I am angry. These three little words make many people very uncomfortable. I have been thinking of writing this for a few weeks now but I couldn’t get up the courage to do so. It is true. I am angry. Not at one person in particular but at events, and the systems and frameworks that serve to oppress over half the worlds population.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard about the events in Baltimore, and before that in Ferguson. As much as we hear we now live in a “post-racial” society, we do not. The only people who try to claim this are the ones that do not have to deal with racism or other forms of ethnicity-based oppression. For purposes of clarity, I will give a definition of racism.
Racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. Now this is important: racism is systematic.
Let me say this again: racism is systematic. There is no racism against white people. This seems to be a point of contention among many white people, which still confuses me. I have never understood why so many people wish to experience racism. I understand that it isn’t that simple; it’s not racism these people wish to experience, but an alleviation of guilt/knowledge/responsibility of their participation in systematic racism.
In the last few weeks, I have heard or been told that I (or other people of colour) “make too big of a deal” about racism or are “too sensitive” about racist comments. I have heard countless excuses for the behaviour of police officers in the United States or the refusal to do anything about the thousands of missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada. I saw countless, I mean that I stopped counting because I couldn’t keep track: the excuses for racism were too numerous and too upsetting to keep counting.
Often times, when the conversation turns to race, people get visibly uncomfortable. That makes sense, especially if they are not used to this kind of conversation or are suddenly aware of their own racism. Here’s the thing: It is ok to be uncomfortable. It is ok to realize that you have been wrong and to feel bad about that. What is not ok is continually excuse and reinforce racist attitudes and behaviours.
When I, or another person of colour, says that they are angry with white people, it is does not mean that we hate you. It means that we are pissed off, hurt, and tired because of the hundreds, thousands, of years of oppression that we have experienced at the hands of white people.
I remember reading years ago that during the Civil Rights movement in the US, white people were panicking at the thought of black people getting rights. Their fear was, of course, loss of domination. One thing that stuck out to me, was how many people stated that they fear black people/people of colour would turn the tables and begin to treat white people as they had treated them. Nowadays, this irrational fear is heard in arguments of gender equality, and still sadly, of race.
I want to make one thing clear to all my white readers: oppressed people do not want to recreate the system of oppression and racism that is in place now. We want to tear down this system and create one that is equitable and free of violence. Let me put that even more clearly (just in case). People of colour, women (included in the first as well) and LGBTQ+ communities demanding and taking rights does not mean the loss of rights for white people, men and heterosexuals.
I am obviously not the first person to say this, and certainly not the last. I do not understand why it is so difficult to accept. I wonder if it is because those living with the most privilege are so bound to their ideas, structures and norms that they can not imagine a world where one is not given power through the oppression of the other.
I am mixed race. I have respect for both of my cultures. I don’t feel more white or more brown, yet I have been told for most of my life that I should choose. It seems that the only thing people hate more than a different culture, is when two cultures unite.
The first time I remember someone telling me to choose was in high school. A “friend” told me I didn’t seem “black, because [I] didn’t listen to rap.” I was shocked. It never occurred to be that my love of punk music would completely discount my ethnicity! Thankfully, some white teenager told me or I would have lived in ignorant bliss my entire life! I mentioned this to a black friend of mine, and she suggested I “just choose a side” to make things easier. I wanted to tell her this was impossible. I am a whole, not two pieces I can separate. I had one mixed race friend in high school and luckily she understood what I was going through, as she was experiencing the same thing. When you are mixed race, it seems like there is not safe place to land.
I grew up in a rural community that was predominately white. Although I have experienced racism my whole life, I didn’t begin to notice it until I got older and more aware. When I was younger I assumed racism was racial slurs, not being served at a store or racial profiling by police. I did not realize there were more subtle forms.
Just recently, I was very upset about the violence against black men and women in the United States and was talking about this with a group of friends. I said something about being a woman of colour, and one of the people there responded with, “but you’re so light, it’s not like you can even really call yourself brown.” I was so angry and taken aback that I couldn’t respond. Yes, I have lighter skin. But that doesn’t mean I am white, or that half of my race ceases to exist because I’m looking a little pale. My race is something I am proud of. I come from a long line of farmers, travellers, and fighters. My mother’s side (Irish) were expelled from their land by English colonizers and had to begin a new life in a harsh environment. My father’s ancestors were conned into coming to the ‘new world’, where they were enslaved on sugar cane plantations. They survived. My grandparents brought my parents to Canada for a better life, and now I am trying to create a better world, not just for myself, but also for all people of colour.
I have been told many times that it is shameful to be mixed race, to be a woman of colour, but I refuse to believe this and I refuse to be quiet. My anger may make you uncomfortable, but I have the right to express it. I have the right to work for a better, more equitable, future. I do not need your permission to move, to speak or to be. I will not be limited by stereotypes of submissive Asian women or sassy black women (who aren’t taken seriously). I will express my anger, my joy, my sadness and my strength.
Yes, it’s easier for you to ignore racism, sexism and other forms of oppression, but do you wan to live in a world where your freedom relies on the oppression of others?