Three days ago I had the deepest, most painful and relieving discussion I have ever had in my entire life. As you know I’m in Germany and after having learned so much about racism, micro-aggressions and White supremacy I’ve become very sensitive and I can sense and pick up all instances of racial discrimination, overt and covert racism. It’s very stressful, emotionally and psychologically debilitating and draining and I’ve somehow managed to keep certain things to myself but last week I reached my limit and had to let it out.
So on Monday I sat down, gathered all my energy and had this conversation with this person who is a White German man. It’s quite ironic how I was able to bare myself and be so truthful and raw in front of him. I guess this is what happens when you have no choice and since White people don’t know what it feels like to be us you have to tell them almost everything. With Black people it’s a bit different. We don’t have to actually say it because we know it but since we don’t talk about it in depths it remains within ourselves and we risk imploding. So this is what I said:
“I have to get this off my chest because it’s killing me. I don’t like the arrogance, the audacity and the way you talk about Africa, immigrants and Muslims. On Saturday you kept on saying that I was a ‘real Italian’ and I told you ‘no, I am Malian, I just have the Italian citizenship’. You had that smirk on your face and you looked at me as if I was being delusional saying that you could actually prove to me that I am Italian. When you say that you erase the unique and peculiar experience of Black African people who live in that country. In order to be a ‘real Italian’ you have to be White because the nationality is linked to the concept of Whiteness and Italy sent me a clear message through her people and institutions. The message is: you don’t belong in here, you are not like us, we don’t like you and you will have to go away. We live in a world that has taught us to hate everything that is African; our features, our cultures, our history, our languages. You have no idea how long it took me to finally appreciate and be proud of being African. When you deny my Africanness you’re throwing all this hard work away.
Also, you keep on telling me that I won’t be able to live in Africa for more than 5 years and that I’ll come back to Europe where I ‘belong’. I’ve spent 22 years in Europe, I can survive everywhere. I am my parents’ child, they came here 30 years ago and they made through all the odds and obstacles set by this racist society. They raised me to be strong and resilient and I don’t accept nor tolerate anyone who tells me that I won’t be able to do it. I’ve been constantly told and made to believe that I couldn’t do anything but I did it (by the grace of God).
You always talk about Africa as this horrible, disease-ridden, poor, miserable place. I know it’s true, I know we have problems but that’s one side of the story and I’m tired of hearing the same negative things about my land.”
I burst into tears a couple of times, I was shaking and all so I couldn’t continue the way I had planned to.
The day after we went on and I was able to say other things:
“After what happened in Cologne you asked me ‘do you know Muslim men?’ the underlying message being ‘you know those men, right? How sexist, mysoginist they can be?’. And I said ‘yes, my brother, my father…’ Then you changed subject and started talking about Turks, who had nothing to do with what happened. Those men didn’t harass those women because they’re Muslims, they did it because they felt entitled as men.”
He apologised for everything he had said telling me that it wasn’t his intention to hurt me.
Yesterday I skypped a dear friend of mine and told her what had happened and could understand his reaction even better.
There was a moment where it seemed to me that he was trying to make me feel guilty for making him feel guilty. He said “I feel that you see me as this ‘racist White man’ but I’m not your enemy”. He got very defensive and said that he feels offended when I don’t talk to him.
That’s yet another example of White fragility and White feelings being more important than what Black people go through.
When he said he was sorry for what happened to me because of my skin-colour he added “…but I can’t do anything more than this. I try to check myself and behave in a a way that doesn’t hurt you”. He can’t do more than this, ‘this’ being listening to me and realising what he did. He’s sorry that I will have to go through this because he won’t give up his White (male) privilege. He is sorry but won’t do anything about it. He won’t be anti-racist.
He finally understood that I do need to go to Africa and that that’s the place where I might be able to relax because right now I’m stressed out because of racism. He said that I could also relax here because they’re good people who want hurt me. I thought to myself ‘that won’t happen either, I mean just a couple of weeks ago your 6-year-old son told me I look like a monkey.’
I reached a point in my life where I understood that I wasn’t being honest with myself. It’s easy to be unapologetic in a safe environment but not in a hostile, toxic and violent one.
I realised that I subconsciously and unawarely put a White mask on when I was with other White people. I have internalised this behaviour so much that it appears to be normal. I knew I was a different person when in the company of Black people and when with White people but I thought it was normal. We behave differently in different settings and with different people but this case is particular.
Putting this White mask on means to me that I shrink myself, it means that I don’t speak too much or at all to keep the atmosphere pleasant and comfortable. I don’t challenge White people’s views (unless extremely necessary) because is too much of a hassle. I stupidly protected their feelings.
But I had a wake-up call. During that conversation I was me and it felt so good. I won’t compromise my integrity anymore, I won’t be a hypocrite any longer. I will remember how to be myself when I’m with White people, I will speak up anytime I need to speak up, I will challenge them and make them feel uncomfortable.
I won’t apologize for or hide my Blackness.
This White mask is falling and I will be unapologetically me.