Which comes first?

When you grow up as a white colourblind individual your instinct is to treat everybody the same, to treat everybody as equals – irrespective of race. That’s how I grew up.

When you grow up that way, and then people start to say to you – no, you can’t do that, you can’t ignore a person’s race, because race does matter – it makes sense and you devise a new approach. You still treat everybody equally, you still give everyone the same respect and offer friendship wherever you can (irrespective of race) but you are aware of race and you become sensitised to issues like racism and cultural appropriation. You realise that there are certain things that you may otherwise have done or said which were not appropriate. You realise that non-white people with whom you interact will have experienced things differently and are likely to have different perspectives on things that you take for granted. You try to listen.

What you have done is to develop a new, apparently better, way of being colourblind. A new way of saying – race does matter, and I can acknowledge your experiences and perspective, and we can still be friends on equal terms, because everybody is the same really and race doesn’t matter really, not underneath it all, does it?

And then you start to think about your life and you say – hey, why do I have so few friends who aren’t white? And you realise that for people of colour living in white supremacist patriarchy, there is little reason to trust white people. Plenty of reason, if you want what white privilege offers, to ingratiate yourself with or work with white people – but little reason to trust and befriend them. And so you start to think – what can I do to change this? I’m not one of those bad white people, they can trust me, what can be done to earn the trust of people of colour? And you start to think – where can I go and what can I do to mix with and make friends with non-white people? And it all seems very difficult and you wring your hands and you wonder – how do I get out of this cycle where I don’t have friends of colour and I don’t know how to change that?

Then, one day, if you are lucky, something will jolt you awake.
A moment of clarity will jolt you out of that helpless chicken-and-egg cycle.

You’ve been going round and round thinking that white and non-white people being together as equals was the way to make racism history, but wondering how you can get together with non-white people until racism is history because racism acts to divide us from people of colour and to stop us from working together on equal terms, but we can’t end racism until we… where was I?

Which comes first – the racist chicken or the divided egg?

Stop that.
Brain: stop that white liberal chattering.

The light is filtering through now and I’m starting to see it.

We can fight racism in our own communities, even (and perhaps especially) if they are communities where people of colour are not present. We can write to politicians and newspapers about race issues, speak up when friends make inappropriate comments or jokes, contribute time or money to antiracist activism. We can raise our children with an understanding of race oppression and white supremacy. We can use our white privilege to make our voices heard, speaking up against racism. We can find ways of subverting, undermining or even (to a limited extent, alas) renouncing white privilege itself.

And we can do all that without making friends with women of colour. We don’t need to make friends with women of colour.

So let’s not go round imposing our good will and our nice white lady badges on people who’ve already got their own friends. Let’s not say: be friends with us, we are offering you equality with us, we honestly honestly don’t care that you are not white, no really its true, we’re not racist, we’re against racism, oh, can’t we be friends? Because that’s not antiracist, that’s colourblindness and we’ve already figured out that being colourblind does not help. It just continues the status quo.

Of course, we need to listen to the words of women of colour, to be on their side, to learn about and then support their demands and their needs. We must be open to friendship or any other relationship of dialogue or engagement that is initiated by a woman of colour out of her own genuine desire… But we also need to remember that the basis of real friendship is equality. And where white supremacy exists, there is no real equality and little hope for much in the way of real friendship.

That sucks. It hurts. It feels wrong. It is still true.

So this is my moment of clarity. I don’t want to end our separation from women of colour as a step towards ending racism. I want to end racism as a step towards ending our separation from women of colour.

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One Response

  1. “I don’t want to end our separation from women of colour as a step towards ending racism. I want to end racism as a step towards ending our separation from women of colour.”

    Wow … just … wow, Maia!! Thanks for this; it’s simply written, and beautifully written.

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