I’ve lived in the cocoon of privilege all my life. And, like many others, I’ve been quite blind to it. With all the opportunities that I have had – whether worked for or simply granted – it has never once crossed my mind that the colour of my skin had anything to do with them.
I have never spent a single moment thinking, worrying, or wondering about my…whiteness.
That is the very definition of white privilege.
I think it’s safe to say that the recent horrific events in the US have caused all of us to do some reflecting. Long overdue reflecting. Those of us in the bubble of white privilege have a lot of work to do, and it starts with listening. It’s going to be uncomfortable, especially because we’re going to realize that we have unwittingly contributed to the problem, but our discomfort is nothing – nothing – in comparison to the pain of those who need to be heard.
A very dear friend of mine, whose strength and warmth and passion has always inspired me, recently composed an open letter to the world. With her permission, I share it here with you. Please share her message widely.
As a person of colour, a woman, a mother, a teacher, a human being… I am tired, angry, frustrated, weary, disheartened, sick, and feeling hopeless.
I have always been someone to stand up against injustice, in any form, and if you truly know me, this is just who I am; an empath who feels the pain and suffering of others as if it were my own. A person who cares about her fellow human beings and wants to do everything in her power to right wrongs and fight for the many who do not have a voice. This is who I am and how I live.
Watching the news, scrolling through social media and doing my own personal research on the events that make up history is emotionally and physically exhausting for me. I become sick at heart, anxious and saddened by the many horrific things human beings do to each other and it literally weighs on me as if I was Atlas, broken down and over-burdened with the weight of the world on my back.
People of colour have been speaking out and protesting the detrimental effects of systemic racism prevalent in society today and in the past for a long time now and clearly to no avail. Our lived experiences need to be heard, listened to, validated instead of denigrated, and understood.
If you are not a person of colour, you need to start listening, be open-minded, be willing to feel uncomfortable, and recognize that through no fault of your own, you were born into a world that benefits you, affirms you, validates you, protects you, and respects you.
If you have never had to question, ponder, struggle, or justify your existence, you are someone who lives with privilege. Let me clarify what I mean here:
As a mother of two young men, two Black young men, who are intelligent, ambitious, sensitive, kind, respectful and wonderful, I have had to prepare myself mentally from the day they were born to engage in conversations to ensure they understand the injustices of the world and to prepare them to be able to navigate through a world that may, I should say, will judge them solely on the colour of their skin in many capacities.
Ask yourself this…
Have you ever had to console an upset little boy when he wants to participate in crazy hair day and make his hair all “bendy” and “floppy” like his white friends but can’t because his hair won’t do that?
Have you ever gone to buy makeup and been frustrated when they do not have your skin tone but have multiple lighter shades?
Have you ever had to sit your sons down when they turn 16 to talk to them about the possibility of being pulled over more than their white friends and coach them on what they need to say to ensure they don’t get harmed or treated negatively?
Have you ever had to explain to your child why bandaids and crayons (until recently) had flesh tones that did not represent their skin tone?
Have you ever been followed in a store while shopping and felt so uncomfortable you left the store?
Have you ever not been greeted when you walk into a retail establishment and then watch in shock and hurt when a white person walks in after you and is greeted in a friendly manner?
Have you ever been called negative and pejorative words for doing absolutely nothing other than being Black?
Have you ever not been given the lead in a play, musical or dance production because the content chosen had no roles for people of colour or because no one wanted to put you in a role that was thought of as a white role?
Have you ever been laughed at and had jokes made against you about your “big lips” and looking like a monkey when you know you are beautiful?
Have you ever had to talk to your sons about their clothing choices as they may be perceived negatively and colour people’s perceptions of them?
Have you ever been told your hairstyle may not be a good choice if you plan on getting a job? Or been told to change your hairstyle because it was too “ethnic”?
Have you ever walked down the street only to have a white person immediately clutch their belongings and cross the street?
Have you ever been asked “Where are you from?” or “Where were you born?”as if it’s not possible you could be born in Canada?
Have you ever been told, “you are so articulate” or “you speak so well” as if it’s a surprise a person of colour can so speak well?
Have you ever been asked to be the equity rep at your place of employment because you are one of the only people of colour in the building and therefore, it is implied that the responsibility to educate others about equity and fairness should lie with you?
Have you ever had young children gravitate towards you as they have seen so few people that look like them in positions of authority?
Have you ever been told that people who look like you are always angry and aggressive when they are fed up with how things are and are voicing their opinions?
Have you ever had to console your crying child when he says he wants to be white?
Have you ever wondered why people who look like you are typically represented in the media as drug addicts, criminals, comedians, athletes or rappers, as if there are no other occupations for you?
Have you ever wondered why ideals of beauty are based on being white?
Have you ever wondered where you were going to find dolls, action figures…that looked like you and felt hopeless when you couldn’t find any?
Have you ever read an ad for renting accommodations stating “black people need not apply”?
Have you ever felt so full of fear and worry when your son decides to accept a soccer scholarship offer from a university in the States, knowing the many unknown possibilities for him to potentially be harmed or mistreated?
Many of you may never have to contemplate these questions. Ever.
These are my lived experiences and the lived experiences of countless other people of colour in Canada and around the world.
Every. Single. One. And I could keep going.
The fact that an entire group of people are faced with these realities on a daily basis is shameful! I felt compelled to speak out, as I have been doing since I was really young, to address the current state of reality in society today.
We live in a hateful world, a world where people are judged consciously and subconsciously, for something they cannot change. When will it end?
If anything that I’ve written touches a chord within you, please speak up, please take action!
We need people, especially white people, to stand up and speak out against the injustices faced by people of colour on a daily basis. If you do not recognize that there is a serious problem, you need to reflect on some of my questions and reevaluate some of your beliefs; open your eyes and your minds to the fact that there is something inherently wrong with a world that can perpetuate the mistreatment of fellow human beings.
This. Is. Not. Ok.
This. Cannot. Continue.
I will keep using my voice to share my lived experiences to help open people’s eyes to the realities of our world and hope that I can change minds, one at a time if necessary.
I. Will. Never. Stop!
From a black woman, mother, teacher, human being, who has had enough!