The shift of consciousness: is anybody listening?

Julha: I was born a woman, Latin and Black. The position where I stand in a patriarchal, colonialist and racist society is political. In Brazil, where I grew up, a Black man is killed every 23 minutes and we have a white president who does not believe in human rights. The feminist movement goal of achieving equality in a world that devalues the humanity of Black people is a real challenge. Like feminist author bell hooks, I also feel that "the feminist movement fails if it cannot communicate to everyone’’. The movement needs to be for everybody.

Marie: I was born a woman, European and white. Growing up in the Netherlands, I truly believed that life was what you made it. I perceived myself as a feminist, because I felt that I could do whatever I pleased. However, I had not considered the fact that I enjoyed a huge advantage: the color of my white skin. Like Peggy McIntosh said: “I was carefully taught not to recognize white privilege.” I was so oblivious to my position, until Julha pointed this out to me.  


Julha: White people need to critically reflect on whiteness and view themselves in the context of a racial group. Recognize privilege. Discuss racism with white friends and family members. Commit to speaking out whenever there is a racist comment or a situation of injustice, get uncomfortable in your comfort zone. 


Marie: The diagnosis of my white privilege turned my world upside down. At first, I was reluctant. But then I started to pay attention. I noticed that for my entire life I had exclusively moved around in predominantly white social circles: my family, my friends, my colleagues, my classmates in preschool, primary school, high school, and university. Unintentionally and unknowingly, over 95 per cent of the people that I interacted with on a daily basis were white. Dr. Robin DiAngelo's point had been proven: “whites built and dominated all significant institutions.” It exemplifies the importance of intersectionality.


Julha: The urge for the engagement of white people in the anti-racism movement has always been there. After all, racism is structural and institutionalized. It is a system created by white people and continues to benefit them up until the present day. Portuguese writer Grada Kilomba mentioned in Plantation Memories: “being white is a metaphor for power”.

Marie: This position of power is continuously reconfirmed in movies, series, books, magazines, and social media. The voices amplified seem predominantly white. Not only is Dutch society built by and for white people, but we also actively exclude other skin colors by continuously showcasing and glorifying whiteness. 

Julha: Seeing all the posts on social media in the last few weeks by people I have never seen debating or reflecting on the topic of racism reminded me of a quote by James Baldwin: “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” Black, indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) have been raising their voices against racism for over a century. Was anybody listening? I think it is important to emphasize that being anti-racist is quite different from not being racist. The term anti-racist it is supposed to be used by people who act in relation to racial inequality. It may come like a shock to some, but all the black squares on Instagram didn't mean much to the anti-racism movement. Being anti-racist is not a hype nor a status. It is a constant search for equality and human rights.  


Marie: Before this epiphany I was so unaware. My mind was fogged with the illusion of equality and the naïve idea that I was not racist. How come I had never realized this before?

Julha: Privilege is invisible to those who have it. Once you recognize your privilege it becomes a long road of critical self-reflection and taking action to truly learn about racism. As pointed out by Patricia Hill Collins when it comes to feminist standpoint theory, “knowledge remains central to maintaining and changing unjust systems of power”. Education is the best method for social change. We need to question ourselves at all times – who are we learning from? BIPOC have been silenced and oppressed by white people, therefore it is necessary to implement a decolonization of knowledge. A good reminder by Djamila Ribeiro: “Black people and people of color have no obligation at all to teach you about a system that was created to oppress them.” But, if they want to talk, listen.


Now is the time when intentions are tested. Racism does not stop when it isn’t trending. Being anti-racist is a long and constant journey and since the 70’s Angela Davis has been trying to call the world’s attention to this: “in a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”


Julha Paiva and Marie van der Gaag



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