Me, a White person
I never told my friend or even dared to talk about it for lack of evidence, but I was able to confirm my suspicions recently. She will find out what happened by reading this post.
A few years ago, a nice cafe opened in my city, with its colorful canapes, cappuccinos, and cupcakes in a warm and cozy atmosphere. I have been there a few times and have always been greeted with a big smile by the owner. On one of my birthdays, my friend suggested we have breakfast together and I suggested this place. I arrived a little early, I was received in the usual manner, sat down and waited for my friend. She arrived pretty and dapper and joined me where I was sitting. But when the owner came to take our order, the welcome was cold and extremely unpleasant. I felt very uncomfortable. I could hardly swallow my breakfast. My friend didn't seem to notice anything. I looked at the other tables around us and their welcome was one of the usual smiles. I wondered why we were being treated this way, trying to find the detail that made the difference at our table. It took a while to admit it, but the only visible difference was the color of my friend's skin.
My suspicions were recently confirmed by reading an article on Trip Advisor about this cafe. Among many positive reviews, there was one extremely critical of the welcome that was given to my friend, recounted in detail. The person had come to the conclusion that she had been badly received because she was black.
If I took a long time to admit that this execrable service was due to the fact that my friend was black, it was not because I believe that racism does not exist but the contrary. After all, I was born in Rio de Janeiro, I have witnessed open, violent and cruel racism during all the twenty-five years that I lived there, but I wanted to have proof in order to avoid unfairly accusing someone of such vile behavior. At the same time, openly observing this subtle and pernicious racism made me wonder. Especially because my friend didn't even notice the coldness and harshness with which we were treated: for her, everything was “normal”. I thought that maybe it was because such treatment was not so unusual for her. I also said to myself, sadly, that beyond the open and inhuman violence of which blacks have been victims for centuries in the West, beyond discrimination at work and in the police treatment, they live in a hostile world. Me, a White person, I do not go back to places that offer me such a welcome. But what choice would they have? Could this be the treatment they face on a daily basis? I will never know.
American Sociologist Robin Diangelo has published a book called “White Fragility” in which she discusses the difficulty that Whites have in presenting themselves through a racialized description: as white. According to her, this difficulty comes from afar, it would be the result of the way in which history is told in our Western societies: “White history is what serves as a standard for history. So the fact that we need to clarify that we are talking about black’s history or women's history suggests that these areas are outside the norm.” In other words, white identity would consist of seeing oneself as free from race. "White fragility" would therefore not be a weakness itself but, on the contrary, a powerful means of racial control and protection of white advantages. The refusal to think of oneself as whites would be, according to this author, a means of perpetuating a society which maintains a real inequality, since whiteness would be associated with neutrality or universality.
This author is not suggesting that individual whites do not encounter obstacles or battles that they must fight against, she simply states that racism is not one of them. And ends by saying that the first step towards a change in the fight against racism would be for whites to recognize themselves as white, members of a system that functions racially, admitting the privileges associated with this characteristic. This system that functions on racism and the privileges for whites is my reason for writing this post.
White Fragility: Why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism. Robin DiAngelo, Paperback, 2018.