Monday, 12 September 2016

Dear White Friends

Dear White Friends.

Congratulations. You have made it to the inner circle. The inner circle of white people that I have decided I love enough to keep in my life despite the problems that come along with whiteness.

Being in the life of a black person is no small responsibility, dear white friend, and is one that you must take very seriously.

Having chosen to keep you in my life, there are a few things that I want you to know, and it is best that you know it now. This letter is likely to be a heavy read, so I am going to urge you to please, read it to the end.

First, our relationship is unequal. It has always been and will always be unequal. It is imperative that you understand this. No matter how hard your personal trials and tribulations have been, or how easy my life may have been, your people have persecuted my people for time immemorial, and that has resulted in a point in our existence where all the tables are balanced in your favour. This means that a level playing field has never, and will never, exist for the two of us. You will always have a head start in the matters of life, be it in getting a job, or social capital and networks, or something as simple as walking down the road. The world, speaks your language - the language of white western heteronormative patriarchy, and in order for me to make something of myself, I have to learn to speak that language as fluently as possible, but as hard as I work at it I will never be a native speaker and the world will never forgive me for that.

Second, in the course of our relationship it is important that you understand very clearly that it is not the responsibility of me or any POC to educate you.  Educate you about what, you ask? Well, educate you about all matters of race, class and the associated lived experiences of people of colour. There are times when I will discuss lived experiences that you will not be able to relate to, or have an inkling about. Because you do not understand my experience as a person of colour does not invalidate it. Think about this carefully. You are so used to the world being your way that in your mind it probably can be no other way. But if you are a womxn, then you must have had some experience of sexism in your life, so try to extrapolate from that to my lived experience and empathise. If you are a man, you have no systemic discrimination against you, so appeal to your humanness and brain and try to empathise. White male friends you love to appeal to academic arguments and logic in all matters of race (if white people can be racist to blacks, so too can blacks be racist to whites, fact. anyone can discriminate against anyone), so use that logic to talk yourself into understanding that you are in a position of so much privilege that taking away the experience of those who have been stripped of their dignity by your people for hundreds of years is in itself a racist action.

White friends, it is at this point that I want to address YOU specially. Your ego, and your opinion are not more important than the feelings of black people. You have to realise that it is ingrained in you to believe that the world is designed to be yours, that is inherently supremacist thinking. Once you acknowledge that this sense of entitlement you feel is inherently supremacist you then have the responsibility to realise that all white people are inherently racist. Racism is an institution, that you are a part of and the degree of your racism falls along a spectrum. Now, take a deep breath. Do not freak out. I am only going to say this once, being a racist does not mean you are a bad person. You have to take the shame out of it, and own up to it. By own up to it I don't mean pin it to your lapel and go around announcing that you know you are racist and there is nothing you can do about it. I mean take emotional responsibility for it. Own up to it, realise that you have to combat it daily. Make eye contact with the black person at your window. Call yourself out when a slur runs through your head when a black woman cuts you off in traffic. Start seeing the humanity in others. Stop being a dick.

There are many things that I am taking the time to say in this letter that I am only going to say once, because for a black person to repeatedly have to explain these issues to every white person in their lives quickly becomes exhausting. I may share this letter with you multiple times over our friendship, so do not despair. You can always come back to it if you find yourself falling off track.

Now I am going to address why comments such as #notallwhitepeople #notallmen or #alllivesmatter or "we are only one race, the human race" or even "I don't see race" or "race doesn't matter" are just completely ludicrous. First off, we KNOW that it is not all white people, or not all men, or that biologically race is not even a thing. THAT IS NOT THE POINT. The point is that white people, and whiteness (I'll come back to this) are systematically oppressing people of colour day in and day out. It is the very institutions that are designed to cater to white needs and favour white people above black people that are the problem. If a group of white people are extreme racists, that does not personally implicate you, but you are responsible and what I often hear from white people is that they feel "victimised". First, I want to say welcome to the club, what you are experiencing is only a small fraction of what we feel when we are "victimised", profiled as criminals and terrorists, but it is not even about getting you to feel the same way. Instead what it is about is "ownership".

Hear me out. You have to own the fact that you are white and a part of this institution that is built to oppress people. Just how religious people have a responsibility to acknowledge the ills of malpracticed religion. What it means to own it, is to call out racists. To realise that racism is not over. You may choose not to associate with people who want to exterminate black people and establish their own supremacist state. That's great, but more than that you have to realise that the white people you associate with every day are milder versions of those extremists. And, you are a milder version of it too. It can't be another way. It has been entrenched in you to be that way. It is the way of the world. Racism is like air. You were born into it, and it is inside you. While you may reject parts of racist behaviour you can not reject that it is inside you, that you share in its cause and in its perpetuation - only by virtue of being white. I know it seems unfair. But we get to share in the tragedy of being black in a white world only by being born black, and these are two sides of the same coin.  So until you and other white people can recognise this and start calling each other out on it, racism is going nowhere.

And by this point in the letter I may have you feeling angry. Angry at the state of the world and how unfair it all is. Angry that you are actually inherently racist by the way of the world despite your personal sentiments and beliefs. And then I have something else to say, which may seem strange. But aren't you lucky that you get to feel angry and express that anger? When you rant on social media, or express anger at the state of the world, at things not running the way they ought to so that your life can be made easier, or even anger at basic needs being met and basic human rights fulfilled, you are not seen as a threat to the rest of the world. And being able to express anger in that way is a luxury. When we express anger we are seen as threats, as violent, and as disruptive. How are we supposed to breathe in a world where all the air is usurped by white tears?

Speaking about white tears. You have to realise that in this relationship, you can not center experiences around you all the time. There are times where my experience is mine, and a space needs to be created for me to be able to express my experiences. If you are uncomfortable with it, then that is par for the course. Throughout our friendship there have been many times where I have been uncomfortable and sat with the feeling without you even being remotely aware of it. Now it is time that you do the same. When you offer your opinion and I say I do not want it, you have to respect me. THIS is how we respect our diversity in this relationship.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, for our relationship to work you're going to have to be proactive. You live in a country that is mostly black, yet you care to know nothing of lived black experiences except for what you see on the news. You need to take responsibility for educating yourself. If you see something online that does not sit well with you, and you feel the need to whitesplain, before you get shut down perhaps you should READ. There is so much material out there. Show a little interest in the country and lives of the people that your forefathers ruined, and read. Don't read so that we can debate about it. Read so that you can start seeing the world from the perspective of the lives of those whose lives were compromised by whiteness.

Ah whiteness. Yes. It will help you going forward to keep this word: W H I T E N E S S in your mind. The institution of what being white means. It is the cissexual heteronormative way of looking at the world, where all things male, light skinned and western are preferred, and located in a system designed to disregard the feminine, dark skin, and eastern. Next time you feel personally persecuted remember WHITENESS. Whiteness is what is being attacked. Not you personally. But because you are white whiteness will have infected parts of your life and this is where that responsibility I talked about earlier comes in. 

There is also something that you need to know, that I am reluctant to say, but will say it because it needs to be said: White friend, despite my opinions and statuses I do not hate you. I hate whiteness. And the sooner you learn that it is not personal the smoother our relationship will become. You might even begin to laugh at whiteness, and see the ways in which it has oppressed you

Dear white friend, I look forward to a life where you become increasingly conscious, respectful and woke. A life where I have the space to be black that is not crowded out by your need to be white. And a life where you begin the cycle of eradicating racism.

A luta Continua.

1 comment:

  1. THIS actually summarises our conversation just now and generally across South Africa at the moment. I would love to print this post and every time someone wants to have this conversation, I just pass it to them. Great topic, great writing!!