When I put my bag in the bin over my seat after boarding the plane for Western Europe two weeks ago, the man in the seat across from mine said, “You can go ahead and close the bin now.” On the face of it, there was nothing ‘wrong’ with this statement. It was not insulting. It did not injure me. What could be problematic about this simple statement?
My mind said, ignore him. “He is a white man. He just couldn’t stop himself from telling you what to do.”
In the intervening two weeks, I have tried to put that man and his words out of my mind. He meant no harm. He meant to be helpful. Never mind what he meant, I tell myself – his words were nothing to you.
I don’t know whether that man has thought about that snippet of an interchange since that time, or not. I am noticing however, that more than two weeks later, that man and his words are still taking up space inside my head.
Implicit racism, the way that white people, no doubt subconsciously and without awareness, seek to put themselves in charge of whatever situation they encounter with PGM, is part of my everyday life experience when I am in the presence of white people. Often, this is done in the guise of being helpful, or moving things forward. It is nevertheless one of the ways that white supremacy, the idea that white people know best, should be in charge of things, and PGM are best off following the directions of white people, plagues relationships between white people and PGM.
These small, unaware acts of white supremacy challenge and interfere with efforts to develop relationships of equity and parity. Only relationships characterized by equity and parity can result in true collaboration. Only true collaboration can lead us to communities, organizations, and societies characterized by justice and fairness and that work well for us all.