A Journey Towards Allyship
A few years ago, I found myself moving from Canada to India to join an international boarding school. One of the first things I remember when stepping out of the plane in Mumbai was being aware of my skin color for the first time. Before that specific moment, I had never really thought about it because I didn’t have to: I was the ‘norm’. I was leaving my comfort zone for good: living in a totally different culture, burning my tongue on spicy food, and having to speak another language. But the biggest discomfort I faced was the realization of my skin color and the privilege that comes with it.
Throughout my time in India, I never once forgot that I was white. I would be reminded every day. I would be idealized because of my color. As time went on, I became more aware of the consequences of colonization in India. The English language was taking over, causing local languages to disappear. In a post-colonial India, learning English had become necessary to succeed in life by opening doors to economic opportunities. As a result, many people who could not afford to go to English private schools would be severely disadvantaged. A language imposed by British colonizers had widened the gaps and exacerbated inequalities in India.
In my program, we were 200 students coming from 80 different countries. However, the student body was still dominated by white students which led to instances where people of color felt marginalized. My biggest challenge in that community was to acknowledge and accept the implications of being white. I was very defensive at first and I felt personally attacked. “It’s not my fault if I am white. I was simply born like this. I never personally took part in colonization, it’s not my fault. I’m not racist, it’s not my fault if our system is racist...” These are all thoughts I had, and to be honest, I still have them sometimes. It is a defense mechanism to avoid holding any kind of responsibility for the current racism in our world. By reminding myself of this, I am able to reflect better on my privilege.
During my time at Mahindra UWC College, I got called out many times whether it was about racism or other systemic oppressions. At first, I couldn’t handle it because it seemed like people were attacking me personally. But as time went on, I realized that being called out isn’t a personal attack. Rather, it’s a critique of the system we live in, one which I am part of and from which I benefit. By being called out and by being challenged by people with different backgrounds than me, I was forced to engage in difficult and uncomfortable conversations.
By being white; a descendant of colonizers, I am benefitting from colonization every day, whether I am aware of it or not. Throughout my education, I learned mainly about and from people I racially identify with. In the past few years, I've realised in just how many ways my race gives me privilege. When I was a kid, it was easy to find books representing my skin color, I am not scared whenever I see a police car, if I want to get makeup it’s easy to find the right color, only to name a few examples. Essentially, I don’t have to learn about racism if I don’t want to because it doesn’t affect my everyday life negatively. I am privileged by my race. The world is
constructed around my whiteness and provides me with opportunities not necessarily given to people of color.
I am writing this piece from a position of privilege while not fully understanding the complexity of race and racism and all that it implies in today’s world. I am aware that I still have a lot to learn, but I believe that by being called out, by challenging myself, by engaging in uncomfortable discussions, I have learned immensely. Because of my positionality, I have experienced life in a certain way, and will inevitably have certain biases and blind spots. By actively trying to examine my biases, by engaging with the racist history of colonization and slavery, and by acknowledging how I benefit from systemic racism today, I believe I can become an ally. It is my responsibility to challenge myself and to engage with the topic of racism - even when it is uncomfortable.
My intention with writing this article as a white person is simple: We are lucky to be in a liberal school with open-minded teachers that aim to challenge us, so let’s not take it for granted. Instead, let’s challenge each other, let’s challenge ourselves, and engage with difficult topics whenever we can. Getting called out is an opportunity to learn, but only if we choose to engage. It is normal, perhaps even healthy, to be uncomfortable once in a while; learning can be uncomfortable, and yet it is our responsibility to engage with racism. We as a student body need to create a space where discomfort is normalized and encouraged.
“[Talking about race and racism] is not comfortable. It is not easy. But it is crucially urgent work if we truly hope to move toward a world in which racial justice and equality are possible” (Nichols & Wacek, 2019, 252).
Note: I strongly recommend reading the resources below to get a better understanding of systemic racism and race from people of color.
List of resources recommended:
Nichols, M., & Wacek, J. (2019). Frangible Whiteness: Teaching Race in the Context of White Fragility. In Bolton P., Smith C., & Bebout L. (Eds.), Teaching with Tension: Race, Resistance, and Reality in the Classroom (pp. 239-254). Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv8d5sf6.17