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