I am not a racist and being white does not make me the one.
At the beginning of 90ies, I worked in a small town in the suburbs of Paris. I friend of mine Magda, a black immigrant from Tunisia, invited me for a Christmas Party at the Argentinian Ambassador’s apartment in Paris. I was happy to accept the invitation and we spent a night partying in the community of a very diverse group of people from different parts of the world. There were blacks and whites, dancers and artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, fortune tellers. People, speaking different languages, eating French cuisine, drinking wine, playing musical instruments, chatting, mulling around, networking, making acquaintances, and creating new friendships.
I left the party about seven o’clock in the morning, rushing through the narrow Parisian streets to the nearest metro station to catch an early train to get home. When I was getting off the train car to change the stations, I was assaulted by a black man who wouldn’t let me leave the train at a stop. I was terrified. All I remember now, him leaning on me, and my body getting numb from fear and helplessness. I tried to get loose from his grabby hands and couldn’t. I tried to scream for help, but the French words stuck in my spasmodic throat. Luckily, a couple of other men in the train car managed to distract the assaulter and I slipped out of the train and rushed from the metro station into the fresh air of the empty Christmas morning city.
That was my first encounter with a black man ever, but the image of a black person trying to hurt me stays with me forever. This is how beliefs and attitudes are formed and shaped.
Race Makes Me Confused
These days I have to reflect on race and racism again. I watch the news to learn what is happening in our country and in the world. It feels like our safety is jeopardized and it’s not going to be better any time soon until some change happens. In the family, I feel the urge to discuss and share what I think about race and racism. We talk at home because it is safe.
I decided to talk about race and racism in this post because I want to believe it is safe too and maybe my thoughts will shed some light and open a new perspective for others too.
I never had to think much about the race except what I learned in school that there are people with a different color of skin which makes them the representatives of different races. This always meant for me that me being white just makes me a representative of a white people’s race the same as yellow or black people. This is a pretty basic and primitive way to understand race, I know. However, it has worked for me until now.
Race is Challenging
In light of current events, the race has become a much more complicated and difficult issue for me. I am asked questions I cannot find the answers to, except that black or white person is just another person to me until they make me think differently.
We make our judgment on the basis of our education, other’s opinions, and our own experiences.
Being a white woman, I perceive myself white only because I was born that way. I don’t think that being white makes me any better or more privileged. I’m enjoying the rewards that I earned by working hard, educating myself, setting and achieving goals, contributing to the betterment of my family, community, and society as a whole. My actions bring the results I like or dislike. I never had to experience a better attitude from others and I never had to take advantage of the life situations because I am white.
On the contrary in some places of the world and in some life situations, I had to consciously dwarf my image, hide behind others, keep a low profile and quell from expressing my opinion because I am a white woman, or because I speak with an accent, or look different than others, or come from a humble working-class soviet background.
I’ll Start From Myself
In my immediate environment, I look for safety, understanding, and acceptance. I can’t help noticing the differences in skin color, manners, attitudes, behaviors. When I’m in public places I observe and see the people, designs, objects. It’s most fascinating for me to see and celebrate how diverse and wonderful the world is. I look around with the open heart, wonder, and curiosity. It’s never my intention, and I want to believe anybody else’s either, to hurt others. This is how I choose to live my life and I hope others can do the same. Sounds naïve, I agree, but I choose to start from the premise that my whiteness or your blackness means just a difference in the skin color. Life matters and our decisions and actions define who we are and what we’ve got to enjoy.
People talk about social justice and demand change. I have been listening and asking the same question again and again. What do I need to do to be fair and just in my actions? Am I in power to do anything in the light of all these riots for social justice? I feel that the only thing I can do is listen. I’ll listen to protesters attentively; try to understand their point, but I’ll not accept brutality, destruction, and lawlessness no matter which side they come from.
I’ll Educate Myself
Growing up in the white society in the USSR, I didn’t think about blacks as a class of oppressed people. However, in the history and geography classes, I learned about slavery; oppression and ruthlessness towards slaves in America.
I’ve learned about bias and prejudice towards not only people of different skin colors. Immigrants and anybody who is in some way different from the majority have to find the ways to fit into the environment they find themselves in.
It seems to me the problems of injustice stem from societal and cultural diversity, which is what America is. People tend to be cautious when they see different or unnormal and this happens everywhere in the world. History teaches us lessons, but we cannot create a happy present dragging the hatred and pain from the past. We all have a long way to heal, reconcile, and forgive. And this is where we start to change.
Everything changes and evolves. We all want to live in peace, create comfort, and fulfill our talents. I hope for the best of all. One day, I believe more of us will find ourselves in a place where we feel safe, happy, and fulfilled. It’s only up to us to look for light and choose to build peace. And it is not about a race or to combat racism, it’s about being human.
Please, share your experiences or reflections on race and racism in the comments below. How does being of a certain race make you feel? I’d love to listen. Your story might spark a new perspective and shed some more light of hope to the issue of racism.
You might also enjoy reading about “Profiling and Stereotypes” and how to cope with cultural differences in a foreign country.
Meanwhile, remember life is a journey of joy. Embrace it!