White feminism seemed like a joke to me. I knew it existed but I could never understand the hypocrisy of the people who practised it. Especially the ones who would cry that they couldn’t be racist, that they had friends of all backgrounds. Frankly, that makes it worse. If you don’t care about their, or anybody else’s experience because it doesn’t reflect your own or affect you, can you really call yourself their friend?
Like I said, it was a joke to me. It felt far away, separated by a computer screen. Yes, my friends could be really white with all the dumb questions they asked me, like if I’d have an elephant at my wedding – the answer’s no, I don’t think they hire elephants in Scotland. I never thought that their whiteness and my “otherness” would come between us and make me question if they really cared.
Even though I haven’t had to deal with constant daily racial aggression in my life, I’m always aware of my otherness in a majority white country.
And I try to be aware of what other minorities face. So, here’s the story of how my life got flipped upside down when I realised that my friend was a white feminist.
I’m a Scottish-Pakistani Muslim woman. V is a Scottish woman of part Italian descent. I’ve known V since we were twelve. She’d transferred from another high school and even though I didn’t really socialise outside of class for the first few years of our friendship, soon we were a part of our own group of friends. We’d bonded over our similar musical tastes including our love for a band that had just broken up at the time. Over the years, we got closer. A defining moment was realising, after his death, that we were both major Michael Jackson fans. We used to joke about growing up to old ladies together. I brought her into my home, she was a part of the family. I thought she understood me and my morals – I’d never been shy about claiming them.
And now, I’ve barely spoken to her for nearly a year.
It happened last November. Trump had just been elected and on the way to the gym, we vented our frustration. V mentioned that another friend, who frequently went to the US, thought that everyone was a making it into a big deal, that nothing bad was going to happen. I was annoyed but not surprised. This friend was white, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, it wasn’t going to affect her and I told V this. I also said that I wasn’t surprised because she thought nothing of saying the n-word when singing along to songs. V turned to me and said that she did that too. And then she moved on with the conversation like it was nothing.
Suddenly, she wasn’t my friend. Suddenly, she was like every other ignorant white person that I had seen online and on TV.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to hang out like we planned to. I just wanted to leave.
I was pissed. I didn’t know what to do so I pedalled the hell out of my feelings. Earphones in, I focused on my workout. When I wasn’t responsive to the conversation, she realised that I was pissed off about earlier and couldn’t handle it. She talked over me when I tried to explain my issue with her use of the word, telling me to get over it and that I didn’t speak for other ethnic minorities. When I walked away, she used excuses like, “well, they wouldn’t use the word in songs if they didn’t want it sung”, etc. Any of my attempts to educate her were shut down. I couldn’t get her to understand and I don’t believe she wanted to. She said that I was being childish, fighting over hypotheticals even after her blatant admission. I called her actions racist and she stormed out of the gym.
I still don’t understand what she expected from me. Did she think that I would keep my mouth shut and leave her unchecked because I’m not black? That I, a brown woman, would be okay with her, a white woman, using a racial slur, let alone a word rooted in the dehumanisation of black people for hundreds of years? How could she refuse to understand that this wasn’t a joke?
In the aftermath, my strong resolve started to dissolve. I began to question if I was overreacting. I hadn’t actually heard her say the n-word, was I being too sensitive? I felt uncomfortable bringing it up to my white friends, worried that they would be dismissive and think that I had been too hasty. That it wasn’t my fight.
Like she said, “You don’t speak for other ethnic minorities”.
I didn’t talk to her until February when I had to. She had the tickets to a concert we were going to with my brother and I wanted to prevent awkwardness. Funnily, we went to see the recently-reunited band that we had bonded over. We had come full circle because by the end of that night, I knew that I was done with our friendship. Throughout the night, the incident wasn’t brought up and she didn’t try to make amends. She didn’t think she had anything to apologise for. Even though it wasn’t mentioned, it was still there in the back of my mind.
In the months since, I’ve had time to reflect on our friendship and I’ve realised that there were always issues that I ignored.
V often saw my otherness as a costume. When I called her an honorary member of the family, she deemed it okay to refer to herself as an “honorary Muslim” but she was more interested in the “exotic” delicacies and bright colours of my culture than my religious practices. It was difficult not to notice when she spammed her Facebook feed with “pussy power” posters in preparation for the Women’s March but when the Muslim Ban was actualised, not one peep. V was always preoccupied with Trump’s misogyny but forgot to also mention Mexicans rapists so, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
It feels weird that I’m writing about this because for me, it’s still happening. I have no words of wisdom to help anyone through this. It’s strange that this friendship, which I thought would last until we were grannies, will end up as just another story in my past.