Saturday, 31 May 2008

Token White Woman

As the title suggests, I have quite a bit of experience of being the only white person in the room. A lot of my uni friends are Malaysian (mostly Chinese), so I've been to many birthdays/christmas parties/Chinese New Years where everyone else has been an ethnic minority. This has resulted in a good bit of banter about white people being the minority for once, especially when I visiting a friend in her town in Malysia and I really was the only white person for miles. (I've never felt so fat in my life, it was awful!)

However the more time I spend with my amazing friends, the more I'm reminded that I'm not really experiencing what it is to be a minority at all, in fact its more like the opposite. My privilege doesn't decrease when I'm with them, in reality it increases. There has often been a somewhat akward vibe (mostly from people that I don't know well) of gratitude that I, as a white British person would actually take the time to be friends with foreigners. Almost as though I've been willing to take them on as a project (far from the truth, I sometimes get fed amazing Chinese food, always makes me wish I ate meat). I'm not treated as wierd or different in the group dynamic, I'm treated as special, with thanks. I'm increasingly concerned that my desire to be in charge and patronise people is increased with my asian friends, reminding me that I'm not immune from the racist attitudes I've inherited from wider society.

Its the same when I've been in places where white people (especially fair people like me) are very rarely seen. Yes, I've been stared at (like a black person might be in very middle class areas), but no-one is ever looking down on me, or being scared I'm going to steal from them, or that I might be a terrorist, I've never been yelled at by strangers because of my ethnicity . In Thailand strangers came up to me and said I was beautiful because I was so fair. In reality I'm not that attractive; I'm just white. (I was also subject to comment about my weight, I really have to stop going to Asia.)

This post is my repentance for ever having thought that I had in any way experienced knowing what being an ethnic minority is like. Its not about skin colour, its about status, steriotypes, your level of privilige. Even when I'm the only white person for miles my privilige is clear.

P.S. My quiet confession is that I'm always scared of talking about issues around ethnicity and racism in case I'm accidentally racist (I'm aware that I'm an idiot...), please tell me if I am!


Philomela said...

Hiya Rachel
Myself and a friend have just set up a blog carnival for progressive Christians
The home page is here I thought you might want to participate. Would really appreciate it if you advertised it as well if you feel you can?

Christian Feminist said...

Oooh, thats exciting, I've always wanted to write for a carnival. I think that would make me a 'proper' blogger! I have a couple of friends who write blogs that I can ask about contributing and I'll certain try to advertise it when its up.

MC said...

hey i never realised how you thought about this issue but now i know...but actually i have felt the same at certain times...personally i think of you as just another friend but just because of our environment you are thought of and treated quite differently from a friend with a similar culture as mine. that kinda influences what i think of u too!(hope that makes sense!)
and it is very true what you say...people have been brainwashed to think in a certain way so people are categorised according to their skin not reali sure what to think of it at times because being who i am, im subject to being biased..n so is everyone else because everyone else has to be of a cerain skin colour unless u hv a different blood in u i suppose!
suffice to say i think of u as a reali nice person whom ive been lucky enough to meet in my uni life. in spite of our differences, things hv worked out quite well i think...
i hope tis has been of some use to u..if u want to noe anythin else jus get me!


twirlingmycni said...

Great post! I too experienced being a minority for a year in India, but it was in no way comparable as I was always treated as special, despite the fact that Indians really should hate the British.
The only time it was difficult was that we were seen as being always sexually available - which was interesting because most of the time I had white privalage, but sometimes my gender did override that privalage. It was quite a good example of the way that race and gender interact..
anyway I digress, EFN was good on sat, lots more new people - shame you couldn't make it and hope you are well.