Ireland 2018. Returning to the greener land…
I’m stopping over in London enroute to Ireland, writing this in a Thai restaurant, sitting next to a black woman, listening to a conversation between a black man and a white woman. I’m staying on the Portobello Road. Each day more market stalls appear until by the end of the week most of the road is patched with stalls. I buy a soft toy for my grandson from a cheerful man with a Caribbean accent. I wait for him to comment on my Australian accent but he does not. Everywhere I step in Notting Hill there are (by way of my observations and presumptions) variations in language, dialect, inflection, skin-tone, class, housing, sexuality, costume and pace, including my own.
I’m neither rich nor poor. I pretend to be working class (when not); I understand what it means to be an ageing, middle class white woman in the twenty-first century; I think I get racism but I’ve never experienced it and probably never will.
I’m reading Robin Diangelo’s ‘White Fragility’ and have come adrift in my attitude: that I live as non-racist, anti-racist and humanitarian. I ask myself now, how DO I live a life - from a white perspective - without projecting (and assuming) its inherent privilege and power? What do I need to do to understand just how life might be ascribed to someone as ‘other’. What does ‘other’ mean, for me? Can I lose my self-consciousness around racism, shed my defences that are embedded in centuries of white traditions of ownership and individuality? I want to merge, to feel like one of ‘them’, but who are ‘they’? If I have white skin, privilege is ascribed, assumed, inherited; my habitus is white supremacy, despite, and including, my defences, my ‘Fragility’.
I walk the streets of Notting Hill, admiring the confidence and ease of black and brown women and men and feel glad. I’m summarising interactions like a sociologist, hyper-alert. Why do I not observe and describe mySelf, and fellow white citizens, with the same intensity? How can I be so superior and racist in my thinking? Because: I inhabit the ‘white racial frame’ of internalised superiority.
I’m reflecting deeply on this, since reading Diangelo, but I’m not sure how I can work on transformation. Something has happened to me around race: my fragile assurance is eroding.
An old Irish man sitting next to me on the plane yesterday heading to Dublin refused to use his seat belt even when asked by the steward. He held his hands over his waist, pretending, for the whole flight and laughed and called me “darlin’” when I suggested he do it up. I guess not all of us have a fear of flying.
(see White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism; R. Diangelo, Beacon Press 2018 ).