On Having Been White For Forty-One Years

On Having Been White For Forty-One Years July 25, 2018

Today is my forty-first birthday. For nearly 15,000 days, I’ve been white. I’m not particularly proud of it; it’s not really an accomplishment. I’m also not ashamed of it, though there is no lack of folks who share my skin shade I am more than happy to be ashamed of.

Being white brings with it exposure to a sort of hatred that others don’t often see. It’s the super, extra-cowardly sort; the kind of hatred only shared with you because you have the same skin colour.

To give you an example, let’s go back to the two years I lived in Mexico. There was a large expat community in Playa Del Carmen, where I lived, and most of this community treated the locals with respect, speaking their language and seeing them as equals and often friends. The thing is, though, we would all have friends and family come to visit from back home. People from Canada, the UK, the US and Australia would often be in town visiting one of us expats and bringing with them their utter and complete ignorance.

One evening, we were having a few beers in a rooftop pool, watching the Carribean sunset with people visiting from Kelowna, BC. It wasn’t long before the relaxing evening took a turn.

“I don’t know how you guys do it, living here amongst all these Mexicans.” One Canadian said.

“Right? They’re so rude.” Another chimed in.

“They can’t speak English, it’s impossible to understand them.”

“They live in filth.”

And on and on and on until I was in a sufficient amount of shock and decided it was time to leave.

I’ve never gotten over how freely other white people will unload their complete and unfiltered racism on you just because you’re also white. They seem to think that because I am white, I must understand where they’re coming from. They seem to think that because I am white, I couldn’t possibly be offended by these words.

There isn’t much I am offended by, you guys know that. But this has always been offensive to me. This has always been a deal breaker. This is where so many of my friendships have ended. I will not put up with this. The moment a single sentiment like this comes out of your mouth around me, expecting me to be cool because I am also white, is the moment I no longer like you.

Throughout my life, white people have done this. They will freely call people of other races and nationalities horrific names. Derogatory words for people of Chinese descent; awful words for First Nations people; terrible words for black people including the n-word. They will say these things around me thinking I’m fine with it because I’m white as well. They never ask first what my feelings are on the topic. They simply spew their filth in a way they absolutely never would around people who are not white, expecting me to agree because I am white. This would happen almost daily when I lived in the city. It happens less now that I live in a smaller town, much to my complete surprise. Perhaps it’s because there are fewer people and most of us are white, but I prefer to believe it’s because this community rocks.

I’ve experienced discrimination because I am an atheist. I’ve certainly experienced it because I am a woman. For a year, living in Perth, Australia, I experienced discrimination because I was perceived to be American. I have never, though, ever experienced discrimination because I am white.

Though, there were times when it felt like that.

There were the times I would get angry glares as I strolled through the Asian malls in my hometown of Richmond, BC. The city had once been a small farming community on an island in the Fraser River delta. As a child, I went to school with almost all white faces. As the years went by, though, more and more people from Hong Kong, China, India and other parts of Asia would fill our classrooms. By the time I graduated, there was very little left of the town I grew I up in. In its place sprung pho restaurants and dim sum restaurants and malls filled with stores I couldn’t read the name of. The main strip, #3 Road, was lined by signs in languages I didn’t know. This pleased me. I fell in love with Asia when my parents dragged me there as a teen. I was more than happy to see it come home to me.

But a lot of other white people in Richmond didn’t share that sentiment. They felt their world had been invaded, taken over and replaced with something they didn’t recognize. All their childhood homes were being demolished so two homes could be built their places. A lot of my neighbours, my fellow white Richmonders, were angry and they blamed the “Chinese”. Of course, this was an all-encompassing, ignorant way of referring to just about every nationality that didn’t look like us. Filipino people were called “Chinese”. Korean people were called “Chinese”. Japanese people were called “Chinese”. Many of my white neighbours would scowl at anyone who looked Asian. They would call them awful names and exclude them from things like block barbecues and birthday parties. They would ignore them on the street, whisper about them behind their back and go out of their way to make them feel as though they didn’t belong.

So when we, the white people of Richmond, wandered into the malls our new Asian neighbours had built, naturally, we would get looks of distrust. Other white people would often complain to me.

“I don’t know how you can go into those places. The Chinese people are so rude to white people.” One would say.

“Yeah, I went into a shop at Yaohan Centre once and the clerk completely ignored me.” Another would whine.

“I won’t shop there anymore. They’re so rude.” A third would announce.

It had never once crossed their minds that the shop owners and clerks and servers were being cautious. That, since their arrival in their new home, they’d been treated poorly by nearly every white face they saw and as a result, became nervous in our presence. It hadn’t dawned on them that the best way to fight this was to be kind; to be the wall where the cycle of distrust and anger stopped. Having moved to another country before and having been made to feel unwelcome, I could empathize, to a degree, with these fresh, new Canadians. I reacted the same way when I lived in Perth and almost all the Western Australians I came in contact with were rude to me in some way. I responded with anger and distrust. I didn’t want to be around them. I would surround myself with other people from Canada, from the UK and from other parts of Australia and refuse to socialize with West Aussies. It wasn’t a rational reaction; it certainly wasn’t fair, but it’s how I reacted to being treated poorly in my new home and so I could understand why newcomers to Canada might feel the same way.

And so, when it came to my own hometown, I refused to play the game. No matter how rude anyone was to me, I would still smile and be kind. The way I saw it? It may not solve anything, but it certainly wasn’t going to make anything worse. I had a choice: I could keep the cycle going by responding in kind with hostility, or I could stop that BS in its tracks. It didn’t matter to me who got the ball rolling or who “started it”. I simply wasn’t going to take part.

When I have expressed this sentiment to other people in the past, they often tell me how impressive it is. When I tell them that I won’t put up with racist language while in the company of only white people, they say it’s inspiring.

I just don’t understand why.

Why is it impressive that I think we should treat people with the most basic respect that they deserve? Why is it inspiring that I refuse to listen to others tear apart entire nationalities and races? If anything, these things put me at a very basic level of behaviour beyond grade one. This is the golden rule. It’s the first bit of morality we are all taught.

I’ve spent forty-one years being white, thus, being mistaken for someone who won’t care about racial slurs and general racist language. I’ve spent forty-one years listening to my fellow white people complain about other races being rude and refusing to look at their own. I know that most of us are aware that racism exists in the world, I just don’t know if people who are not white fully understand to what extent so many white people are blatantly and wildly racist when they believe they are “safe” amongst their own.

I hope that over the next forty-one years, as the kinder, gentler millennial generation takes over, that these sorts of behaviours start to dwindle. I hope that in forty-one years, I come back and read this and think,

My, how things have changed!

If you like what I do here and want to support my work, you can donate here or become a patron here.

Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay

"No, not him, he's just creepy and weird."

5 Difficult Situations For Atheist Parents ..."
"Yeah, if it were me I'd probably say some sarcastic remark and tell the guy ..."

5 Difficult Situations For Atheist Parents ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • igotbanned999

    I could never just take abuse and act all nice to the abuser anyway .

  • Happy Birthday from a fan of mixed race! You were born on Monday. (One drawback of the internet: I cannot demonstate I did that w/o Googling it, like can be done in meatspace.)

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    “They can’t speak English, it’s impossible to understand them.”

    What the hell? Mexicans, in Mexico, can’t speak English?

    Those bastards! How rude!

  • I just don’t know if people who are not white fully understand to what extent so many white people are blatantly and wildly racist when they believe they are “safe” amongst their own.

    POC realize this; a family friend even suspects that political correctness is a way for white people to be sneaky about their racism. (My mom’s family uses the term “black” for self-identification, and describes racism as personal experience. However, since I am relatively fair-skinned [though people have wondered whether or not I’m Hispanic], and grew up in a white Fundamentalist church largely separate from the African-American community, I tend to use the roundabout way to describe it.)

    I have noticed that folks did try harder to hide anti-black racism than anti-brown racism. At least with me, the white folks at church were more blatant about their views of Hispanics and MENA peoples.

    So, yeah, white people will not always hide their racism when around POC, but will bash another race. (I personally am not a fan of it: I am like, “No; I am not joining your possé to gang up on people from Latin America, MENA, South Asia, or anywhere else!”)

  • But, they have a fit when people come to USA unable to speak English!

    I have noticed that many people will respond positively if you can say a few words in their language. Many Latinx have complimented me on my Spanish skills when I tried to speak to them in Spanish.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    Most non-English speakers laugh at me when I try to speak their language, because I do it so poorly. And they just switch to English, because it’s a lot easier

    (although on my recent trip to Germany, I was to the point where I start the check-in at the hotel (“ich habe eine reserviert. My Name ist….(and then I’d spell it out)). Of course, the problem is that if you say something in that language well enough that they think you might actually speak it, they respond with something you can’t understand. At which point, we switched back to English)

    They appreciate the effort, for sure.

  • Maura Hart

    yeah. casual racism, sexism, discrimination over age and looks and wealth. i think it’s fear and rage and hatred, but what could cause so much rage and fear?

  • John Simmonds

    It’s unbelievable how much Richmond has changed since I first moved there in 1987. It’s not even recognizable. I’m not suggesting that’s a bad thing, change is inevitable. You hear similar complaints from people in other towns and cities. Things like the lack of small independent shops or restaurants as they get swallowed up by big box stores and chain restaurants. The big difference with how it went down in Richmond was there’s a “face” or “race” to associate a lot of the changes with, whereas in other cities people can come to terms with it by blaming the faceless corporations. Regardless of whether you like or dislike the changes, it’s absurd for people to make it about race and blame individuals for what happens everywhere else, just without the BS racist excuse.
    Me personally, I think Richmond has become an incredibly unique and diverse place to see. Is there another city in North America that has morphed in this way? Also, dim sum…..Yum.

    Also HBD!

  • ORAXX

    Bigots have a pronounced tendency to share their opinions with way more confidence than they’ve any reason to.
    *
    Happy birthday Mom, and many happy returns of the day.

  • Brian Curtis

    Tribalism is the problem, and your attitude is the solution. Countless times we’ve seen diehard bigots make an ‘exception’ for someone they know personally, which leads to rejecting that one particular flavor of bigotry. Heck, even Dick Cheney had to part company with the homophobes of his party because there was a lesbian in his own life, one that he knew personally. And knowing her for a decent, loving, and ‘regular’ person meant that he couldn’t hold a bigoted attitude toward ‘her kind’ any more.

    In my own life, I know a couple who are diehard evangelical Christians… raving about libtards and abortion and those damn Mexicans. But they carve out an exception for gays, because two more members of our little get-together group are a gay couple. And they know and love these people. So in between Facebook rants about how Jesus will murder all the socialists, they always stop and say “But of course, we love our gay brothers and sisters and will never stand with those who want to discriminate against them.”

    Personal experience destroys prejudice.

  • I hope that over the next forty-one years, as the kinder, gentler millennial generation takes over, that these sorts of behaviours start to dwindle. I hope that in forty-one years, I come back and read this and think,

    My, how things have changed!

    I hope so too. But we’ll probably be thinking, “Remember the Internet?”

    Happy birthday!

  • i guess i need to start making more trans folks.

    because there’s not enough of us for the west to get over its crisis around our existence, experientially.

  • generally it happens when people begin losing things they’ve always taken for granted.

    then comes the anger and fear.

    then comes the look for people to blame.

    then comes fire and blood.

    until they’ve bled and burned through their enemies.

    and they have to look for more enemies.

    the only real way to break this cycle is mercy.

    slaughter can only get you so far. it pushes the rift around, rather than eliminating it.

    in the wake of the holocaust, and Hitler’s death, his evil wasn’t snuffed. It was handed over. The torch was passed to the people who he oppressed.

    Who with the west’s help, are now repeating many of Hitler’s mistakes, only against the palestinians this time.

    the only way to break that cycle is with mercy.

    how does one redeem the murderer?

    most people don’t even get far enough to ask that question.

  • Maura Hart

    dang. a little editing and that is poetry.

  • Maura Hart

    imo this is why the right wing nut jobs are so happy about the orange ferret wearing treason weasel squatting in the white house. he has allowed them to be their natural hateful, rageful self. that is why they are so upset about politically correctness. they do not get to act out in public and their natural inclination to be what they are really like and are thwarted and stifled. and right now they are most upset for having had a black man in the white house for 8 years. and oddly, most of them consider themselves christian, and christ like. they got splaining to do when they do meet zombie jeebus assuming they ever do

  • I grew up in Tennessee where there was mostly racism against African Americans. There were few other ethnic groups represented. I moved to New Jersey, a stone’s throw from NYC where I met a coworker who is the most racist person I have ever met. She was half Austrian and half Iranian and would tell everyone that Iranians are Caucasian not (insert slur) Arabs. I learned racist terms I never knew existed. She knew what groups hated other groups, which groups she considered classier, etc. I have never been more horrified in my life.i was so glad when she was fired (ironically, not for racism).

  • wolfypuppy

    What scripts have you found to be the most useful? I’d lose my temper. Also, “For a year, living in Perth, Australia, I experienced discrimination because I was perceived to be American.” I’m so sorry! At least you can flash your Canadian passport. I haven’t been out of the country for 20 years, and there were times even then that I’d start telling people, “lo siento, no hablo ingles.” [This was mostly to Japanese gentlemen on trains….] I can’t imagine what it would be like to travel as an American now. My ancestors are from Canada (by which I mean, 1600s Canada). I’m irritated that my grandfather was living on this side of the border when it was decided that people needed to choose which citizenship they wanted. He chose American. Now I’m trying to get my Canadian 2nd/3rd cousins to adopt me. No such luck.

  • wolfypuppy

    To me, stasis is boring. I welcome change. On the other hand, I love studying evolution, which is all about impermanency, and despise religion, which all about a perfect, static universe with fixed laws. Religious people hate it when we say that their beliefs are a delusion, but it’s true, and I think most of them would benefit for therapy. Steps 4-10 of 12 step programs are all about admitting your wrongs, taking personal responsibility, and making amends. Religious conservatives refuse to do that because their god tells them they just have to ask Jesus for forgiveness, not the actual humans they wronged. I could go on and on…. 🙂

  • but what of taking responsibility for your own inaccuracies and and inconsistencies?

    Like for example, your misuse of the word delusion above?

  • also a core component of 12 step programs, common to all of them, is believing in a higher power. Without that, they couldn’t even get past the 1st step.

  • thanks, and you’re right, i need a copy editor. LOL

  • wolfypuppy

    But they already do believe in a higher power. They’d need to loosen up and find a new one. Also, Steps 4-10 can be used without a higher power.

  • wolfypuppy

    From Merriam-Webster: “delusion, illusion, hallucination, mirage mean something that is believed to be true or real but that is actually false or unreal. delusion implies an inability to distinguish between what is real and what only seems to be real, often as the result of a disordered state of mind. ⟨delusions of persecution⟩ illusion implies a false ascribing of reality based on what one sees or imagines.” Religious belief is this. Mass delusion. Opiate of the masses, etc.

  • what?

    you think every addict comes into a 12 step program with a belief in a higher power already formed?

    really?

    have you ever been to 12 step meetings? it doesn’t sound like it.

  • right. and it doesn’t apply the way you tried to use it above.

    > Religious belief is this. Mass delusion. Opiate of the masses, etc.

    Wrong on its face.

  • wolfypuppy

    Huh?!

  • nobody gets to step 4 without step 1. each step is prerequisite to the next. That’s why it’s called 12 step

  • which part did you not understand?

  • wolfypuppy

    I’ve been to plenty of 12 step meetings. Not for me. So, change a few words around so you won’t be in copyright violation and it still holds–admit, say, that your racism is your fault, that your actions have been harmful, and make amends. Are you looking for a fight or something? Cuz I’m working right now and not interested.

  • now what about giving up the desire to control everything?

    how can you even admit things are your fault until you can admit that your desire to control has gotten in the way?

    i don’t know that you know much about 12 step programs.

  • Also I need you to answer something, regarding delusion.

    Why haven’t i been diagnosed as delusional?

    Several mental health professionals know about my use of Torah.

    So why haven’t I been diagnosed as delusional?

    Are they all incorrect?

    Or are you using the word wrong?

  • > . Are you looking for a fight or something? Cuz I’m working right now and not interested.

    Then why did *you* start arguing with *me*?

    Seems you want the fight, you just want one uncontested.

  • Haha, thank you!

  • Oh man, once I was in line at a Mexican bank in Playa Del Carmen and there was an American woman in front of me. When it was her turn to go up, she began speaking to them in English. The teller, a tiny Mexican woman, was having trouble understanding her because her English wasn’t great. The American woman just completely lost her mind on this poor teller. She kept yelling at her to speak English and calling her stupid because she didn’t understand English. Other Americans and Canadians in the bank tried to calm her down but no one could. The teller started crying and another took over, but none of them spoke great English, so the lady just railed on and on. Eventually the cops were called but of course, nothing happened to her. She just handed them some cash and they let her go. It was so upsetting, I was brought to tears myself. Unfortunately, I saw so much of that in the two years I lived there.

  • I had acquaintances who actually had friends who belonged to the races they would cut down outside of their presence. It was horrible. Like, they’d be all fine with them when they were around, but as soon as they left the room, they’d be spewing slurs and stereotypes like nobody’s business. Just awful.

  • There are also cultural differences you have to get past, too. Like customer service really isn’t a huge deal in a lot of the countries I’ve visited. White westerners tend to feel entitled to having the red carpet rolled out for them at any business they’re bringing their money to. Anything less and it’s “I need to speak with a manager!”. In developing countries, unless you’re in a high-end hotel or all-inclusive and you don’t wander out into the streets, you’ll find they just don’t do things that way. I’ve seen so many white people lose their cool over it.

  • I don’t know. I honestly don’t understand it. I suppose it’s change. Change just scares people, I guess.

  • Very true and thank you 🙂

  • It’s true, it does. I wrote a piece a long time ago about ex-nazis/white supremacists and what, according to their own testimony, ultimately changed their minds. It was always getting to know people who belonged to the groups they were supposed to hate. Thank you for reading!

  • Nooooo, we can’t lose the internet!

  • Well said.

  • “orange ferret wearing treason weasel squatting in the white house” – this is getting shared everywhere. it’s beautiful.

  • I bet you don’t miss her.

  • thanks, though i was cribbing from Torah. i cheat.

    =)

  • Psalm 137 expresses about 2/3 of what i wrote in allegory.

  • ORAXX

    Most welcome, and keep fighting the good fight. You’re kinder to people than I am as a rule. 🙂

  • If you have any medical training, we will let you in almost guaranteed. We are short medical personnel of all kinds!

  • I am a fan of change, too.

  • I agree. I hate going back because of the traffic, but I love going back for the food and the culture there. Thanks for the HBD – you made it an awesome day! Love you!

  • SCUBAsabre

    I have a Trans friend that I met the night she decided to join an all female motorcycle group. She happened to sit next to me her first night and we’ve been friends ever since. I never had any issue with Trans people before that and had known a few though not well. I did know from her appearance that she was once a man the moment I met her though we didn’t discuss it until she brought it up to me some time later. Unfortunately, some in our group were not so open and mocked her behind her back. All these years later, the same handful still do – makes me crazy but I’ll put a pin in that. She is far more gracious about it than I would be. We’ll call my friend BJ.

    The purpose of sharing this story is about an evening at a bar with a group of us girls. A group of guys came up were buying us drinks and chatting us up. One, the one chatting up BJ, actually made a ridiculous accusation about a woman across the bar asserting she was Trans in a buzzed attempt at humor. I opened my mouth to tongue lash him when BJ put her hand up to wave me off. After shooting pool, dancing and general hanign out they exchanged numbers and even went out to dinner another evening. He was back peddaling up a storm at the dinner when she made it clear that she was Trans… he remembered his comment. My point… aside from that guy being an idiot…. He wanted to keep seing BJ even though he had said some terrible things about Trans people. The dinner was more than enough time for her to decide he was a waste of time but I just thought funny how that 180-degree turn can happen on a dime. BJ is getting married in November to a man that treats her really well. The guy from the bar… well we all have seen him from time to time… These years laler, he still asks me about BJ.

  • She mastered her choices, probably from experience with the situation. I’ve done similar, as i am trans, and it’s way better than screeching all the time about it.

    > Unfortunately, some in our group were not so open and mocked her behind her back. All these years later, the same handful still do – makes me crazy but I’ll put a pin in that. She is far more gracious about it than I would be. We’ll call my friend BJ.

    The to’evah (popularly called abomination in verse, but better translated as taboo) of male femininity is intractable under a coercively gendered society. For society to unburden itself of that taboo, it would have to radically change its entire social blueprint.

    This is what the laws say about “effeminacy” in scripture, effectively.

    People will want to draw our blood. And it’s because of our choices. They’re almost helpless in their inability to accept us. So they must draw our blood.

    Or devalue us, or whatever.

    Our best choices, given that reality, involve how we respond to the conflict. Because this to’evah is our cross to bear, whether we like it or not. We can only master how we respond.

    And it’s ultimately foolish to expect we can just wish something like to’evah away. It’s probably so deeply rooted it’s genetic, and tied to our amygdalas. Male femininity [1] and the uncanny valley [2] phenomena both tweak people’s brains in a similar fashion.

    But personal exposure (to trans femmes [1], or to androids [2]) can overcome some of that.

    But also, some people are less ruled by their amygdalas in the first place.

    Education isn’t key to acceptance.

    But then i’m not sure acceptance is the best choice. I think mercy is a better choice overall.

  • Benjamin Muller

    “I’ve never gotten over how freely other white people will unload their complete and unfiltered racism on you just because you’re also white.”

    I always love the follow up “I’m not racist though” when you call them on it. I don’t know who they think they’re fooling, but it ain’t me.

  • Oh yeah, I get that one a lot, too.

  • gimpi1

    I’m 60, white and I’ve experienced the same thing. It truly drives me nuts. My biggest issue now is my mother-in-law. She’s 97, failing physically, needing more and more help, and a total nasty bigot. It’s making me ill, listening to the crap she spews about, well, everyone but white, prosperous Episcopalians. However, I just can’t do what I would do if she was able-bodied and just walk away from her. It’s a blazing bitch when a very unpleasant family-member desperately needs your help. I’ve had some success playing dumb… “No, I didn’t notice anything about the new nurse – except she seemed nice.” It annoys the heck out of her, which can be more fun than correcting or confronting her

  • Major Major

    As someone who has a father born in Mexico and who was thought stupid in school because he didn’t speak English, I find it amusing when people complain about immigrants not learning English. Having done some work to try to become an ESL teacher, and from antecdotal experience, English is very confusing if you don’t learn it growing up. It can be confusing learning it even when growing up

    https://www.independent.ie/world-news/and-finally/12-little-things-that-prove-english-is-the-most-annoying-language-to-learn-36927279.html

    https://www.businessinsider.com/english-spelling-pronunciation-poem-the-chaos-2017-12

  • Yes, I share these experiences. it can be downright embarrassing.