Written by: Steph Oey, WTC Staff Member
I don’t have the protection of white privilege. What I do have is the knowledge and lived experience that no matter what I do, or what kind of person I am, my race will always be the first thing that people see about me.
At its most harmless, this means that I’ll be put into a box and stereotyped. At its most harmful, this means that I can be attacked in broad daylight because of who I am. Our elders are being shoved in the street, cast aside, and thrown to the ground as if their lives mean nothing. Every day I worry for my loved ones, and for the loved ones of those I do not know. I want to tell them, “be careful,” to protect them physically, or I say nothing, to protect them emotionally—and in the end I’m unable to do either.
In the past several weeks I’ve been made keenly aware of where society has placed me and others like me, whose lives have been reduced to “a temptation”, “a bad day”, and “a sex addiction”. All things that have made me feel ashamed and afraid in my own skin. But through heavy conversations, I’ve also been blessed to experience solidarity, standing beside all those who have felt what I felt. Those who have been crying all week, have been spurred into action, or are furious and scared, mourning the tragedies placed on our backs by a decades-old system of white supremacy and misogyny.
The recent events have placed these feelings front and centre in my mind, and my heart hurts to think of black and indigenous folks for whom this reality has been a constant, never ending weight. At the same time, I’m more grateful than ever for allyship and the knowledge that I’m not alone in this.
I spent the first day after the killings in Atlanta with my head buried in the sand. I stayed off social media, ignored the outcries, and tamped down my feelings. I couldn’t handle reading yet another statistic about rising levels of hate crimes. I couldn’t stand the thought of sisters, brothers, parents and grandparents, especially those most vulnerable, being reduced to another number, another body count in an already depressing landscape. But the fact is that it’s happening, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. And those who choose not to engage or act have to realize the privilege they have in doing so.
I’m proud of the work we do at WTC to take action on anti-racism, and our focus on intersectionality to make cities women friendly. And even so, I still felt discomfort at the thought of bringing it up within our community—so I didn’t. I regret that by staying silent, I didn’t take the chance to educate, connect, and open up the dialogue with those who were willing to learn, and those who needed a safe space to share. Having conversations about race may be uncomfortable, but it’s a necessary way to show that we want to hear from the voices of those who have been made marginalized. One of the ways I’ve felt the most supported is in spaces that have created a level of psychological safety. I’m especially appreciative of our board member at WTC, Belinda Chan, who, by sharing her feelings was able to start the conversation. To our allies: I invite you to reach out and create this space. Practice speaking about anti-racism with those around you, including those who may have differing views. Examine any unconscious biases you hold, and acknowledge your privileges every day.
We speak about using this momentum and having these conversations while we can in a way that makes it sound as if we only have a limited time to make change. I’m asking you today to not let this be true. Keep having the difficult conversations, and keep fighting for change. Only by actively doing this work can we dismantle and transform this system of broken values and shift towards one that benefits all.