Maybe You’ll Listen Because I’m ‘White’?

Luis Carlos Bustamante is a white-passing Colombian immigrant – you wouldn’t know it unless he told you though.

I’m a white-passing South American first generation migrant, meaning that I am commonly categorised by people as belonging to the absolute ‘peak of the racial hierarchy’ – despite having a non-majority linguistic and cultural background.

Thanks to an easily anglicisable name and a native-like accent, my everyday ‘white-passing’ means it is almost entirely up to me whether you find out if I am a migrant or not. This also means that I am privy to the challenges of being linguistically and culturally a non-majority, but surprisingly blind to the daily hardships of being visually ‘identifiable’ as a minority race. Since my only ‘racist’ activities involve making fun of my people of colour (PoC) friends to their face (they don’t mind), I simply don’t see racism happen to people – I’m only ever told about it.

And my whiteness means that when I’m with friends of Asian or African etc. backgrounds, my presence acts as a protective blanket of palatable and comfortable ‘white’ goodness, so people refrain from giving my PoC friends shit in front of me.

I think it’s a similar dynamic to how women commonly experience harassment, often so subtle or so normalised, that when other men are accompanying her, they won’t see it. They fend off potential harassers just by their presence, so then men are unlikely to see the everyday harassment happen. We’ll only hear about it later.

So even though I’m definitely a minority in Australia, in the past I may have been as unintentionally sceptical as the  white, Anglo Aussie guy. Because I don’t experience blatant racism and I don’t see this shit happen – I have wanted tangible evidence, right now, to prove it’s true. But with everyday racism, for those minorities who have to contend with whether a joke is on them or if a ‘look’ is really a glare, there just isn’t any. So are we supposed to just believe what people say?

Basically, yeah. The discourse around racism isn’t just about understanding discrimination resulting from dominance and hierarchies. It’s also about actually believing what others say, showing that we actually respect their word and – for me even – choosing not to suspect PoC minorities would lie for some greater agenda. The ‘agenda’ is simply not wanting to be treated like shit, which is hardly an ‘agenda’ in the traditional sense. And while this need to just ‘trust’ feels like we are placing blind faith in hearsay sometimes, that’s a relatively minor discomfort.  

So to those who are discriminated against, I say: sometimes you’ll be hard to believe. It’ll take time for people to believe you and that isn’t your fault at all – you probably know when that ‘look’ is really a glare, because you have been dealing with it all your lives.

To the privileged: lend the abused and discriminated an earnest ear. All we have to do is actually listen.