Why Racial Dialogue Hurts Me

And why really seeing people means not labelling them

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Ever since I was a small child, society’s discourse has been that life is a bit harder for me. Firstly, because I’m female. And secondly, because I’m not white. I became skilled at ignoring those messages, I told myself that if I worked hard it wouldn’t matter. In many ways it’s still easy to tell myself that because I will never be able to prove how much more I could achieve if I was a white boy. My parents, who moved from Africa to England as teenagers, always told me that if I worked hard I could be whoever I wanted. And I believed them.

But in my teens society’s messaging about my inferior attributes got louder and it was getting harder to ignore. I refused to acknowledge the way I looked was particularly different from everyone else at school until one day my parents made a mistake. They discussed, in front of me, a call my father received from a recruiter; he’d been asked to come for an interview to join the board of an airline. My mum wanted him to go to the interview and see how the organisation was, but my dad said, “No, they’ll never hire me, I’m not white.” And that was that. This was the moment I had to face up to us not being like everyone else.

It’s strange how the discourse on white privilege, Black Lives Matter and #metoo affects me. These are buzz words now; before that it was just racism and equality. If someone pushes in front of me in the sandwich queue I find myself wondering if they did it because I’m an ethnic minority/female/or if they are just plain rude. I wonder why I have not been given a particular opportunity at work. Is it because my skill set isn’t good enough there or is it actually because my face doesn’t fit and my boss doesn’t have the courage to tell me?

The more I see the words white privilege, the more I am reminded I am different.

I’ve recently been asked to join a diversity committee at work. On one hand, great. On the other, oh boy it’s because I really am disadvantaged. I want to succeed so much, I can’t bear to think I have to work harder than most others just because of the lot I was born with. But the signals I receive are that yes, life is tougher for me. For example, all the interns at my first job were given one mentor. I was given two because apparently, I needed extra help. Really?! I knew my exam results were much better than my peers. I ignored one of the mentors because I wanted to be like everyone else.

So many of my friends are people of colour (POC) but we don’t talk about diversity. I suspect we don’t talk about it because that would mean admitting to ourselves and each other that our life is unfair. They are doctors, lawyers etc. and there is enough of them that maybe I can conclude that society isn’t that bad after all. But the media keeps telling me I’m discriminated against so when I was nominated for that award last week was it because now my skin colour is fashionable?

I need somewhere where I can go where I’m not constantly thinking about the to do list that will edge me towards my career and life goals. I need somewhere where I’m not being reminded of my complicated status in society and where I am just seen as just plain me without even trying. I really thought ALL was going to be that for me. I was so so happy when I found it.

I thought finally this online platform was going to make each of our female voices genuinely equal regardless of background or disadvantages. But, while it has given equal opportunity to those wishing to contribute and ignite conversation, some of those conversations have served to magnify people’s differences, further underlining the dangers of describing the world so simplistically; in terms of racially privileged and underprivileged.

The more I see the words white privilege, the more I am reminded I am different. The more I and others tell the group I am offended by these terms, the more they are propagated. Ironically, I now feel only the white privileged can participate in the conversation. How have the conversations on equality now become one about segregation?

Perhaps it’s the danger of labelling. I am labelled solely and simplistically ethnic minority/POC/BAME – this is by definition closed minded. I much prefer the more holistic concept of intersectionality. We need to work hard to try to mitigate the great divides in society but labelling people as over or under privileged based on one simple measure is destructive. An anecdotal example, the children who come to school in the morning at one of my local primary schools who have not eaten breakfast are in fact white. However, the children who have the weakest reading scores are those from ethnic minorities, this is not surprising as English is not spoken at home. Both these sets of children need and deserve more support. Using race to determine which children should get help in this instance would be wrong.

I’m so desperate to just be seen as me that I don’t classify people. You are not Annabel the white privileged person, you are just Annabel. I am fearful that I might be seen as X, the coloured girl. Is Annabel actually privileged just because she is white? What if she is a carer or lacks qualifications or is less abled? Must we really label and group people by race in an online forum of all places?! Can’t we save that for the Home Office and passport forms.

Is this another club that won’t have me because I’m not from the right Anglo-Saxon family? I’ve never wanted to just be me so much.

I desperately want to be myself.

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11 Comments

  • I was really upset and discouraged reading this article. I’m not even sure I can put into words how I feel but I will try.

    We, as people, should be proud of the things that make us who we are. That includes background and upbringing, sexual orientation, skin colour. The list goes on.

    To me, this article almost supports the “I don’t see colour” dialogue that is harmful to the progression of society.

    “An anecdotal example, the children who come to school in the morning at one of my local primary schools who have not eaten breakfast are in fact white. However, the children who have the weakest reading scores are those from ethnic minorities, this is not surprising as English is not spoken at home. Both these sets of children need and deserve more support. Using race to determine which children should get help in this instance would be wrong.”. These words to me just perpetuate the notion that discussion about race is in some way arbitrary and can therefore negatively affect white people. That is simply not true. There is absolutely not one bit of evidence that this is true. There is not one single example of systematic racism against white people in England so this is just one massive slap in the face.

    “Is Annabel actually privileged because she is white”. Well, yes. Is she successful because she is white? Of course not. This sentence in it’s basic form shows me, the reader, that the author of this post has a long way to go in learning about privilege and what it means. I’m disappointed it has been published.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment here today. I’m sorry you feel upset and discouraged by this feature.

      The piece is trying to encourage a more intersectional point of view of the world. It was written by a woman of colour and we truly believe that one persons experience and feelings towards this dialogue is no less valid than anyone else’s. It’s important to us that all voices are heard.

      We encourage you to share your own thoughts which we would be very happy to consider publishing too.

      Thank you so much again for taking the time to respond and share your own important views.

  • This is really quite a damaging article, and I’m surprised it was allowed to be published. First of all, do we really still need to talk about whether or not white privilege exists? It does. It exists. And it exists as a sliding scale, so your example of Annabel hypothetically having a disability and therefore not having white privilege is moot. Privilege and hard work are also not mutually exclusive, so can we just leave that idea behind once and for all? Thanks.

    You also seem to imply that vocal white allies are part of the issue, and that’s problematic. What would you, personally, have us do? Sit idly by and allow systemic micro- and macro-aggressions to continue to be perpetuated and unchallenged? Why are you painting the white people who have recognised their privilege and are trying to be vocal about change as the bad guys?

    The advice I’ve received from literally all of my POC friends and acquaintances has been that white people need to be responsible for other white people (so, be vocal when they hear people being racist, helping people check their privilege), because POC shouldn’t have to be the only ones fighting against racism when white people are the ones perpetuating it. White people shouldn’t bow out of every conversation about race. You can’t solve problems by pretending they aren’t there.

    • Dear Anonymous, I’ve just left a similar reply to another anonymous comment above, but wanted to let you know that this article was written by a woman of colour and we truly believe that one persons experience and feelings towards this dialogue is no less valid than anyone else’s. It’s important to us that all voices are heard. The feature is trying to encourage a more intersectional view point of the world; the purpose of the piece really is to encourage everyone to be looked at for all their attributes – race being just one of them.
      We invite you to follow up with your own views in a feature we can share in response to help progress this conversation in a positive light.
      Thank you so much.

  • Please know that at least from my perspective it’s not another club that won’t have you – I genuinely don’t even consider as much as people’s profile pictures when writing in the Facebook group – they’re just another person contributing to a discussion.

    I just wish this world was an easier place for everyone to feel like they fit in without any labels, and so completely understand where you’re coming from.

    Hopefully we’ll get there eventually. 🙁

  • I appreciate this article, because I too feel it is incredibly exhausting to constantly educate people, or to think about stereotypes people might hold or not hold against someone, to have people talking about ‘people like me’ without even including ‘people like me’ in the conversation. Sometimes I just want all that noise to stop, I want to escape and not be a poster child or an example for a wider issue, or think about the way people see me (or do not see me!).
    Personally, I believe that conversations about identity, intersectionality and privilege can move us all forward, so that ultimately, the noise might stop *at some point*, for our children or grandchildren. These concepts have given me tools so that I can express my feelings, and so that I know that my experience is rooted in systemic injustice (which can be fought!), and not about me personally.
    This is where the author and I might disagree, but I very much appreciate her point of view.

      • Out of all the pieces so far published on ALL, this one has probably made me think the most, because there are parts i strongly agree with, and others where I really don’t.
        The piece feels somewhat contradictory, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It would be great if the author (or someone else) wrote more about these contradictions – how talking about identity can feel damaging and exhausting, and yet there is a need for it (as the mention of a diversity committee at work she is part of implies) is

  • I think this is a useful contribution and shows some of the nuance that is often missing from these discussions. I have found privilege and intersectionality to be really useful to me and believe that whether or not people choose to acknowledge them they do exist. But internet activist culture can be incredibly didactic and intellectually incurious and the fact that one of the above comments questions whether this persons own experience of being a woman in colour in the world should have been allowed to be published is depressing. I would also suggest that complaining about being painted as the bad guy is centring the commenters experience as a white person, which surely is the definition of white privilege. I know several POC who feel the same way as the writer about the prevalent racial discourse and have a friend who feels like she’s been lectured to about how she should experience being black by white people. For myself being a woman is central to my identity and sense of self but I know that not all women feel this way, perhaps it’s the same with race? I totally understand why people might not agree with the content of the article but pleased that space has been made for it.

    • Yeah, wasn’t centering the conversation on myself. Was literally just picking up on one of the main points in the article.

      Good talk.

  • What disturbs me about the conversations around this article is that yet again, privileged white women are telling a woman of colour how she should ‘feel’ and suggesting that her voice be censored on this Blog.

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