I’ve tried to start this blog a few times now and I don’t really know the right way to start it. Political conversations are not my jam for many reasons but seeing people discriminated against really pisses me off. And the fact that there is a group of people that caused havoc last weekend in Charlottesville because they want to “preserve” the whiteness that they feel is being threatened in society makes me want to puke in my mouth. So here we go.
I’ll start with a conversation with a friend that I had yesterday. She is an ethnic minority, who works in tech, an industry that is heavily misogynistic. She was fired up because she had just come off of another long day of dealing with being one of the few women in an industry where she still has to deal with pathetic stereotyping and comments highlighting her gender all day long. As an example, her workplace environment is defined by feeling she has to wear a (fake) wedding ring to try and limit the sexual harassment she faces. She was fired up yesterday because after a long day at work, she had a conversation with friends that revolved them telling her that she should come over and make food from the country her parents immigrated from.
“After sitting through listening to these asinine comments all day at work, I sit here listening to these idiots talking about me cooking a native (insert country) meal. I don’t even f*cking cook period, and here I am going along with these people that I’m going to come over and cook them a meal and have a (insert country) night. It makes me feel like I’m like their token exotic friend and ticks off every f*cking stereotype there is.”
She was rageful, upset and disappointed in herself for not speaking her truth.
“It shouldn’t piss me off this much, but Ciara it feels like I’m dealing with some kind of sh*t every f*cking day and there are some days I just can’t deal. I’m mad at myself for not saying something but it gets exhausting being the minority in everything and feeling disrespected all day long.”
It made me think of a conversation with two of my good friends as we took the Skytrain into BC Place for the 2015 Women’s World Cup Final. Both are African American men, one a Yale educated doctor and another a high profile NCAA coach, and both told me stories about being racially profiled. “Oh all the time,” they said with frustrated resignation dripping from their voices, as they told me horrific stories of situations that unfolded purely because of their skin color from places across the country.
From my white privilege bubble, I couldn’t fathom it as hard as I tried. My respect for them went x100 as I thought to myself that I’d have a hard time not punching people in the face and causing myself more trouble if I had people in power treating me like crap when I was minding my own business, because of the color of my skin. How hard it would be for it not to chip away at my soul.
So let me start with saying, that despite having a diverse friend group, my understanding of what minorities go through is so incredibly limited. I choose people for my friend group based on things like sense of humor, kindness and loyalty, qualities that know no one race, religion or gender. But that being said, I am completely, experientially naïve to what some of my closest friends have to put up with on a daily basis. And I feel guilty for it, because it’s not fair and I want to shoulder some of their burden.
In fact the only experience I have ever had with being a true minority was a trip to Nigeria I took in 2010 where I didn’t see anyone that was my race for a week, and had to ask my friend to translate was everyone was shouting at me, every place I went, “White person, white person,” it turned out. It was a tiny glimpse of being a racial minority and it was eye opening. But there was a clear start and end point and despite feeling a bit mentally tired by the end of it, I recognize the luxury I have in that it lasted a mere seven days and then I hopped on a plane and it was over.
One of the most fascinating people I met this year was a man who has vitiligo. Namely it’s a disease where someone loses skin pigmentation.
I sat at a table last September, with a friend and his acquaintances. On one side of me was a man with long dreadlocks, and chocolate brown skin, and on the other side, a man with pale features and long straight hair, who by all appearances was white. After a while, it became clear that these two men, despite their difference of racial appearance, were brothers. At one point, the Caucasian looking man said to me, “In case you’re confused, I used to be black, I have that skin disease that Michael Jackson had and when I was 12 I started turning from black to white, and was fully white by the time I was 20.”
To which I had the most fascinating conversation with him about his experience.
We take race as a definitive thing, and here was this guy turning that narrative on its head. One of the things I asked him was if there were situations he was in where people made racial comments, thinking that he was “one of them,” since he was by all appearances, Caucasian. He said he’s had more unique experiences than he could count but he took it all in stride. He was incredible and his life experience I’m sure was one that few could relate to.
That being said, in articles that came out since Charlottesville, the one that caught my eye the most was one about the levels of racism and how silence is a form of racism, and I’ll take it a step further and say silence against anyone discriminating on any marginalized group, is discrimination, because the article was applicable in this capacity.
And I’ll put it out there that I think that while the overtness of racism that was present in Charlottesville last weekend was sickening, I think it is the quiet, soft and passive discriminants that the author defined, that are far more dangerous to the well-being of our society. At least those idiots that were marching made it clear what side they stand on and where they can be found.
It made me think of the amount of times, people made disparaging comments to me about other groups, thinking that I was “one of them,” hence it being a safe space for them to air their prejudices.
I had a friend that lent me a book a few years ago, whose central character was a lesbian baseball player, and made the comment, “it’s a good book despite the fact the main character is gay.” I went over the sentence in my head a million times, shocked, trying to fathom that someone that I was friends with could make a comment that I couldn’t take as anything besides having negative connotations. How presumptuous of her to assume that I wasn’t gay I thought, as I knew many people with outwardly stereotypical feminine appearances, but that hadn’t dated a man in years. I also knew many who were quietly struggling and couldn’t help but think the kind of impact that kind of comment would have on them.
What was even more disappointing was that I didn’t say something about how hurtful and ignorant her comment was. What grossed me out the most was that this friend would have likely been one of the first people to proclaim how open minded she was. And either she didn’t realize her prejudice or she was happy to hide behind her façade of open-mindedness with people she thought were on “her side”.
Either way, I will never know, because I just listened and didn’t say anything.
I’ve also had people crack jokes about handicapped people, not realizing my Mom lives her life in a wheelchair. There are times I’ll take on the awkward situation and let the person know my Mom is in a wheelchair and their joke isn’t funny, but there are times, I just don’t want the discomfort of calling them out and say nothing.
From a gender perspective, and although I’ve never paid much attention to it, I’ve been noticing a lot more lately the misogyny and silent sexism that exists in the soccer world. Recently, I silently listened as a male coach sung the praises of another male coach who was let go from a major soccer coaching position for inappropriate conduct towards female players years ago. This guy inexplicably is somehow back coaching female players.
I wanted to scream out how frustrated I was that so many of the mostly male soccer community and media and governing bodies know what he did, and choose to turn a blind eye, while this guy gets another go of coaching girls. But sadly I’ve just accepted that it’s a man’s world we’re all playing in and I, like my minority friend in tech, just don’t have the energy to try and scale a mountain that feels like Everest. It makes me wish for more guys like this in both the soccer world, tech world and all the spaces where the rules feel like they are controlled and defined by men.
We can all fight the different forms of discrimination in our worlds, but it’s so much easier with the help and voices from the good guys in the group that has power. In fact it is where I believe the change comes from.
But unfortunately, it often feels like those of us in the majority or power position whether by race, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability are either
- Ignorant to the struggles of others
- Don’t feel the need to take on the burden of another group’s struggles
- Are just happy to do and say nothing because we don’t want the benefits of our advantage to be challenged.
So with that all being said, what I’ve gotten out of Charlottesville:
- We need to all take responsibility for the sphere of space we live in especially if we are in the majority. We need to speak up and stand up for groups that are vulnerable.
- We need to start speaking up when people think we’re on “their side” and think our presence is a safe space to spew words of hate and hurtfulness.
- We need to make a point of getting to know people who are different to us. Its been said so many times, but it’s so hard, almost impossible to fear or hate, that in which we truly know.
- For those of us that are in the majority or in the position of power, whether through race, or gender, or physical ability or anything, we need to ask and learn and appreciate the experience of the minority. We need to ask what we can do to help make their experience better.
- We need to act and ensure that the spaces around us are full of love and inclusiveness instead of fear and division.
I’ll end with this poem, words that couldn’t better describe the consequences of choosing inaction. It was written by Martin Niemoller, an outspoken foe of Adolf Hitler, who spent seven years in concentration camps and I think says it best for the way forward for those of us wondering what we can do to help those that need our voices and the dire consequences that await us if we don’t. Sadly it is from the same Nazi times that are now being cited often in comparison, here in 2017:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.