I know that as a student at Queen’s — a school with a diversity problem — there’d be a risk of facing racism. What I didn’t expect was to be turned into everyone’s token person of colour (POC) friend that they could use as a point of reference.
Because I’m Sri Lankan, I’m expected to answer questions about not just Sri Lanka, but all of South Asia and every other country that has brown-skinned people.
This is problematic because I’m asked to act as a representative of 550 million people. Besides not having the education to be that kind of representative, it can also be emotionally exhausting to constantly have to explain why certain practices are culturally insensitive, or even just racist.
Explaining and justifying why something is racist often only shows how different I am from other people, which furthers the divide that’s already there.
I’m often approached by well-intentioned friends who want to say or do something but fear being accidentally racist.
I appreciate the effort to be respectful. However, it’s not the responsibility of POC to be educators.
By constantly asking us to educate others, the onus is placed on the less privileged to change the power imbalance, when instead, the responsibility should be on others to correct their own behaviour.
It’s a derailment tactic, where a discussion ends up placing blame on POC who are oppressed in the first place. It assumes that it’s our own fault if nothing changes because we didn’t educate our oppressors.
White allies would do well to seek out this education themselves because it removes the burden of educating from POC. At the very least, ask if you’re crossing any boundaries when asking questions that might be intrusive, and respect the boundaries that are set.
Better yet, seek out the resources that are already available to you. The internet is filled with bloggers that are happy to answer your questions. Even on campus, places like the QUIC (Queen’s International Centre) and Four Directions offer safe spaces to find out more about various cultures.
You wouldn’t expect every Italian to be able to recite Dante’s Divine Comedies, nor would you assume that every Korean can give Taekwondo lessons. We seek that knowledge from those who offer it. Do the same for your POC friends.
Vishmayaa is one of The Journal’s Copy Editors. She’s a second-year stage and screen major.
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