Life is heavy at the moment, in terms of war, discrimination, racism, Islamaphobia, terrorism, mass shootings, media representation, and in the background of what has always been there: inequality. Inequality of race, gender, gender identity, identity, class, education and circumstance.
People who have the interest and opportunity to study the trailblazers can explain this to you in terms of intersectionality, genderqueer, mysogyny, non cisgendered, non binary, non conformity, whitewashing and white privilege. I will leave them to their heavy and complicated language, as this only excludes those who are not educated in social, sexual, gender and other politics.
The concepts are harder to describe without specialised words, but not impossible. Basically, we live in a world where the most power lies in the hands of few, and the most in control of how we see the world, and how we are able to engage in it, are white men. The way history is described, the way events are reported, the way media portrays real life and fiction, is overwhelmingly dominated by the image of middle class, white, heterosexuals.
You only need to look at the 1950’s and what images you immediately think of, to see where this came from. As we developed into a world where more and more information could be shared, in books, on the internet, on radio, on television and in movies, we have come from a history that tells us the white nuclear family, the male breadwinner and the picket fence is the healthy norm.
I was involved in a heated emotionally charged interaction with a handful of individuals the other night, at the most inopportune of moments, in the most unfortunate forum. I got involved because I saw a man express a view, and be immediately reprimanded for it. I read the post, and it triggered a niggling sense of rawness. So I went with it. In essence, the thing I felt was defensiveness. For the organiser of the first memorial for Orlando in Melbourne, who had no intention to exclude latinx people but who through the hurried circumstances, did. For the man who posted, who had no sense of how not hearing latinx people speak effected them, by fact of his own experience. And in the end, for me, who from the moment I responded, was cast as the racist, privileged ignoramis. By having this platform I speak from now, I realise some with conceive me as yet again taking a stage when I should not.
I am a person who is as happy to react to something that moves me as I am to reflect on my own responses and errors. So it will not surprise my friends or blog followers that I respond now.
When I first responded, my only knowledge of the Orlando shooting was that it was a mass shooting of gays, by a closeted gay man. I had not heard that the media in America had not reported on the amount of Latinx killed. I had not heard that on the night in Melbourne, only white people spoke, and a person of colour wanted to and could not. I had only heard that innocent people died because of homophobia. Being a lesbian, I related in a very real way to that. I also saw the colour of the people. I didn’t see the racism of the attack. I still don’t know. With reports that the murderer said he had ‘no problem with blacks’. That he hated women, lesbians and latinx people. Who will ever know, he was undoubtedly disturbed.
When I responded, I never thought that I would be told things like: stop making people of colour deal with your white guilt, whities being shit, go away, fuck off and stop messing things up, you have occupied enough space, google white fragility, you are so ignorant. Of another man who posted: I am glad you are not coming. The secondary experience was of people talking about me as a racist, borderline violent, reactive dickhead, and the likes they were getting in support.
Not many white people openly engaged, but many privately messaged me to inquire as to my well being. As I write this I realise that there might be a small harp being played ‘like poor white privileged person’. But please try to see beyond your anger, as I am trying to, to see the greater complexity in this. I know you may also be thinking I am writing this to explain or appease my own guilt. I am not. In fact, as a lesbian from an economically disadvantaged background, having been the victim of sexual assault, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and domestic violence, I have to tell you, I don’t have any white guilt. I don’t have white shame. Like many people angry with me, I fucking hate the white patriarchy.
That is a big statement for me, particularly as I know for the extreme left of this it makes me racist. I have had arguments with friends, such as my Chinese Australian lesbian friend Shirley, where I have declared adamantly that there can be no progress without people like me admitting I am racist. She never accepted my admission as much as I talked about the structural bias in my favour. I have had the argument with one of the many psychologists I have had to see over the years, in terms of insisting on perceiving myself in the framework of white privilege only prevents me from validating my own experiences.
I read a brilliant article that made everything make sense to me today, the title being “Whitewashing the Orlando shooting victims only makes LGBTQ people of color more vulnerable to violence‘and written by Michelle Garcia. Brilliant. Nailed it.
One of her comments was:
“Being bisexual, lesbian, gay, or sexually queer in a heterosexist society means you’ll be subject of heterosexist violence,” H. Sharif “Herukhuti” Williams, PhD, told Vox. “Being female, feminist, transgender, or genderqueer means you’ll be the subject of sexist, misogynist, or patriarchal violence. Being a person of color means you’ll be the subject of white supremacist violence. Being two or more of those things compounds the violence you experience and the reasons you’re experiencing it. It also makes it more difficult to feel some semblance of safety because you could be targeted for one of those identities in a space that is set up to be safe for people with [an]other one of those identities.”
I am two of those things. Lesbian and woman.
I have always loathed the line Í am not racist but…’so to make this make better sense I am going to say Í am racist and”. I am racist because I am one race. I do not understand what it feels like to be in a minority race. I am racist and I do not hate anyone from any other race. I am racist and I do not believe in oppression. I am racist and I believe we need the voices of the unrepresented heard. I am racist and I make mistakes.
My desires are two fold around this. The first is to openly acknowledge I did not understand, and to say that now I do. My second is to say that I do think most people misunderstood me to have a beef with people of colour or latinex people taking priority in representation. I don’t. My error was being uninformed.
I grew up in a neighbourhood with a large coloured south african and sri lankin population, and spent most of my adolescence as the only white at parties, dances and celebrations. I copped being called a skip on jaw because I held a privileged position. The first person to ever break my heart was a coloured south african. I hung out at clubs (like Billboard in the 80s) where I only got in by being with a black person. I would have been that one white guy shot at Pulse. That touches me.
An additional way this grief affects me directly and is raw at the moment is that one of my best friends is dying. I am watching him die.
My hope in this is that all of us involved in that online experience can check our hurt at the door for long enough to hear each other fully. Not all whites are whitewashers. I am not whitesplaining. We all fuck up, and can only be educated with accessible logic and dialogue. I know from comments some may think this is me, again, expressing white fragility or white guilt. If I reach one person to see me for me, that would be awesome. If I don’t, take away from this only my apology, and my promise to be the greatest proponent for fighting erasure in the future.