Writing about race as a white person is rocky territory.
Can your voice really contribute anything to the discussion? Are you really the right person to make this statement?
In this case, I hope that the answer is yes. Because what we need to have right now is a frank conversation, as white people, about racism. More specifically the fact that yes, you are racist.
L’Oreal model Munroe Bergdorf found herself the target of abuse after she commented that ‘all white people are racist’. Of course the nuances of what she said were ignored, in favour of splashing a selective quote all over the place and acting as if she was trying to incite some kind of inverse racial hatred (which isn’t a real thing, but that’s a conversation for another day).
I know that as a white person, you don’t think you’re racist. You don’t shout things in the street, you don’t think people of colour deserve to be paid less. You might even have some black friends.
That doesn’t mean that you’re not racist.
Sadly, all of us carry prejudices which we’ve absorbed over the course of our lives. I have, you have and so has everyone else. Munroe explained this far more elegantly than I am capable of doing, writing:
When I stated that “all white people are racist”, I was addressing that fact that western society as a whole, is a SYSTEM rooted in white supremacy – designed to benefit, prioritise and protect white people before anyone of any other race. Unknowingly, white people are SOCIALISED to be racist from birth onwards. It is not something genetic. No one is born racist.
We also live in a society where men are SOCIALISED to be sexist. Women are SOCIALISED to be submissive. Gay people are SOCIALISED to be ashamed of their sexuality due to heterosexual people’s homophobia. Cisgender people are SOCIALISED to be transphobic.
We do not need to be this way. We are not born this way and we can learn to reject it. We are just socially conditioned to think this way from an early age. With the right education, empathy and open mindedness we can unlearn these socialisations and live a life where we don’t oppress others and see things from other people’s points of view.
Munroe’s full statement can be read here. It’s beautiful and accurate and smart. But she shouldn’t have had to make it, she shouldn’t have to defend herself.
Rather than screaming at Munroe for daring to suggest that white people are racist, we should be listening.
If you’re truly honest with yourself about the thoughts that you have on a day to day basis, about the words that you associate with people of different ethnicities and skin colours, can you put your hand on your heart and say that you’re not racist?
Or are you more ready to assign the words ‘aggressive’ or ‘sassy’ to a black woman than you would be to a white one?
There are studies, films, essays, articles and research projects about racism. It has been proved time after time after time that racial biases run riot. The time for putting a burden of proof about racism on people of colour is over.
It’s time to accept that the world has taught you to value white skin above black, and while it’s not your fault that you’ve been taught that, it is your responsibility to change it.
No-one likes to be accused of anything negative. Being called sexist, racist or prejudiced in any way feels hurtful. But it’s not. It’s not actually about you.
Rather than getting upset about being called racist, why not redirect your energies to ask how you can change the status quo?
Just the way in which Munroe has been treated is an example of the racial prejudice towards black women. As writer Otamere Guobadia said on Twitter:
‘These headlines are part of a long media tradition of painting anti-racism activists, and particularly women as irrational anti-white furies. It creates the sort of conditions in which there is greater material consequence for speaking out against racism than actual racist rhetoric What Munroe Bergdorf said is factual. Individual exceptionalism cannot absolve you of complicity in oppressive systems that are STRUCTURAL.
‘Instead of demanding for her to lose her campaign, people need do some very serious introspection. Ask yourself why your knee-jerk reaction to being called complicit is to demand that the person of colour that did so loses their job? Ask yourself whether or not this knee-jerk reaction might contribute to the silencing of the poc who are working to dismantle racism.’
A friend at school once told me that an insult only matters if you think it’s true, if deep down you believe it of yourself. Being called a slut wasn’t hurtful if you’d never even kissed anyone. The word fat wasn’t distressing if you felt great rocking your size 8 jeans. Childish at the sentiment was, perhaps it still applies.
Is the real reason that white people are so angry about being called racist because deep down, they know that it’s true?
Munroe Bergdorf was fired by L’Oreal for her comments as this article went live.