim mentality. The people who ignore racism can so, because they are privileged enough not to experience it.
That is what white privilege is. It’s the privilege of being able to ignore and dismiss racism because it doesn’t affect you. It’s the privilege of only seeing it when you open your eyes and are not living it. It’s the privilege of being on the other side of the glass cage, blissfully unaware of the person of colour who has to prove themselves because the colour of their skin elicits harmful assumptions and stereotypes. It’s being unaware that a black person, no matter how rich or educated, may not quite be viewed as equal.
Racism is primarily a mental state rather than a political notion. Racism did not magically dissipate when Apartheid was dismantled. It is such a long-standing part of history that it could not die but rather evolved into something different to keep up with modern times. So instead of the overt racist, we have the silent racist. Racism has adapted to become much more congenial. This congeniality is just as menacing, if not more.
The overt bigot knows what they are. They know and celebrate their own prejudices. The silent racist is on the other hand, often not aware of the extremely damaging mind-set that they have. The silent racist isn’t even always an inherently bad person. Even so, with their lack of understanding of the instilled prejudice that they have, they play a big role in perpetuating inequality. This is unacceptable.
That’s why it’s not very helpful to say vague things like “don’t be racist”. Racism is a simple notion but complex in its manifestations. You write something like “say no to racism” and “black lives matter” and it gets a lot of likes but is never all that helpful because it doesn’t challenge the mind-set and prejudices that have been instilled in us since we were young. For example, the face of the poor is a black person. Black people make up majority of the menial jobs such as housekeepers and gardeners etc. Therefore black people become easily stripped of their humanity and are seen as ghosts of people making up background decorations to our privileged lives. HIV and TB are also more prominent in the black population due to socio-economic factors. These diseases are considered issues more associated with poor black communities where the statistics are given more of a focus while engaging with the culture takes a backseat. Those affected are seen as merely problem cases in need of liberation with their stories told by privileged people who don’t really understand them or their situations. They aren’t seen as equals but as ego-boosts. Due to decades of inequality and living under a system specifically designed to ensure that black people would be poor and disadvantaged, we have stereotypes that persist and mind-sets so implanted in us that we don’t even know they exist.
I read a book called Americanah in which a Nigerian woman moved to America. She explains that the concept of race never really existed until she moved. In Nigeria, she was an actual individual person with her own thoughts, ideas and dreams, just like everyone else was. When she moved to America, she suddenly became black. She was ultimately subjected to being compartmentalised by virtue of her skin colour. The various attitudes regarding people of different races, ethnicities and religions became blatant. The incredibly devastating thing about this is that it really shines a light on the fact that racism can be dismantled but it somehow continues to persist.
I also understand why creating a dialogue is so difficult. White people and other races often feel silenced when they try to engage in the discussion and sometimes they are silenced and told that their opinions don’t matter. I disagree with that. I think that all opinions matter. However, the opinions of people who haven’t actually lived the prejudices are ignorant to an extent and often counterintuitive to providing solutions and meaningful discussion. Debate more often turns into abuse. Think of a time you’ve tried to explain something but were unable to make the person understand no matter how hard you tried. This is why terms like white privilege exist. The struggle of something that is not your own is extremely difficult to fully grasp.
I understand that everyone has experienced some form of injustice in their lives. Just because you’re white doesn’t mean that you are rich or that you haven’t had a hard life or haven’t had to experience extreme difficulties. It just means that you don’t experience the problems specific to people of colour.
I say all of this with confidence because I never quite realised how ignorant and privileged I was until I did more reading and started educating myself. I never realised how many harmful and ignorant attitudes I had despite the fact that I have never actively discriminated against anyone and never let race determine who I was friends with or who I spent time with. Racism starts and ends with you. It’s not quite the outside evil that most people perceive it to be.
*P.S my terrible Trump and Hitler comparison annoyed me too much so I changed it.