I should preface this post by disclosing that this will be the first time I have publicly identified myself as a woman of colour. I was fortunate to grow up in a context where white people were a minority. The first time I became truly aware of my colour being something other than who I am was when I stepped foot on a university campus at the age of 18.
It has taken me ten years to become comfortable with the term ‘woman of colour’.
A friend of mine included me on an email which pointed to a rather left-leaning dissatisfaction with Ontario’s current political affairs. Of the 4 recipients of this email, I was the only woman, and the only person of colour. For the first time since becoming a participant in this small discussion group, I ventured an opinion which disagreed with the original sender.
For me, this took a great deal of courage. I am someone who did not grow up among a discourse of politics and economics in my family nor among friends. I am someone who immigrated to Canada as a child and who has struggled to define a racial identity. I am someone who grew up in a poor household where most of our dinner conversations revolved around where our next meal would come from. I am someone who was told repeatedly at home not to voice opinions because a) I was not white and b) not male. I am someone whose parents barely have a high school education. I am not unusual among people, especially women, of colour.
3 out of 4 white men privy to this conversation took it upon themselves to pick out each and every line that I painstakingly wrote, and proceeded to belittle my very valid observations. I felt minimized, scorned, and perhaps most of all, hurt. 2 of these 3 respondents were people I would have called friends - and people who had, in the past, approached me to talk about how we could engage more women, especially women of colour, in political discussion. I have an answer for you now: this is not how you do it.
Some might say that if I am to partake in political conversation that I should develop a “thicker skin”. However, I was in a discussion that I thought was among friends. I participate in these discussions for the purposes of my own learning, and yet, this is not an experience I wish to have again. I will no longer be participating in this type of discussion nor subjecting myself to the views of white men who feel they have opinions superior to mine. I want to learn, but I refuse to be belittled.
I do not object to being presented with evidence of “the other side” of an argument. In fact I quite enjoy learning this way. What I object to is being scorned by multiple white men for a political and economic opinion that was well-reasoned, simply because it disagreed with theirs (and of course, they unanimously agreed with each other).
If these are the same people wondering why youth engagement with politics is low, why women and people of colour don’t vote, they have only to look to themselves and their own discussions to start. If youths, women, and people of colour are sick and tired of white men telling them their opinions aren’t valid, or they’re wrong, it’s because this is something we struggle with daily. This is rampant throughout our society, not just in politics or political discussion.
If you are politically savvy, and you want to engage with people in a political discussion, the first thing I would like for you to do is take a look at the way you’re communicating, and to stop talking like a condescending asshole. I am sick and tired of white men telling me, and others, that they know better in all aspects of my life, and that if I dare to disagree, that I am wrong. Canadian political discourse already has far more than its share of condescending assholes, and it doesn’t need to add any more to the mix.