Why I’m Grateful For My Racist Ex
George's Floyd's murder has sparked a resistance that's changing the world but police brutality runs deeper than just race. It's the experiences of people of colour brushed under the carpet for so long, that it has cost countless lives. Racism starts from the insignificant ‘jokes’ and the disrespect of not being listened to, as I personally realised.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor' - Desmund Tutu
In 2018 I was browsing in a Waterstones with my (white) ex. He picked up a copy of 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race' by Reni Eddo-Lodge which I had already read. He had a very disapproving look on his face and his body structure was identical to that of whenever I spoke about sexism. He was about to get defensive.
"Why is the title targeting specifically white people?" He said. "Surely it should be directed at all races? No one should be racist to anyone else, you can be racist to white people too".
Bitch, please. Open your fucking eyes.
After a deep breath I tried to explain how the truth is, white people are the reason racism exists yet for some reason, people of colour have been given the responsibility to fix it hence we talk about our experiences to them and how damaging it’s been. White people created structural racism and white supremacy is incredibly prevalent in western society today and the symptoms of this are suffered greatly by people of colour.
And then I just stopped talking.
I realised with his interruptions of "But non-white people are racist too..." and "But white people are victims too..." that I was talking to a fragile straight white man (a.k.a, a brick wall). He wasn't listening to a word I was saying. It was as Eddo-Lodge perfectly put 'It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals like they can no longer hear us.' His defensiveness straight up proved why it's so difficult to talk to white people about race. The irony.
Eddo-Lodge's title has come about being so fed up of white people living a life oblivious to their privilege that they feel like a person of colour talking about race has nothing to do with them. Imagine creating a problem so heavy that you'd rather pretend it doesn't exist and deny experiences than empathise.
This was just one incident out of many:
"It was just a joke" / "Can't you take a joke?"
"I mean, I grew up only around white people so how would I know..."
"If you look for something hard enough you'll find it even if it's not there".
"You're being too sensitive, maybe they didn't mean that. It isn't always about race"
"Yeah, but not all white people..."
I began to doubt myself that maybe I was being too sensitive or making a fuss about nothing. Of course, now I realised I wasn't and I should have stood my ground rather than keep a toxic relationship. If you've had this experience, regrets are damaging on your mental health. Realise that you can't change the past but you can control your future.
I'm grateful for my racist ex because I can ensure I stand up fiercely to my morals and I know when someone is pulling the wool over my eyes. I've read, listened and watched more about racism to learn how to articulate myself better especially to such individuals. Most importantly, it demonstrated to me that racism doesn't just come from someone outwardly saying 'I hate black people' or calling me a paki. It can be extremely subtle and deceiving. It comes from undermining racist experiences to take off white people's guilt and convincing PoC that they're making a fuss over nothing. It's looking away when your black colleague is being discriminated against. It's replying to 'Black Lives Matter' with 'All Lives Matter' and downplaying black people's suffering. It's people saying 'I'm tired of hearing about racism'
Then can you imagine how tired people are of experiencing it?
I'm grateful for my racist ex because it's shown me how loud silence can be. In an era where hashtags and movements can spread like wildfire globally, you can do your part through social media in seconds. Donate, educate, sign petitions and raise awareness. There's no excuse not to. If you're remaining silent when black people are being murdered by the police, are 50% more likely to be exonerating for murder and have to protest during a pandemic to be treated like human beings the then I mean this in the most disrespectful way possible, you are racist.
You can easily allow racism to be fuelled with the small racist jokes you let your friend slide for the fear of being seen as a killjoy. It's 'get over slavery' yet 9/11 is 'never forget'. It's your family member choosing to remain stubborn and ignorant rather than educate themselves. It's politely laughing at a someone saying 'I can't be racist, my girlfriend's Asian'.
I'm grateful for my racist ex, because he made me realise there's a fuck ton of work still to do.