When I told my boyfriend that I just had a fight about white privilege with Grethe K*** his response was “Whyyyy?” “Why would you enter into that?”
I just shrugged my shoulders. I guess it felt like the right thing to do? I was in the mood for debate?
In the end morbid fascination got the better of me. I know all too well that these things never leave me feeling wonderful.
Grethe was having a rant about English speakers (read ‘white people’) and how she was fed up with them and their poor attempts to correctly pronounce anyone’s name that’s not English and might be difficult to say (including hers. She is white). Her point being that English imperialism is shit and white people are shit for failing to respect someone enough to pronounce a Zulu, Xhosa or even Afrikaans name the way it is supposed to be.
My response mostly ignored her racially charged rant and suggested that all over the world people find it difficult to pronounce words and names that are unfamiliar to them. That in Spain all B’s are V’s and all V’s are B’ and therefore I am often Bicky in that country. (She loved this point, retorting with my own personalized meme highlighting my white-people problem).
My Korean student the other day said that she hated Jews. After some discussion we came to the conclusion that what she really hated was zoo’s. That damn racist Korean mother tongue. We’re still working on that.
The point I was trying to make was that mispronunciation of names and words is not something only lazy English speakers are to blame for. But after a few back and forths, our deeply connected Facebook friendship came to an end. (calling her a Liberal Nazi was probably the last straw).
A Liberal Nazi is someone who identifies as a liberal (i.e. accepting of other opinions and behaviours different to their own) but in reality is inflexible to opposing ideas and behaviours. There are a lot of these around. Should you encounter one, try your best not to make eye contact and certainly don’t bring up how you truly feel about illegal immigrants.
There is no winning in an argument with a Liberal Nazi. They will eventually accuse you of failing to acknowledge your white privilege, to which you can say nothing. There is no test or way to prove yourself, especially when using Facebook as your platform for battle.
Instead of being open to discussion she began with ‘Victoria you are the worst when it comes to this….” I hammered out a reply, hovered over enter and then backspaced. Wrote something else and backspaced. And eventually went with “How am I the worst?”
I knew then and there though, that I was dealing with someone who judged me for choosing to live outside of South Africa (a common phenomenon). Deciding for herself that I’d left hoping to live with my white privilege in peace. Or maybe she meant I that exploit my white privilege by travelling the globe with initial the help of my parents’ financial support 6 years ago?
Ok, Grethe. (How do I say that?)
According to Grethe, travel is nothing but a slap in the face to underprivileged and marginalized people. That’s the message I received anyway. According to her, my travelling has done nothing for my white-privilege-enlightenment, how could it? I’m too busy flashing my money and pale skin to ever consider the real issue of whiteness in this world.
Then I realised why I had entered into this discussion back when Grethe and I were still floating around each other’s cyber personal space. My gut told me to, and by now I know to always listen. My gut knew there was a lesson to be learnt here. And believe it or not, the lesson was not ‘don’t mess with Liberal Nazis’….. do whatever you want with them, they might explode and that could be fun to watch.
I learnt, not for the first time, that my choosing to live and work around the world has made me a spectacularly enlightened person. If I may say so myself.
Here is a list of times I’ve been made shamefully aware of my white privilege:
- That time in Chile when my interview for TEFL teacher involved a brief meeting where they made sure I was white.
- That time in China when I made more money than my Chinese co-worker, because I’m white.
- That time I met a Filipino girl on a train, on her way to becoming a qualified TEFL teacher, who wondered: would anyone in Asia hire me?
- That time in the airport when Veronika, a beautiful young Filipino teacher, was questioned by immigration about the reason for her visit to HK. You see, if a white trans-gender person came through, with their passport saying male but their appearance saying female, would they be accused of being a prostitute? Probably not.
- That time my previous boss outwardly admitted that she’d never hire a black person because it would be bad for business (Chinese are more racist than anyone). (A Liberal Nazi almost exploded that day).
A few months ago South Africans began a dialogue about the importance of recognizing your white privilege. Some folks got defensive, but the take home message was this: we’re not asking you to feel guilt necessarily, but simply acknowledge the fact that you have benefited in this world and in South Africa because of the colour of your skin. Just say you understand.
I understand, Grethe.