Labels and the discomfort of white liberals

I feel as if every so often I’m picked up by the wings like a insect to be examined. I’m pinned to a white board, magnified, studied, not identified. They can’t place me, so I’m pushed to the back, with all the other pinned creatures waiting for neat labels and museum displays.

But 

My wings are still fluttering. 

About a year ago, I moved to a new city. I had visited before and had a couple of friends here but hadn’t spent enough time here to get to know it. There have been many wonderful things about my time here so far: jobs, new friends, new loves, learning, unlearning, growing and settling.

As it happens when we leave our familiar places and people, we are challenged. Since being here, I have had four or five instances of my identity being questioned. That feels like a weird way to say it but I don’t know how else to. Racism and sexism are thing a I have experienced my whole life but these were different. Saying my identity feels so cold and impersonal, maybe I can edit this when I think of something that sounds more fitting.

The first time,  I was in cafe working on a summer and feeling very accomplished since I had my first post-grad job. I had also just got my first post-grad paycheque and of course spent it promptly. One of the things I had bought was a new packet of bindis. I wore one that day and felt a little more at home, in myself and in this new city. Like my ancestors were watching over me. I was also feeling cute as fuck. As I drank an iced americano and poured over some journal articles, I felt like I was in the place I was meant to be. It was short lived. I noticed a white-presenting young women with blonde dreads staring over at me. I didn’t give it too much thought, assuming she thought I looked familiar or had zoned out in my general direction. Then I heard it – the now familiar tone of the young white liberal calling out. “You know you really shouldn’t wear that. Bindis are really important to Indian people, it’s cultural appropriation.” Becky also said something about how I thought I looked cool.

I couldn’t respond. I looked at her, my mouth open to speak but no words came out. Her ripped jeans and flowy shirt, her blonde hair in tattered dreads. I couldn’t handle the misplaced judgement or the irony. I mumbled something about being Indian but she had already turned away.

It isn’t enough that y’all take our cultures, you now don’t even want us to have them. Unless we look like a fucking National geographical article.

There have been a couple of other instances, like white folks telling me I can’t be upset about police brutality because I’m light-skinned, or worse assuming I am white because I’m well-educated (becky 2.0 actually said this).

I am lucky to have found support in white and poc pals and I feel a lot more at home and comfortable in my own skin. Yet, the feeling of unease hasn’t left me. I still feel as if the ground beneath my feet could shift at any time, not enough to knock me over just enough to shake me, change me.

My experiences are quiet and hard to explain. I don’t like to compare oppressions, however I have an acute understanding that I can walk in my neighbourhood without the police stopping me, I am not seen as a threat, people don’t cross the street when they see me.

I have privileges which I recognize and (try) to use to speak up for those who’s voices get drowned out. Like I said, what I have experienced is hard to place. It’s the recent tinder match, despite being POC, would not stop questing my race/ethnicity – “what’s that thing on your forehead?”, “I’m confused, what are you?”

It’s friends who say “don’t worry you look white” and “You’re English is even better than mine!” When I have said a thousand times I was born in Canada and embarrassingly can only speak English.

It’s that nagging feeling that someone I was dating and cared deeply about maybe stopped seeing me because I brought up the pain racism in our city was causing me. Because I told him to stop using word coloured and he said “you’re looking at me like I’m a racist” and I paused because I’m never sure. I hope he just stopped enjoying my company, but I can’t shake the feeling that if I had just stayed quiet, not challenged him, we may have continued to see each other. His whiteness lay heavy on him, covering him in guilt and defensiveness. I have see this in many white people I care about. For years, I would try to make them feel better. I won’t do that anymore. Not just for myself, but for other mixed people who feel shunned in poc spaces and just as alienated in white spaces. I will not stay quiet because I should not have to pick a side, I am a multitude of histories, cultures and traditions. I am the amalgam of my ancestors and my own convictions. I can exist outside raciam binaries and your discomfort will not stop me from celebrating my culture. My identity will never be listed in a census box and that is okay.

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