Aleyn Silva is a second-year arts student who enjoys writing.
Currently, I’m sitting at a table. And I’m terribly angry. I’m angry because I’m listening to the most appallingly constructed, superfluous and useless argument I’ve ever heard. I’m listening to an English speaking, wealthy, cis-gender, heterosexual male stating that racism doesn’t exist.
I’ve only ever heard people of privilege complain about the above. This article aims to make you aware, my beloved audience, that racism is very well alive, as is white oppression, and that they do occur, and also unsurprisingly, gender inequality is a real life problem! And perhaps those who choose to believe that racism doesn’t exist, need a definition: racism refers to bias and discrimination underpinned by power in that society, towards people of a particular race or ethnicity.
I was in year 4 when I first experienced racism. The local high school bully seemed to enjoy calling me black. I learned that being called ‘black’ was as bad as any swear word. I became ashamed of my skin. I was 10, and when I complained to my school principal that a girl was making racial slurs, he replied: ‘Her mother is sick, and she’s having problems at home, she just needs support right now.’
When I was 12, I learned that I wasn’t pretty. And here’s where the intersection of gender and race come into play. Girls are meant to be pretty. At least that’s what I’d been taught by my parents, my peers and the media. In year 6 I was the ugliest girl in the class. The boys in our classes would judge the girls, ‘the prettiest,’ ‘the ugliest,’ ‘the weirdest,’ and so on. ‘But she isn’t that bad looking for a black girl,’ one boy remarked. I began to wish I had white skin, so that I could be pretty. I assumed for many years of my life that any romantic rejections and any person who was rude to me had reason to be. I had internalised the racism. I was black. I wasn’t beautiful. Beauty became an obsession. I was so transfixed by my supposed ugliness that I became depressed.
When I was 13, I experienced racism again. A girl at the back of the bus would throw raisins at me and call me ‘Chinese’ and tell me to ‘go back to China.’ I explained to her that I was of Singaporean descent and that Singapore was not part of China. It offended me, using another culture as a slur. We should not be ashamed of where we come from. But I was.
In Year 10, our class talked about the oppression of Aboriginal Australians. One girl remarked something I’ve never forgotten: ‘If they can call us white, why can’t we call them black?’ I sat in class trying to be invisible. I listened to facts about racism and, shockingly, I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed to be the only black person in the room while I listened to people justify racism. I became embarrassed of racism. I became embarrassed to admit that it was something that happened to me – because I felt like I was ‘causing’ the problem.
When I was in year 12, I became determined to be beautiful. Many people thought I was narcissistic, but it was just me trying to cater to my insecurities. I didn’t do my chemistry homework because I was painting my nails. My grades dropped significantly. Instead of improving my self-worth through introspection and recognition of myself as a woman who deserved respect, I chose to regress.
It’s only recently that I’ve become okay with my skin colour, but is still immensely affects me when racism is not acknowledged as fact, while I know I have experienced it. Yes, to a lesser extent than many individuals, but that doesn’t reduce any pain or anger I’ve felt because of it. What upsets me is that I’m told that I’m part of a minority that is always upset, and that is why my argument is invalid. Everyone feels racism – it’s not necessarily only people of non-white descent, I do not deny that. I’m stating that racism does exist – and we should acknowledge that.
By saying racism doesn’t exist, you are saying that we do not have the right to be hurt or angry when people use the colour of our skin, our origin or even the way we look to devalue us as human beings. I am a woman. And a Person of Colour. And I don’t wish to be ashamed of that.