Who do you think I am?

This post was prompted by two things – most recently by one of the daily prompts being asked by WordPress for #bloganuary, but it’s also been knocking around in the back of my mind for a long time. In fact, ever since that discussion I took part in at University about racism and the need for apologising or making reparation. Now I was a (very) mature student at the time, so it’s not been knocking around for quite that long, but it was still almost 15 years ago; clearly it had a significant impact.

I’m not going to ask you, my lovely readers, to answer this question, for I suspect you may know me better from my writing than someone who simply sees how I look. But, In an ethnically diverse University class, I stood out as a white woman in my fifties, who lived in a relatively well-off area just outside London, and spoke in what was once called BBC English. A friend’s daughter said I sound like the Queen. I don’t – I do sound quite posh, but I’m not properly posh. I attended a fee paying boarding school where we played sports with the school where Princess Anne was educated, so I know what properly posh is.

The University I attended is in South London, an area of cultural diversity, and is well-known for its activism. My appearance, the way I dressed, the way I spoke, none of these things helped my fellow students to see my Indian heritage, nor the fact that my formative years were spent in India and Africa. So, in this discussion about racism, certain assumptions were made. And I totally understood why.

It was like a gut punch to actually feel what it was like to be judged for how I look, rather than who I am – for my thoughts, my beliefs, my values, my actions – and I was stunned into silence for a significant portion of the discussion. This fact was noted by our tutor who asked if I’d like to elaborate. So I did. And what she said was an ever bigger gut punch. It didn’t matter who I was, because a certain amount of privilege will always be accorded to me simply because of how I look. And she was right. I didn’t like it – but she was right.

As someone who has always felt a stranger here in the land where I look like I belong, it’s been tricky processing this concept. It probably explains why I’ve had a tendency to feel slightly off much of the time. I would prefer if how I looked said more about who I am, but I now accept I can only rely on how I act to demonstrate that fact.

Have you experienced a similar disconnect – either about you personally, or about another person?


© Debra Carey, 2022

10 thoughts on “Who do you think I am?

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  1. Oh, that is interesting, and another instance where you can’t judge someone’s experiences based on their appearance. And yet of course the instructor is also right–we white women are treated preferentially constantly (unless we’re competing against white men for jobs, etc.).

    For the last 6 years, conservative white people in the U.S. have not only embraced their inner racism, they’ve started trumpeting their white supremacy in person and on social media. When I meet new white people in conservative areas, they automatically assume that I am also a conservative evangelical and they espouse those views very freely–until I open my mouth and start arguing. Encounters like those are a constant reminder of how racist and horrible so many of us white people are (especially police, especially the Los Angeles Police Department).

    At the same time, BIPOC folks I meet eye me warily, and rightly so. I look like a Karen, no question. I spent Trump’s entire horrific Presidency bashing him, but when we got a new Black American neighbor? I made sure she knew right away I loathed Trump and everything he stood for–unlike many of our other neighbors. Between that and NOT insisting on touching her hair, we’ve become friends.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Ah the belonging game. Such a curious sport. How is it that different scares people so ? Not that they really understand what they feel comfortable with. They just know thems that belong… sort of. in their own mind. Just don’t ask them to explain it. Or why it is so important.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have always been cloaked in white privilege, whether I was aware of it or not. And I wasn’t aware of it until relatively recently. The only way I could possibly be more privileged would be if I possessed a penis. I am glad that I know now, because it helps me to understand how much harder the world is for others, especially women of colour. Imagine what LGBTQ people of colour face!

    Being a child of immigrants raised in Dutch culture and having my first language be Dutch not English (despite being born in Canada) has made me feel somewhat “other” too, as I learned when I mixed with other kids at school. My dad, even though white as white could be, faced discrimination after coming to Canada…he was told early on he lost out on jobs because he didn’t have the “right” (English or Scottish) last name.
    It seems that everywhere on earth, people focus on the differences between us instead of what makes us all the same. Sad but true.

    Deb

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s it exactly Autumn, this was the first time I’d properly appreciated that it wasn’t enough not to be racist, but that I needed to get – to viscerally get – what it felt like to be a person of colour. Until I did that I couldn’t begin to have any understanding of what that experience was like. Like you, I now try to show who I am, rather than expecting to get a free pass because I know who I am. It was a complex experience and pushed oh so many emotional buttons, but I’m very glad to have had that experience. I love that University and the course I took there, but it taught me this valuable lesson too for which I’ll be eternally grateful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. John, in my work as a life coach, I encourage people to “find their tribe”, especially when you feel in the minority for there’s a degree of comfort to being in a community, even if it’s not one that is beneficial. I’m not talking specifically of race here, one of my best tribes was the “breast cancer tribe”. But of course, it does also apply with race, and is often why one sees areas and neighbourhoods become predominantly one tribe of nationality, race or faith. But I also stress the importance of the need to be challenged, to be pushed outside of our comfort zones in order to learn, so it remains critical that we mix with people who are different to us.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Yup Deb, privilege is the only way I could ever understand the old “penis envy” suggestion 😉

    I know what your Dad meant. Discrimination comes in all forms, and from many sources. I remember dating an Asian guy who was at pains to stress that he couldn’t introduce me to his family, because I was white. He really wanted to as well, because my background meant I understood the culture in a way most white English girls didn’t. But I got it, and I’d known it would be that way before he told me. I knew there was no future there without a fight, and it wasn’t like we were madly in love or anything. The important thing is I wasn’t offended. But I could’ve been. I guess I was beginning to get white privilege even then.

    Thanks for sharing Deb.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have often joked that I haven’t fit in since the day I was born. Somehow I never quite fit the stereotype that people want to slap on me. I’ve learned along the way that you can show people who you are, but if they don’t want to pay attention to you they’ll never see what you’re showing them. It’s upsetting and infuriating, but that’s how it’s played out in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ally, a wise observation. I was surprised at how much how I looked, rather than how I acted, counted for the person other people took me to be. What became clear in this interaction was how little control I had over that. As you say upsetting – hugely so, and infuriating – if to a lesser degree. But them’s the breaks I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hello fellow south Londoner! Living in south London as I do – white, late 50s, professional, I too am aware of belonging to a privileged sector… although I think it’s debatable about whether a penis would add much (those things can make you more vulnerable too). I’ve lately been horrified to appreciate just how different life could be if I was young and black

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Caroline, oh how I wish I was living in south London. These days I’m in the sticks of Sussex and I miss everything about London. My daughter lives in east London and works in south London, so I get my London fix vicariously. It was quite the learning experience for me and has given me a whole different perspective on life, and it sounds like it’s the same with you. Thank you for sharing your experience, it’s good to hear.

    Like

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