Being pale and mixed-race, you see interesting manifestations of racism. This was foregrounded to me this week when a comment was left on my article about the Warwick rape threats, beginning “I understand you’re white yourself” and ending telling me I’m erasing “other issues faced by women of colour at universities from our own communities”.
First of all, there are huge issues faced by women of colour within our own communities, across the board, and these issues need to be addressed. However, today I’m just going to address the comparatively minor yet clear irony of this comment. I don’t know whether the reader has seen a photograph of me and my pale-olive complexion, or whether the assumption was made based upon my white surname; regardless, the false assumption makes the entire statement just that little bit off, doesn’t it? Because I am slightly paler than other members of my “community”, I am assumed to not be part of that community, and thus shunned as such.
It’s a comical limbo to be in, not quite white enough, not quite brown enough; where do we stand? I should not have to be one or the other. People will use certain rhetoric around me because they presume I will agree – they’ll make subtly offensive comments about Muslims while they think I’m white, then when they realise I’m middle-eastern the rhetoric will change, things like “oh I bet you tan soeasily!” will be said, then awkwardly skirted around. If your rhetoric is changing when you find something out about someone’s ethnicity, you probably shouldn’t have been using that rhetoric in the first place. Then on the reverse side, I’ll get assumptions that I don’t understand what it’s like to be a woman of colour, like I haven’t received comments about family members being “muslim bombers” or the only thing I remember about meeting cousins isn’t them ‘jokingly’ telling me if I’d been in Iran I could’ve been married off by now – at the age of nine.
I’m not claiming that I have it hard at all; it saddens me how much easier many things are for me to access with a surname like ‘Roberts’ and a pale face; I am painfully aware of the suffering faced by women of colour in other countries; forced into marriage, genitally mutilated, raped, murdered for attempts at independence. Beingethnically ambiguous shows you differences in western privileges. There are jobs that I’ve gotten that I’ve wondered if I’d been darker, or had a different surname, would I stillhave been hired? There are conversations that I’ve had, where I’ve been discussing racial issues, the middle-east, or Islam, where I haven’t really been listened to, or have been argued with, until the realisation hits those with whom I am communicating that I am mixed, and then either their perceptions of my views change, or they decide that it would be ‘racist’ to argue.
This finally brings me to another comment on the same article, one in which I was deemed racist and classist for calling out middle-class white boys. I sincerely hope this piece has made this point clear, but I will reiterate: the privilege of being white, or middle-class, and thus above others in society, shouldbe scrutinised. I cannot oppress you, as a middle-class white man, as you are above me, because your privilege outweighs my existence and thus I am incapable of providing rhetoric that could do you harm.
As a working-class, mixed-race woman, is my saying that middle-class white boys need to be told no going to do them any harm whatsoever? No. Because their superiority is so untouchable in the first place,and that is what needs to change.