I am white, blonde and blue-eyed, when white people see me their snap judgements will have them thinking that I’m probably English speaking, with an easy to pronounce name for other white people, an accent that white people can understand and that I’m just like them. This results in broad smiles, welcoming language and easy conversation. This is an aspect of my privilege.
Recently I was queueing up in my GP surgery, the person in front of me was of a different ethnicity – my guess would be Afro-Caribbean but it would just be a guess. Anyway, they were in front of me and when they approached the check-in desk I saw the receptionist visibly close up. Her gestures became tight, closed and defensive and her posture stiffened. The smile disappeared from her face – essentially she looked like she was gearing up for at best a challenging interaction and at worst a fight. The woman in front of me was not showing any signs of aggression. To me she appeared completely fine. She politely asked for an appointment, it was slightly complicated as our surgery has changed the way it makes appointments, but nevertheless the woman remained calm and receptive to what she was being told. It took a while for the Receptionist to explain but after a while it was resolved. The woman thanked her for her help and left. The Receptionist then saw me, her smile returned and she visibly relaxed, before I said anything she sad hello, how are you and made it clear she was comfortable that our interaction would be a nice one. There was no apparent difference in my conversational ability and the black woman’s conversational ability before our conversations started but based on our appearance alone we were received very differently.
This experience was not the first time I have seen this form of racism in action. I see it all the time, in shops, restaurants, at my kids’ school – I see it everywhere.
The thing is we all do it. We all make snap judgements about people. I know that when I see a a man in a sleeveless shirt I expect them to be on the aggressive side, perhaps poorly educated. I think that because of my own experiences but that judgement is not right or fair. It is my job, and should be the aim of all of us, to acknowledge that judgement and then ignore it and treat everyone the way we would wish to be treated.
I am white, blonde (albeit a bottle blonde) and blue-eyed. My kids are white, blonde and blue-eyed. They will never be discriminated against for the way they look, they can look at any industry and see people who look like them, read a thousand books with characters that look like them. I believe it is my job as their mum to teach them of this privilege and ask them to do all they can to readdress the balance. If my kids get a job I want it to be because they’re the most qualified for it, not because they’re white (racism is still playing a huge role in workplace discrimination as well as sexism), I want my kids to help get the stories and experiences of people different from them out in the public discourse, I want my kids to know that their privilege is not something to cherish but a weight of responsibility that they will use to give a platform for others.
Until we’re honest with ourselves about the truth of racial inequality and our part in it we can never hope to change it. A wonderful friend of mine runs a company selling multi-cultural books. She hopes to create a world where every child can find books where they are represented both culturally and racially. It’s a harder job than you might think but she keeps ploughing on because it’s important, it’s essential and if you want to get involved I’ll put her links below.
There is so much more that I could say on this issue but for now I’m going to say one more thing. My race is by chance. I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in any sort of designer, I believe the world is a beautiful random mess and if just one small thing had gone differently my being could have been born somewhere else, looked different and I would not be benefitting from the privilege that I currently am, in most part to the colour of my skin. My race is by chance, so when doors are opened for me I will hold them open for the less privileged to come through so they can have the chance to show and teach us all about the countless things that we don’t know.