I am a qallunaaq (white person) living in Iqaluit, Nunavut. As an average white person would do, I am using the personal blogging platform in which to share some insights about my white culture. Even though white people have been studying other cultures, including Inuit, for centuries without asking permission or their insights, ironically we are not comfortable as the subject of discussion by non-white people. Because white people are accustomed to being the ones commentating, we are often not receptive to honest feedback from non-white individuals about our own behaviours.
Here are a few problematic patterns of behaviour you can expect to encounter when interacting with, observing, and speaking about white people, especially when we are living in a habitat and culture that is different from our own. I also offer some strategies for white people, myself included, who may need assistance overcoming these habitual behaviours.
Glossary of Key Terms:
Ethnology: scientific term developed by white people for the branch of anthropology that compares the customs of different cultures, historically non-white cultures, as documented by one, or few white individuals.
Ethnography: scientific term developed by white people for the in-depth analysis of cultural practices, traditionally of non-white societies, as historically documented by one, or few white individuals.
Reverse-racism: not actually a term, but still developed and actively used by white people in situations where a non-white individual or group openly shares their observations about white people.
Non-White people: common term developed, and by used white people to label all others they perceive as different as compared to the white standard.
The average white person tends to:
#1- Respond with “But I’m not racist!!!”, “that’s racist!!!”, “Ummm…actually that’s reverse racism!!!” when a non-white person openly shares their perspectives/experiences
For many historical reasons (slavery, genocide, systematic oppression of non-whites, to name a few), white people are subconsciously threatened by difference, and instead of just listening, acknowledging, and sitting with discomfort while a non-white person is speaking, we think everything is about us and feel our narrative under attack. (Re: White fragility)
How to cope with White Fragility: When a non-white person says to you, for example, “I feel the system is racist because…”, try nodding and/or just listening. Responding with “But I’m not racist!!!” is like saying, “But I don’t have cancer! Stop talking about cancer!” when your friend tells you she has cancer. Wouldn’t giving her a hug and offering your support make more sense than reminding her that you do not have cancer? Now apply that logic to situations where you may feel targeted, and remember that although it’s uncomfortable for everyone, you cannot die from White Fragility.
#2- Be easily offended
White people love attention and having our voices heard, so getting offended and overreacting to a non-white person expressing their own opinion is a great way for us to interrupt loudly, and gain reassurance from others, even though we don’t need it. White people will often train their offspring in infancy to throw the most effective tantrums to ensure their needs are heard when outside the comfort of their white homes.
How to cope with being easily offended: If you are offended by this post already, just close your browser and do something else. It’s okay NOT to react/comment because not everyone shares the same opinion as you, and disagreements are part of life and learning. And yes, you still exist even when you are sitting in a disgruntled silence.
#3- Any experience that does not match our own experiences must not be real
Despite our over-reactions, white people really lack imagination and will have a challenging time relating to, or emphasizing with an experience/opinion/behaviour that does not match our own, and/or what we have seen on TV, in an easy-to-follow Power Point presentation, featured in a Hollywood movie with recognizable actors, at a conference with snacks and coffee, on a trendy blog post with pictures of smiling white people, and/or in an instagram photo essay with correct hashtag usage. This is called: White Privilege.
Coping with white privilege: If you don’t believe you are privileged, please refer to #4.
#4- Getting defensive and immediately justifying our individuality when being called “privileged”
White people do not like being referred to as "privileged” because that term makes us feel like our personal experiences are being negated or don’t matter. Even though we may subconsciously see non-white peoples this way, white people do not like being seen as part of a big group of people; we have the privilege of seeing ourselves only as individuals, and we would like everyone to acknowledge us individually as such. Yes, not every individual white person has had an ideal life, and we do occasionally experience hard times (so write a book about your own experience on your own time, not in the comment section).
Keep in mind, that being visibly recognizable as a white person means that an individual can usually exist comfortably and be accepted in many different countries/contexts/mundane situations without being discriminated against, or feared, which is a privilege because unfortunately, our modern world STILL operates under a racist, colonial system whose governance structure is based on the white (male) experience.
Coping with your White Privilege: You can use your white privilege to listen to others, to stand-up for others against systemic discrimination and violence when it is dangers for others, to challenge racist social norms, to write to your MLA or MP, and to speak up against injustices…not just when you feel your own privilege is under attack. And yes, I do benefit from white privilege so you can point fingers at me if that makes you feel better, but ultimately ranting at and about me (while you could be doing something more productive) does not change anything…and kind of validates #1-4.
#5- Our solution to everything: #SelfCare
For white people, we believe any obstacle can be solved with a positive attitude and just spending time working on ourselves, which we believe enhances our individuality. If a non-white person is distraught or in a bad situation, we think it is likely because they are negative and aren’t trying hard enough to find time for #SelfCare. We fear they will bring down our positive habits of #SelfCare by talking about their problems that we assume have nothing to do with us, because we aren’t really listening. Usually these individual #SelfCare practices are appropriated from other non-white cultures we marginalize on a regular bases. Examples: yoga, mediation, kombucha, reiki, shiatsu, chai tea lattes, all-you-can-eat sushi, fish tacos, dog sledding, etc.
How to be more aware of cultural appropriation: Pretty much everything cool and instagrammable in our modern white culture has been stolen from another culture. Try researching the hobbies you like to do, acknowledging their origins, and asking people from that culture how to properly respect those practices. Look around you the next time you are enjoying your favourite activity: how many non-white people are present? What are barriers that may prevent non-white people from engaging in those activities too (lack of affordable childcare/internet/safe housing, not feeling heard, being discriminated against, etc).? What can you do to assist in breaking down these real-life barriers? Or do you even care enough to? There’s no need to get defensive; when we know better, hopefully we will do better!
#6- Not acknowledging that we are living on stolen land
While white people are very vocal if you stand in front of us in an airport or café lineup, or take the parking space we’ve been eying at Costco, we still refuse to acknowledge or even know the traditional names and histories of the indigenous territories our condos or subsidized/staff housing units are built on.
Spoiler alert: Yes, your home is on native land.
How to start acknowledging the true history of Canada: Instead of feeling guilty about your ancestors’ past actions, you can easily go to this website to see the first nations’ territories you are occupying wherever you travel to in North America. As a Cherokee elder recently scolded me: “you must verbally acknowledge whose nations’ land you are standing on at every comedy show you perform at, and you will start to comprehend the richness of the history that this country was forcibly settled on, which challenges your audience members to learn these lessons too. You are not learning unless you are sitting in discomfort. It’s a small action, so just do it! No excuses!“
#7- Get into consumer debt easily
Despite what many white people tell you, most of us aren’t very good with numbers, and therefore finances. We love buying nice things for our kids, sea-lifting up furniture for our staff houses, and going on exciting adventures abroad and boasting on social media, even if we can’t actually afford it all. Although we believe we are educated, hardworking people, we often have trouble comprehending the realities behind terms like: inflation, monthly interest payments, Fyre Festival, variable mortgage rate + prime, etc, even though these concepts were invented by white people who we trusted to make owning things easier for us.
I only bring up consumer debt because in the capitalist system that we operate under, money = independence/control/freedom. White people do not like feeling trapped/out of control/misled, so being in chronic debt increases feelings of inferiority about our individual self-worth within our society when we realize we cannot afford the comfortable lifestyle we were promised. White people are emotional thinkers, and as a feel-good solution, we sometimes project these feeling of frustrations and fear of loss onto non-white people (immigrants who take jobs, indigenous who take from the system, black people who take our stuff) instead of taking accountability for our own financial failures, which is actually what our system was designed to do. (See: Failure of Capitalism).
Important distinction: Being in high consumer debt by making poor financial choices while still having to pay taxes, does not make you underprivileged or a victim, therefore we should not confuse being in an unfortunate financial situation with being systemically marginalized by racist social policies. Yes, I am using big words, but that’s why white people invented Google and Siri.
For further reading on finances, please research this topic:
What is the difference between gross income and net income?
#8- Suddenly decide that they do not to see colour anymore!
White people have a hard time listening to voices, and supporting movements that don’t seem to include or benefit us, yet are getting some of our much needed media attention, lots of Facebook likes, or taking over the comment section of a page we follow. Instead of being an ally and trying to understand what these non-white movements and discussions are actually about, white people will mask their insecurities by insisting that they no longer see colour, don’t recognize race or differences, and that we should all just forget the past, and work together by adopting a “can-do, altogether now” attitude. White people may even accuse non-white people of racism if we continue to feel left out and unheard for longer than a few minutes.
To be a good ally: Just listen and speak only when invited to join the discussion. For example, white people really need to stop saying “um, actually, ALL Lives Matter” and just acknowledge “Black Lives Matter”.
#9- Benefit from the current system and subconsciously do not want it to change despite well-intentioned words
VTAs, per diems, not having to learn the language, staff housing and perks, access to lower fare airline codes, having a vacation home in the south, fancy job promotions, Aeroplan points…It all seems too good to be true! Am I right? Yes, white people are afraid, whether we realize it or not, that we will lose our stuff and status if new policies are made that actually start addressing and fixing the root of the inequalities.
As a gay woman with autism, I adamantly believe that there is room for everyone to live comfortably with equal rights and that change is beneficial...for everyone. The 2SLGBTQ movement has not only improved social policies for gay people, but for everyone…including bible thumpers (who are likely closet gays, let’s be honest!). It is only by listening to and actively involving those who have historically been ignored and marginalized by our system that it can be made better, as no one understand the flaws and failures of a racist, discriminatory and corporate-benefitting system better than those who are, and have been, actively oppressed by it for generations.
Ultimately, it is not just the skin colour/gender of the people sitting around the table that needs to change, it is also the table that is problem. Historically that table and how and why we make decisions is based on racist sciences and economics for rich, white people. (See: Every modern history book).
I am not writing to create divisions or point fingers, but to acknowledge how we’ve been divided in the past, and identify solutions so that we can close the gaps by recognizing one another as equal, with divisive histories. If you can’t laugh at yourself and be open to changing then you are part of the problem.
You can apply this logic of acknowledge/listening/asking/doing better, to pretty much any situation in which you recognize you are in a position of power/privilege:
I acknowledge that the land I was born on (Toronto) is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, and is now covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit. It is a privilege to live in Iqaluit, Nunavut, traditional territory of the Inuit for thousands of years prior to Canada 150.