Home > politics, racism / white privilege > Beginnings of a journey into racism and white privilege

Beginnings of a journey into racism and white privilege

A friend came to stay with me for a month at the end of her Post Graduate course. I live in a tower block in an area that looks, and can be, rough, so am used to being asked by house-guests whether its safe to walk around at night. I’ve lived there for over 7 years, and not had any real bother. Mostly its been a pleasant experience – less hassle than living in a similar area of London but in my current home I know my neighbours and many others in the block to at least say hello to. And I often walk to and from the flats on my own, late at night, as a single female and feel quite safe doing so – which is a long winded version of what I tell my visitors. However when this particular house-guest asked, I became aware of how limited my experiences were in assessing the area’s safety; she is black.

I don’t need to think about race or racism – my skin colour and other clues to ethnicity tell others around me that I am white, even though as a Jew I don’t identify as that. In fact it was only through spending time with, and travelling with non-white friends that I became aware of how pervasive racism is, and how much easier, safer and more comfortable my own life is because I am white. Of course I knew in my head that racism existed. I knew of the institutional racism that the Stephen Lawrence inquiry had found within the Metropolitan police force. I had attended counter demonstrations against the BNP and NF when they had marched in London. I’d spent hours telling everyone that was approached by a BNP election leafleter that my Dad had fought in World War 2 against this kind of thing, and watched them reject his toxic literature, while he visibly and occasionally verbally struggled with his own urges to punch this short, spectacled female. But experiences such as finding that a border crossing that I’d been over many times took hours longer because a British, black companion was taken aside for special questioning and that non-white friends were conspicuously followed by security guards in shops, and heard how often they were stopped and searched by police gave me fresh insight into how lucky I was to be born the colour that I am.

I’m beginning a journey of learning and thinking about racism and white privilege. The fact that it has never felt urgent to me to do so reminds me of men who I am frustrated by when they tell me that feminism and gender isn’t something that interests me. This is both understandable, but also shameful. I benefit because of the suspicion and oppression that other people receive. I don’t need to think about race or racism because it rarely effects me. I don’t have to worry that a situation that is safe for others, might be dangerous to me because of attitudes towards my skin colour. I don’t get turned down for jobs or housing because of racism. I’m not even considered to have an ethnicity – I am default, normal, and what I say or do is seen as idiosyncratic of me as an individual, rather than because of, or representing, white people.

I will never experience what it is like to not have white privilege. But I can try to educate myself and oppose racism so that the privileges that I am lucky to have are shared by everyone. So that nobody need think about race if they don’t want to. So that the colour of my friend’s skin is as irrelevant as that of their eye colour as they work, travel, love, live and visit me.

  1. September 21, 2011 at 1:37 am

    i’ve always felt apprehensive coming round to your flat too tbh, also down to looking like indeterminate gender. anyhoo, my main reason posting was to tell you to look up people of colour organise. brilliant site ;-) n from up north xx

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