“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive. And we don’t want them to say, Look how far we’ve come, just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to even be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that? We’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway? But we don’t say any of this stuff. We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable. It’s true. I speak from experience.”
~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
“The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.” ~ Eric Berne
I was one of them: I used to be frustrated with the constant talk about feminism and racism. I wanted to move on, embrace all people as one, discuss about things that matter to all of us as humans and even beyond us: to all of us as beings depending on this planet ecosystems’ health to survive.
I used to think climate change, resource depletion, pollution and biodiversity loss where much more important than any group of people’s concerns. I used to think that “class” was an old fashioned concept and that we needed to think and act as a group no matter our origins, cultures, beliefs, values, colours, etc. because, Hey! If the ecosystems die, if the resources are depleted, if we mess with this planet its water and soil and climate we will all die…and all those nonsense of culture, ethnic origins, “race”, colour, genre identification and even sex wouldn’t matter anymore.
And I may be right, at least partially: if we don’t pay attention and do something really radical and soon to address all of the above, we may all go extinct. If there are survivors, or aliens visit our planet, they may all see this discussion about racism, sexism and culturalism (relative, liberal or whatever you want to see it) as nothing but distracting nonsense.
But then we have People Care: we cannot continue ignoring what’s obvious, we need to embrace the uncomfortable feeling of talking about it not to point fingers and get stuck but to address what’s the root cause of it all: that the same mental models that allow for the abuse and exploitation of the Earth resources and can’t see ourselves as interdependently related to all ecosystems and beings, are the ones that allow racism, sexism and all the other “isms” to exist and perpetuate…
I wish we could talk about privilege not with the goal of making others to feel uncomfortable, guilty and then isolate them from the same issue we wanted them involved in the first place, but with the goal of raising awareness and having them participating in breaking the walls that are trapping us all.
However, as the author of this article points it out so well, we cannot fall into the trap of trying to protect someone’s “feelings” (individual or community) when those who lack their privileges suffer a much more horrible fate:
We don’t feel privileged, but just the fact that I have time and access to a laptop with Internet connection to write this piece makes me privileged above those who don’t have access to power or technology or worse: lack the time, health, permission or education to write.
Think about the woman using a hijab who may never get certain types of jobs and will struggle with promotions, studies or even moving to a house, getting a loan, etc because of her convictions.
Think about the Latino middle age woman who feels she may be an easier target for abuse because of her accent, looks or just by being a woman.
We could exercise with hundreds or thousands of examples: some people (and I’m not going to say “white” because there is also huge discrimination towards white people depending on where you are in the world and depending on how much society thinks you “value”) don’t have to think too much when they buy or rent a house, travel, look for a job, register to study and so on…but there are entire groups for whom every one of those things may represent a challenge, a huge struggle, even an impossible task.
I don’t believe in class: class is lumping a bunch of people together taking into account a few factors that may or may not affect them in the same way. It is also an excuse to judge, assume and blame. Identifying oneself to a “class” may also be used as a excuse for our own miseries and lack of real action.
Someone commented on a prior post of mine, that “radicals have class consciousness while liberals think and act as individuals”.
I would like to point out to another thing: it is usually well known than when someone wants to win a battle, one of the best strategies is to create quarries among those being the target of their oppression: if you and I start to argue and become preoccupied about our differences and levels of privilege, we are easily distracted from what’s going on and is even more important: that the world we inhabit, the very source of life and wellbeing is being raped, mutilated, used and discarded (and all of us at different levels along with it)
Yes, we all need to have a deep and sometimes uncomfortable conversation about our different (and changing) levels of privilege and what’s going on with those who are discriminated against by subtle (and not so subtle) assumptions and behaviours we all adopt and perpetuate through language, thought and actions (or inactions), but these conversations cannot and shouldn’t be targeting neither groups nor individuals: we all need to acknowledge and accept that we all are trapped in a system that enslaves us in diverse ways: the problem is not the whites, the Latinos, the Native Americans, the Blacks or the Muslims, the problem is not cis-men and women or straight people, trans or gays. The problem is the system and the many mechanisms and structures that create, encourage and/or allow uncaring, privileged and abusive/oppressive behaviours. You can have all the conversations in the world, you can even find a way to level everyone in the same field…but if you don’t change the system and its structures and mechanisms, this will be re-created and perpetuated.
I’m trying to understand. We can have the delusion of “leaving the system” behind; or we can create the illusion that things are going well by creating isolated heavens that allow us to escape reality; we can target the veins of the system by different methods, trying to stop what feeds the system (real fuel, technology, “the grid”, growth); we can try building alternative systems within this system; we can try to ignore all of this and just live our lives being as “good” as we can; we can try adapting ourselves to the system; we can try addictions and entertaining so we don’t need to feel the pain; we can try healing those affected by the system; we can try exploring and encouraging resilience so we can resist and heal now and when the system inevitably breaks and takes most of us with it…
But whatever we do, alternating to keep sanity or just as the only possible response, we may always remember that what’s happening is the result of both individually and collectively accepting and allowing talking, acting and being involved (or not) in certain things and no others.
“Divide and rule, the politician cries; Unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Gedichte
“I Don’t Discuss Racism With White People” by John Metta https://www.popularresistance.org/i-dont-discuss-racism-with-white-people/