I was reading ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being White’ by Diane Adams (the title is a play on this book’s title) a few weeks back (which I have also mentioned here) and I am still thinking about white invisibility.
White invisibility refers to the experience of white people of representing the normative ‘race’ (and thus not having a racial identity) whilst all other ‘races’ are different and therefore possess a racial identity. For example being black would be a racial identity, whilst being white is perceived as the norm, the standard of comparison between all other races.
This is clearly a fallacy: as I mentioned before, race as a concept is strictly social, as biologically and genetically there are NO differences – there is only one human race.
However, when it comes to my experience, I can clearly see how this has played out and still does.
‘I am the norm’
The first thing that I was taught was that all other kids at school and my teachers had my skin colour. Therefore, I was ‘normal’, I was part of the majority.
My only encounters with black folx was on the street in the situations of homelessness, begging and inferiority (they have less money, less ability to speak my language). I cringe as I write this, because I am part of this system.
Then growing up in Italy, the term ‘immigrante’ or ‘extra-communitario’ continued to hold derogative and negative connotations. POC were poor, uneducated, and somehow outside of society. I had some friends who dabbles in a neo-nazi group for a while and I am afraid to say that these groups are still very strong in Italy.
It was not until I moved to Edinburgh that I started considering my being white, but never in the sense of having a white race, but only in the awareness that there were people different than me. Black folx were only a part of society in the USA, in the music videos. Still my awareness was limited and far from reality.
Listening to experience
In Edinburgh I met some amazing people, some of whom were POC. I have learned a lot from them and I learned to listen to their experience of being and seeing the ‘norm’ of being a POC.
I was no longer the centre of the world, the standard of the norm. New norms were appearing in my periphery.
I believe that them sharing their experience with me was not only valuable for me, but also brave and very much unearned by me. They did not have to. I should have educated myself. Nobody had ever told me to educate myself, but ignorance is just a lame excuse.
The power of now
I will not write again about the latest development in the Black Lives Matter movement, I have done so extensively and will continue at other points as well. Suffice it to say that it has been a wake up call for many including me.
It is not enough to have listened to POC’s experience, it is time to create a shared world. It is not enough to be aware, we must take action.
As I have taken a break the past couple of weeks, I have noticed just how easy it has been to slip but into my white invisibility. The power of being white means that I forget I am white, because I am not reminded of my skin colour at every turn. I am privileged and I am the beneficiary of the system of white supremacy.
Now is indeed the time to renew our vows to amplify black voices, to listen, to learn. It is too easy to slip back in the comforts of a society that is tailor made for us (especially if you are a heterosexual white man).
Being white indeed has a lightness that is becoming unbearable. As long as black folx are not free, I am not free.