Growing up in a small, price mostly white village in Wales, no rx and as a white woman myself, I had always assumed racism just ‘wasn’t a thing’ anymore. I decided that because I’m not overtly racist, and neither is anyone I know, that that meant discrimination didn’t happen, not in the 21st century, and not where I live.
Going away to university changed my mind dramatically. I go to a university which generally has a friendly culture towards, and teaches many international students. It was the first time I was surrounded by people of all sorts of nationalities and ethnicities. At first, I carried on in ignorance, I barely noticed where one might come from, or the shade of their skin, because I never had to notice; no one ever pointed out to me my innate ‘whiteness’, an experience many of my non-white friends have talked about.
Eventually, during a conversation with my mum on a phone call home, I really thought about it. She told me that most discrimination occurs subconsciously, for example, if I was an employer conducting interviews, even if I thought I was impartial, I might subconsciously prefer a white candidate over and non-white candidate, because of subconscious fears of a supposed ‘other’.
From this, and a lot of philosophical and admittedly confusing thought later, I decided that the wider historical and contemporary context of racism is important. Non-white people are discriminated against every day and my job isn’t to sit passively and say ‘but I’M not racist’, it’s to think consciously about my own prejudices, and actively be anti-racist. I should be sensitive and empathetic towards my friends who will experience the world differently to me because of their race or ethnicity, and understand that my experience, definitely isn’t theirs.
Very similarly, work on standpoint theory (knowing that people see the world through different perspectives), has taught me what should be everyday knowledge about both feminism and racism today. It’s taught me that though I am a feminist, I am also white, and middle class, and my experiences of sexism are different to my fellow women who are non-white. It’s called ‘inter-sectionality’, a black woman may experience both racism and sexism, and though I can sympathise, I can’t possibly understand what that is like or act as though my white, middle class Feminism is an answer to it.
So, from my personal experience, a guide to fellow white women on how we can be properly supportive. Firstly, know that we can empathise with the experiences of non-white women endlessly, but we cannot fully understand or know their experience of racism. Next, it’s not good enough to say to yourself that you aren’t racist (which may well be true), and move on; we have to think consciously about the way we regard all humans, and make sure we are fair and equal in everything we do. Finally, to be ‘not racist’ is not the same as being ‘anti-racist’, be anti-racist. Shout out when you see something discriminative and wrong, spread love and be vocal about issues.
Don’t be patronising, we fight with our fellow humans, not for them.
In such uncertain times, where sexism and racism is normalised as valid political stances, everyone needs to stand together against all forms of discrimination. And we should stand united, aware of our differences but in love with them.
Intersectionality extends beyond just our race or gender, it is about our class, ability, sexuality and so much more. It shows how our experiences within each of these ‘categories’ intertwine to become how we experience our life in general. It is an important framework for understanding how systematic discrimination of different groups, which unarguably occurs in contemporary society, works its way into our lives in more ways than one. It is a reminder of how we need to work together to create a planet which is a safe space for everybody, and not just those lucky enough to fall within the right sections of a Venn diagram.
Written by Katt Skippon