I remember very clearly how I felt when Trayvon Martin got shot in 2012. In all my anger, hurt and frustration, I wrote about it, only to delete it right after. I didn’t know why I was feeling so strongly, or how to give space to those feelings.
Throughout the years, whenever an unarmed black person got murdered, I felt those same feelings. I recently went scrolling through my old tweets and found reminders.
So when I heard about George Floyd in the spring of 2020, I barely felt anything anymore. I knew that there would (at most) be mild outrage, maybe a celebrity would tweet about it, a petition, and then nobody would be held accountable. I was actually shocked to see it unfold into worldwide protests. Did we finally decide that enough was enough? Would his death bring about the change that is so desperately needed?
Either way, I noticed a change around me: all over social media, people were starting conversations about race. Something that I had stopped doing altogether, when I was constantly met with resistance or straight-up hostility whenever I brought it up. I was happy that at least people were having the conversations and there was a shift towards understanding. And I was mostly right.
If you know me well, you know I don’t shy away from debates. I think a good debate can help you grow as a person, because oftentimes your confronted with arguments that you yourself didn’t think of.
However, I stopped having debates about racism back in 2013. I didn’t know at the time why debates about racism got me so riled up. Why I felt awful in a lecture hall whenever slavery was mentioned and all eyes were on me. Why it felt like being punched in the stomach to be told: “your arguments at least make sense, unlike the other N-word”.
Only this year, did I realise why I felt like that. “Debating” racism, to me, feels like I’m defending my existence to someone who apparently thinks my existence needs defending.
I’m not writing this as an invitation for people to come and tell me that they don’t mean it that way when they ask questions about race. Nor is it an invitation to tell me that racism is not that bad anymore or whatever else you can come up with. I’m writing this because I talk about a lot of things, and in a time where this is an important conversation to have, I’ve stayed relatively quiet.
With good reason. I’m not going to sit there and listen to people tell me that they’re not racist because they don’t see colour (however well intentioned), but casually throw around the N-word. I’m not going to listen to people how they got called racist once but it’s not true because they’re a good person. Nor am I going to sit there and listen to people tell me to not be so sensitive about it. It’s great that some people have the luxury to take emotion out of a conversation about race, to only hit their opponent with reason and logic. I am not one of those people. To me, it is deeply personal and emotional. Maybe one day it won’t be, and that would be great.
Until that day comes, I will (generally) stay quiet when it comes to racism. I’ll point you in the direction of books you can read, or friends of mine who are more than happy to talk. And right now, that’s enough for me.