As Black History Month began, I finally got around to starting Layla Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy”, which the more I get into, the more I think of it as a gift, not to black people, but to us, white people, for her to take the time to explain a number of things that in our obliviousness we often have no idea we are part of, are creating or have due to our skin color.
So while working on Layla’s first prompt “You and White Privilege”, I was trying to reflect on how aware I really am of my white privilege and how it affects my actions in daily life, that is in a way that goes deeper and beyond merely knowing that in general, and especially within the context I live in (Kampala), I do have an advantage pretty much on everything I do or try to do. So, beyond knowing that, how many practical, tangible examples can I give of it?
Also, how do my different privileges or lack thereof interact among each other in this specific context?
So I was thinking about my relationship with my colleagues, and in particular about some of my moments of “assertiveness” at work. An example involves a certain colleague of mine, Ugandan, male, 37 years old. In terms of titles, we hold similar grades: he is not my superior, neither I am his.
Now, he is the typical passive, non-proactive, idle kind of employee. The kind that 70% of the times he gets an assignment he either messes it up or does not see it through and someone else has to come in and fix it.
So it has often happened that I called him out on it, voicing feedback and complaints that the rest of the team would never say to his face (which I have understood is part of the culture here, as people generally avoid calling each other out).
Okay, leaving aside my potential reasons or justifications, I wonder: were I not white, would I ever dare to talk in such a way to a man, older than me, at work, without being intimidated by him? Probably not.
How many times have I felt entitled to voice an opinion with the confidence that, because it’s me voicing it, I will not face repercussions for it? Possibly because, being white, I am granted more credibility? Probably many.
Is his male privilege (in a country that highly values masculinity and where women are taught to be meek and submissive) stronger than my white privilege? No, I don’t believe so.
If I were a black woman and I expressed my opinions freely like I do as a white woman, how many repercussions would I have to face, as a woman? Probably many.
How do I feel about this?
As a woman, I feel proud that I can speak up to a man without feeling guilty about it.
As a white person, I feel ashamed that I feel proud about it, when the fact that I can do that is because I am white, and in any case I don’t get punished for it. Too easy.