Reflections on why I was the only white person in the village at my last job.

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Wow, it’s the morning after the post the night before. I am utterly blown away by the personal, profound, and thought provoking comments you guys have left. I sincerely encourage everyone to click back and read the comments – and I have replied to each and every one on the thread. I will continue to do so should more appear.

It was a common occurrence that while reading, I would feel an internal ‘click’ and have a moment of clarity. So many of the comments are written more elegantly than I was able to write yesterday. So many of you ‘get’ what I’m saying, and that has made me feel comforted, understood, and celebrated. So thank you.

A few years ago, I got into an interesting conversation with some friends. From my side of things, I looked around one day and realised all my closest friends were not white (with exception of several lovely people, who usually happened to be gay, Jewish, etc) . At my job, white people were certainly not the dominant group (I’m white, for those who don’t know) and there was a huge diversity of people. Weirdly, whenever we all got together there’d be a white table, a black/asian table, and then a mixed table. I always found myself the only white person on the ‘non-white’ table, or in the mixed group.

And my closet friends then? A mixed race guy, a black guy, a mixed race girl (all straight). Time and time again, we were able to have discussions that none of us had with other staff members/friends. Time and time again, I was actively welcomed into the visible minority groups…and this is a pattern with me. When walking into a room of strangers, I will always pick (and be picked, thankfully!) to sit by people who are visibly minorites in some way (and I admit to sometimes using my ‘gaydar’ to make assumptions) OR to sit by anyone who is sitting by themselves and looks left out.

I am attracted to people who ‘get’ what it means to be a minority. Whether this is by firsthand knowledge (or being the partner of, relative of, etc) of being gay, black, mixed, asian, disabled…and the other myriad of ways people can be different.

I guess what my friends understand is that while every person is unique, some people are part of proud and strong minority groups. For these people, their skin colour or sexuality helps them to define who they are. They delve deeply into themselves for a wider or clearer understanding, they are aware of white privilege, of sexual politics, etc. My friends are a good group of people.

I am the person sitting at the table in the pub talking about mental illness and the impact it has on my friends’ lives. I am the person engaged in discussion about how powerful our groups could be if we joined together rather than pulling apart. I am the one having TMI conversations about how my Muslim friends get out of Ramadan fasting by pretending they have their periods, joking about how my Jewish friend brought me wonderful bagels at Christmas, listening to the impact of being mixed race. (I hope ‘mixed race’ offends no one….it is the going term here in Country B, I have no idea what terms are deemed okay elsewhere – enlighten me!)

Of course, my life has changed now in that my disability and family situation separates me from this old style of communication, but not my way of being.

I spent a long time on the phone with Aussie yesterday. (She’s not white, for those keeping track. Get out your racial identity scorecards!!) She instinctively understood what it meant to be different as an individual and as a couple, as her fiance is white. She is also Christian, and we had a deep and lovely discussion about the context the Bible was written in, the differing translations, and on and on. She enriches me.

She gives me understanding. We are both such pieces of this and that, and I suppose this allows us to understand and communicate easily.

I guess the difference between gay and non-white (sorry, hate this term but wanted to include all people who weren’t white)  people is that a gay child might be hated or rejected by their own family not just because they pick an ‘unsuitable’ partner, but because of who they are – even just on their own. Another difference is that my non-white pals are easy to pick out in a crowd, whereas I am invisible. I long to be visible, as my invisibility hurts me time and time again when people ask about  my husband, talk about my kids growing up to be straight (I don’t care either way, you understand, but I want them to not feel pushed aside or invisible should they be queer). Of course, I’ve not BEEN a visible minority my entire life so can’t speak to what it’s like….though certainly spending a lot of time in a wheelchair or on crutches has given me more insight. The flip side of being visible is that there is nowhere to hide, you are judged instantly (whether people admit it or not), and you are ‘outed’ without your consent.

I am the counsellor who adores working with trans people, who has worked extensively with people with mental illnesses, who likes supporting people to be curious about themselves…and ultimately accept themselves. I was the teacher who liked to speak in another language, and never felt more at home then when surrounded by Deaf people. Oddly, while speaking (signing!) all the time (for an admittedly short placement!) in another language freaked me out initially, I felt easily at home and I’m under no illusions that being gay has helped me to be comfortable in being different.

I am the mother who is already picking out books on diverse sorts of families and reading them to her babies who don’t yet understand. All they know is that they are loved and our family is lots of fun.

I cannot speak for black/asian/etc people, I cannot speak for all gay people, but I can speak for me.

I am instinctively more comfortable with people who have an understanding, or a willingness to understand, minority issues. Lucky for me, that circle of friends is expanding to include of lot of people who happen to be white, straight mothers (though lots of new bi/trans/gay moms as well!) who are raising the next generation to make choices based on love rather than fear.

Hopefully that’s something we can all get behind.

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4 Responses to “Reflections on why I was the only white person in the village at my last job.”

  1. tysdaddy Says:

    TMI convesations . . . I abhor just about evety other type. Keep talking, and listening . . .

  2. Megs Says:

    Great post :o) Sorry to digress, but I forgot you knew sign language! Have you started using signs with the babies and if so, how is that going??? x x

    • existere Says:

      I’ve not done signing with them. I always always always thought I would, but I’ve not. Not sure why.

      Coco has developed a nice little sign for ‘Jesus CHRIST woman I said I don’t want any more MILK for fuck’s sake!’ though, and it does come in handy to know when she’s done eating.

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