Dear fellow white people,
if you look like me, you have no reason to have dreadlocks, braid your hair into cornrows or box braids. You can appreciate those hairstyles without appropriating them. Our hair is accepted world-wide whilst afro hair has been politicized for centuries. It has been a reason for discrimination and still is the cause for a lot of pain inflicted on black women. Some are denied jobs because their natural hair is considered “messy” and “unprofessional”. Black girls are sent home from school when wearing braids, because it is regarded to be a “ratchet” hairstyle. Therefore, it is not fair for a white woman (or man) to appropriate this hairstyle without having to face any complications and discrimination that come with it for people of colour. While we can return home from our holiday and receive compliments for our “interesting” hair, my (black) friend gets stopped at airports with the excuse that her “unnatural” hair is enough to raise suspicion and search her. Cultures are not a trend or a costume we can wear whenever we feel like it and as soon as it is not convenient anymore, go back to a hairstyle that will protect us from racial profiling and box thinking.
Why would I wear a cultural African, Latinx or Asian dress without being in the right place or at the right celebration for it, so the people can teach me the meanings and importance behind their clothing. When people from other cultures invite us to share certain things we should be grateful, instead of insulting their cultures by wearing their traditional clothing and hairstyles without permission and out of context.
(For better understanding click here)
If you look like me, there are certain words you cannot say, the n-word being the best example for it. And no, it is not okay if your black friends “allow” you to say it OR if your favourite rapper’s lyrics include it. It might be okay for YOUR black friends to say it but you will always meet people who find it disrespectful and deeply painful. Also, are you sure that they really don’t mind, or do they just feel uncomfortable constantly challenging your entitlement and cannot be bothered to argue? The n-word carries so much painful history which still follows Black people today and we need to understand that. Similarly, just because you don’t use the n-word does not mean you can use slur words against any other minority and ethnicity, not against Sinti and Roma, not against Pakistani or Chinese people. Simply, do not use any racial or ableist slurs. Ever. (On words that don’t belong to everyone)
If you look like me, please do not deny the existence of systemic racism. While the fact that you are white does not mean that YOU are a racist, it does mean that you benefit from this system and uphold it as long as you are not working against it. White silence is violence and you don’t have to actively oppress to be on the side of the oppressor. If a person of colour tells you that they have experienced racism please just sit down and listen to them without starting to speak before you have even heard them out. This not only undermines their opinion, but more importantly their lived experience and assumes that you already know what they are going to say. Always remember that racists can look like you and me, they are all around us. In our schools, governments, universities, police and every other institutions.
Moreover, people cannot treat us in a racist way. Racism is different from prejudice. Someone may hold a certain stereotype about white people which does not apply to you, but since we live in a system which gives us privileges from birth, it is impossible for us to experience racism. Make it your duty to call out racism when you see it, don’t be a bystander. On that note, stop saying ‘I don’t see colour’, because that means you don’t see someone’s struggle and you ultimately refuse to acknowledge racism. Being “colour-blind” stops you speaking out when a person of colour is experiencing racist abuse.
If you look like me, having relationships with people of colour does not give you a pass for ignorance. Having sex with a person of colour does not cure racism or you from holding racist views. Before entering a relationship with a poc, make sure you consider the unique and difficult position that your partner will be in because of that relationship and educate yourself to make things easier for them.
If you look like me, please take a step back to realize your privilege even though it might be uncomfortable. Not offending others does not attack your freedom of speech. If you have to start a sentence saying “I am not racist/anti semitic/homophobic/sexist/Islamophobic but…”, you should pause and rethink, because it is very likely that you are about to say something offensive and ignorant.
Ignorance is alive and kicking, we as white people need to start taking more responsibility to learn and understand how poc are affected by it. What we can do as allies to end it? It is useful to ask ourselves questions such as “Have I ever been denied a job because of my name, my religion or my skin color?”, “Has the police ever treated me worse because I am white?” or “Did I ever go to a country and people did not either treat me the same or like I am richer or even “better” than themselves?”. Then think about the answers to these questions and consider them the next time you meet a person of colour.
Please and thank you,
Idea and original words by Hannah Wolny
Edit by Amarachi Iheke and Amuna Wagner