A lot of my blog posts stem from conversations I have with people in my life and Walking on Eggshells: PART TWO comes from a combination of conversations that have led me to wonder whether we are allowing ignorance/ naivete to be too much of an excuse for inappropriate behaviour?
In the first Walking on Eggshells, I talk about my experience within school and work and I mention how, for me, microagressions and subtle racisms tend to fall into one of three categories; hair related, food related, or friendship related. As I didn’t give a food related example last time, here goes. I love to take hot lunches to work because I always prefer a hot meal over a cold one and in my old job, when I warmed up my lunches this was always an exciting time for the WHOLE office. On one of many occasions my colleague asked what I’d brought in for lunch and I answered accordingly, “rice and chicken”. The normal response would be “ooh that sounds nice” or “mmm smells delicious” but on this occasion my colleague thought it appropriate to put on a Jamaican accent and sing “rice and peas and chicken and stew”. The first time this happened (yes it happened more than once), I felt extremely uncomfortable and laughed it off as I usually do in these situations. However, on the second occasion I felt it necessary to clarify that firstly, I’m not Caribbean and secondly, it’s just rice and chicken. I do wish I had said more and further clarified to him why it was unnecessary and inappropriate for him to respond in that manner but as I do in many situations similar to this, I put the behaviour down to ignorance/ naivete.
What I’ve learned from living in a heavily white dominated area for most of my life is that as black people, especially when there’s only one or two of you in an environment, we tolerate a lot of nonsense. For some reason, we have the belief that the perpetrators of the nonsense behaviour, don’t really understand what they’re doing because they don’t have experiences with a lot of black people.
Here’s three reasons why we need to stop excusing inappropriate behaviour whether down to ignorance/ naivete or not and we need to speak out when necessary;
In areas where there are little to no black people it’s understandable that some white people in that area may have had no experiences with black people. Understood. Does this mean they might not know how to act around black people? I honestly don’t think it should. This is where we, as black people, begin to excuse certain behaviours because we have the belief that ignorance and naivete are fundamental causes of such behaviour. As such, we let people off too easily because we’re essentially suggesting they have no common sense. Although we know common sense ain’t common this really isn’t a good enough reason to be made to feel uncomfortable.
In addition to this, if these regular perpetrators are able to function normally around other white people i.e. other human beings, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to do the same around black people, whether it’s the first or the hundredth time they’ve interacted with one. I’m not saying white people and black people are exactly the same because I know this isn’t the case, there are huge differences from culture to moral standings etc. but at the end of the day we’re all humans and even within our races there are HUGE differences between us all. So, if you wouldn’t ask your white colleague to touch their hair, don’t ask your black colleague to touch their hair.
Let’s start to educate
The second reason I think it’s really important for us to start speaking out when necessary is this… we need to start educating those people that truly think their inappropriate behaviour is okay. It’s bad enough being made to feel uncomfortable but the more these behaviours go unchecked the more people have to experience them. If the person acting inappropriately honestly doesn’t know what they’re doing is not okay, then it’s important that someone tells them, for the sake of both parties. If after being told their behaviour is inappropriate and makes you feel uncomfortable, they carry on, that goes to show it’s not down to naivete.
The sake of our sanity
Having lived in Peterborough nearly 15 years now, I’ve had my fair share of experiences. The final reason I can think of to start speaking out when necessary is, your sanity. The onslaught of ridiculous questions/ behaviours can honestly be very jarring and to hear similar questions/ see similar behaviours time and time again is often draining. From experience, laughing it off is probably one of the worst things you can do because it makes people think you’re okay with that level of ridiculousness. Sometimes even responding in a normal manner further normalises the behaviour. I’m not a confrontational person so the two examples I’ve given above are what I would usually turn to but henceforth I will be trying to push myself to ask why are you asking me that question? Or why do you think that behaviour is okay? So that I can nip it in the bud.
This is a really lengthy post for me but I think it’s important I get my point across. What I’ve come to realise is that as black people we will gladly sit in our own discomfort to avoid others feeling uncomfortable and that’s something I’ve decided to no longer do. I mentioned in my previous post that we tend to suppress ourselves and I think part of the reason we do that is in order to make the people around us feel more comfortable and also to ensure we’re not perpetuating certain stereotypes of what many think black people are like. I’ve chosen not to do that anymore. I’m not encouraging you to start fights or be rebellious but what I would encourage is that you do speak up when you feel uncomfortable. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel like you need to be less than what you are because of the fear of dumb stereotypes.