White Privilege Makes It Easy to Be Silent

Ioana Andrei

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My white fragility is crumbling under the weight of past and current colonialism, black death, and global grief.

I don’t expect consolation for my guilt and inadequacy.

I expect to be called out for doing the insensitive thing. The ignorant thing. The privileged thing. The racist thing.

And I should, because you know what?

I’ve been complicit.

So I am raising the bar way beyond what I can reach, and digging into all the times I could have made a change, but didn’t.

I am asking myself:

How many times have I benefited from white privilege and didn’t even realize it?

It’s not enough. It’s too late. But it’s a start.

1. I grew up in a racist society.

When I was little, my parents and grandmother would issue a fatidic threat if I dared be disobedient in public:

“Be good, or I’ll give you to the gypsies.”

At the time, this was frightening, as well as confusing. Would my family not miss me if I became someone else’s child? As I grew, I realized this was a common child-rearing tactic among the white populace.

This was also one of my earliest encounters with racism in Romania. Unfortunately, I did not know to name it thus until much later, once I’d moved to London.

I did, however, observe a deep hatred from white Romanians towards Romani Romanians (to remove any lexical doubt, Romani ethnics are also referred to, often offensively, as “gypsies”).

Romani people are dehumanized. Informally, they become the non-consensual subjects of myths such as “child abducting”. Systemically, they become outcasts, with fewer opportunities in education and work, and often with geographic segregation from white Romanians.

When local news channels would report arrests and deportations of Romanian citizens in Western Europe, my white compatriots would wail, “But they’re gypsies, not Romanians!”

A family member once said that he wouldn’t hire a Romani employee again because previous Romani employees had stolen company property.

They are portrayed as lazy, prone to crime, unintelligent, and violent. But many white Romanians possess these qualities, too. So what makes Romani people less deserving of humanity?

Their skin is brown.

And because mine is not, I have had disproportionately greater opportunities to educate myself, build friendships, walk freely, and become an artist. Have I also experienced abuse? Yes. But not because of the color of my skin.

2. I could afford to stay silent while people voiced racial slurs.

A couple of years ago, I was on a yoga retreat in Greece. Sun, waves, feta cheese, and warrior-ones at sunrise. I was showing my prana a good time.

Towards the end of the retreat, a few family members of the attendees flew in for a weekend getaway. The atmosphere got less yogi and more colloquial until I started hearing an alleged “pun” float on the soundwaves.

While it is explicitly offensive, I am summarising it below to highlight that racism is still disguised and disseminated through toxic humor.

The next paragraph is for contextual purposes and can be skipped if emotionally triggering.

The white relative of an attendee believed it was humorous to say that, in times of racial segregation, white males would have a choice between going to the restroom, and urinating on those with black skin.

Some laughed. I said nothing.

Was I aware it was horrifically racist? Yes.

But the fact is, I stayed silent so I didn’t have to stand up, stop the party, and be seen as the politically correct snowflake that spoils everyone’s fun.

That’s right. My white privilege was so huge that I chose to preserve some racist people’s egos and good time, rather than stand with the oppressed.

What I didn’t fully comprehend at the time was that it wasn’t just a matter of re-establishing “social etiquette”. The mentality that goes behind voicing or laughing at a racial slur is the same mentality that puts black people out of a job, out of freedom, or indeed, out of life.

And the thing that makes me even more complicit? The guy telling the “joke” was a prosecutor.

3. People don’t question if I belong here.

I may not be the first person a senior executive shakes hands with, but I have never been overtly avoided or skeptically assessed in a work setting.

In my dabblings with consulting and technology, I thought people listened to my ideas because they were smart, articulate, and passionate. I was offered opportunities to grow, manage projects, make speeches, and get new business. New contacts would occasionally ask where my accent was from, but most people assumed I was American.

Point is — I rarely got the impression that I didn’t belong, whether in my home country or in my adoptive one. I naïvely thought it was because I was resourceful.

Whilst gradually retracting my head from my own behind, I began to observe how different people were treated.

At international conferences, I saw African executives be shunned from networking opportunities with white Europeans. In consulting projects, I saw low-income countries (largely inhabited by people of color) being deprioritized from market recommendations because they “weren’t good business”.

That never felt quite right, though I couldn’t articulate why.

But let me give it a shot now.

It’s interesting how a capitalist system, spun out of forced labor and stolen resources from the Global South, is now used as a pretext for depleting former colonized communities of wealth and power.

“It’s not the white man’s fault that the black woman doesn’t get a high paying job. She just doesn’t have the right education.”

“It’s not the white lady’s fault that she’s wary of the black man in a hoodie. He should wear more non-threatening clothing.”

I could go on about how many times I’ve heard desensitized arguments like these from white friends, acquaintances, and strangers. I could lament and rage and beg for forgiveness.

But, right now, when police officers are getting away with murdering Black bodies, I am going to pass the mic.

A selection of anti-racism resources

1. Listen

2. Educate

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My topics of focus include gender equality, mental health and social justice | ioana.a.writes@gmail.com

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