Difficult Conversations: White people, it's time

A few weeks ago, I did something I never thought I’d ever have to do. In the wake of MP Anne Marie Morris using a racial slur, I had to explain to my work colleagues why you can’t say the ‘n’ word.

“But they call each other that?” Yes, some do.

“But we can’t use it?” No.

“Well, that’s not very fair!”

I used some of my overtime hours to go home early that day. All I wanted was a swimming pool I could jump into so I could scream underwater. White people have it all, but we still chase this phrase. We want, we need, a derogatory term that specifically applies to black people. If you don’t know why you shouldn’t use the ‘n’ word by now, you don’t want to know.

Spending time with those who don’t share your political or moral views can be tense and exhausting. Well, black people have been tense and exhausted for quite some time now. Colleagues and acquaintances may disagree with me but the system doesn’t. I’m a working class woman; my oppression begins and ends there. I’m white, able bodied, English speaking, atheist, straight passing. I will not suffer religious persecution, erasure or discrimination other than standard, everyday sexism and wealthier people expressing their shock that I don’t own a dishwasher. A conversation about race made me furious for 15 minutes so I just left the office. I was still white when I drove home.

Social media has surprised me over the last few days. Usually a platform of polar opposites, the number of people taking the middle ground over the emergence of real life, actual Nazis circling a park in Virginia shocked me. People like Lady Gaga were asking that we bring down white supremacists by showing them love and kindness. People claiming, “I don’t see race! If we stop putting people in the boxes of ‘black’ and ‘white’ it would solve all these problems!”

If you claim not to see race, or run with the ‘not all whites’ argument, you are not an incredibly rational, insightful person. You are shrugging and saying this is nothing to do with you. The time has come for us to have these difficult conversations with colleagues, family members and friends. We are so, so late to this party. My surprise at the social media reaction was in stark contrast with black women who simply said, “We told you so.” Remember, it was white women who ensured Trump was elected in the first place. Black people do not have to be nice to you or bring you round.

Whenever a terrorist attack done in the name of Islam occurs in the UK, you know what the media says. Muslims don’t do enough. They should be rooting this out of their communities, reporting every suspicious action they witness and watch neighbours with curtain-twitching suspicion. We do not ask the same of white people, every one of us as individual and precious as a snowflake. We are the lone gunman, the weirdo with mental health problems. We are islands.

I am not an island. I stand with people of colour, with Jews, with the LGBTQ community. I am ready to protest Trump’s state visit and elevate the voices of black women as much as I can in my small corner of the internet. It’s time for white people to be tense and exhausted for once.

If you want to know more about white supremacy in the USA, and the experience of black women generally, I highly recommend the writing of Lara Witt. She has written this piece on white supremacy for Harper's Bazaar and is senior editor of Wear Your Voice Magazine.

PoliticsLauren Aitchison