In the shoes of others

When people are talking about their experiences, your job is to listen

- If I ask for apple juice and you offer me water, you are offering me something to drink, but you are not offering me what I want, so you are not exactly solving my problem. A lot of times in my personal experience is when, black people, or women, ask the society for certain things, and then they do whatever it is to feel like they have actually done something to help them. I think a very good example is the university not providing BAME counseling services as we have requested, but then making statements on the website, adding black professors to like social media pages, thinking it might actually solve the mental health problem of their black students. So it's more in the case of tokenism and actually doing something for the benefit of people and wanting to portray yourself as a good person. That's the main background of what I wanted to say.

What I wanted people to know is that when people of color, LGBT+ people, women, basically marginalized people are talking about their experiences, especially if you are not in that group, your job is to listen. Your job is not to make any comments or advice or make any criticism, you are not in the position to do so because you don't have the experiences, and even if you are within the group of marginalized people and you share a different view and experience from a different person, you are not in the right position to object what they say. For example certain black people may say that they do not experience racism, and so for that reason other black people that are talking are making too much noise. If you are ok with racism, then it's fine by you but it doesn't mean that every black person has to go through that, so we have every right to talk about that. And if you are not a black person, and a black person is complaining about something, you are not in the position to object what they say and to say that they are overreacting or something like that. That is putting gaslighting. To make the society a better and more inclusive place, it is in the best interest of everyone that we listen to other people. Obviously people are not right or wrong, but actually listening to them is the best way you can find a way to solve their problems.
That's it, that's everything!

- Is there anything that you have heard many times and that you think is based on your skin color perhaps, or the fact that you are a woman?

- Yes, I have gotten that a lot. One quite subtle, and I say subtle because it sounds subtle but it isn't subtle, is for example at a bus stop, at work or many other places, people telling me that my English is quite good, and for a while I thought it was a compliment, it sounds like a compliment, but why shouldn't my English be good? I grew up in a place where English was taught and spoken, English is the only language I know how to speak fluently, what other language am I supposed to speak? (laughing) So it dawned to me that obviously that has to do with my skin color, and the perception that like, obviously black people and like people from Africa don't know how to speak proper English... so... yeah, that's one that has happened.

- Which is very strange, because they speak English because of colonisation...

- Exactly, like, I was colonized, so what do you expect me to speak, really? (laughing)

- So there's a lack of knowledge about other countries in general I guess?

- Yes! And another one, yesterday I was at a meeting and we were speaking more in a context of Nigeria and its health care system and the lady I was speaking to, she is white, works in the UK and she volunteered in Malawi a few years ago, helping with the health care system and everything, and it's really annoying when we're speaking about a country in Africa, and someone brings up another different country, not even envision that Malawi is not even in the west of Africa... it is a very big continent, and we are two different countries, so comparing and contrasting... I really find that uncomfortable, and I think it really narrows down the different places in Africa to like one small thing. Nobody says that they have volunteered in Mexico and contrast it with the US... I mean, it's literally the world, nobody can be like the US and period. And then say « Oh I went to north America », people would say they went to the US, people would talk about the US, because obviously it's a big thing, and obviously I think the same should be applied to all countries.

- Yes. I think it's quite complex because if you think of asian cuisine, you would think of certain ingredients that you will find in... you know, you get my idea. And I guess there's similarities in Europe, though obviously the UK is really different from Finland or Belgium is different from France, and Spain and Italy will be very different, and obviously Thailand would be different from Cambodia, and still there's things that people link because... I mean, I totally get your point, if someone says « Oh I went to Italy, it was nice! » to a French person, they would be like... (laughing)

- Yeah, then « What do I do with that information!? ». (laughing)

- Yeah, it's not relevant at all! And I guess sometimes it can somewhat make sense... it's so subtle and difficult, where is the line?

- Yes, I agree and guess you can even take it beyond the context of countries, like for example if someone tells you that they are going through a mental health issue like anxiety, and then you say « Oh, you know, I actually dealt with anxiety! »... That's not what I want you to do with this information I'm telling you, I don't want to contrast it with an experience that you've had, I want you to listen to me and try to help me and treat my concern...

- Maybe one person at a time, then?

- Yeah, I think it's just the whole covering of listening...

- I was thinking, before making this project, I've heard many people saying « I don't understand people! » and I'm like « What's the solution to that? How about asking them? ». (laughing) and basically if you ask, then shut up and listen, instead of giving your opinion, because we know already what we say, and we can only learn from others.

- Yes... and it reminds me of another experience I had, I went to a party, I met this guy, he was white, and he wanted me to braid his hair like mine, and it brought up the whole conversation of racism, and then he was really concerned about the fact that... and by the way, I do not have an opinion on whether other people should wear breads or not, that's something I'm still working on as a person on if I think that's right or wrong, I can argue about something for and against it, but anyways, I was letting him know the two sides of the arguments, and when he knew about the opposite side, I said « You cannot wear braids because of the cultural reasons and appropriation » he was really quick to react, and really contrasted it with his experience as a vegan, and criticizing people for killing animals, and it was kind of like... how you moved from my experiences of racism to the experiences that animals have when they get killed. Like, it is a bad thing, but you don't just pick items from one box and then putting another box and expect things to fit in perfectly, so... I would say it's a problem that a lot of marginalized people face, when they try to share their experiences, and people contrast it and try to gaslight it and to demean the severity of their experience, and why what they are facing is okay, so what the vegan guy for example was implying with that? Because I can go through not understanding why vegans chose to be vegan, then it's okay for you to be able to deal with people who are appropriating your hairstyle, so it was just « What are you trying to tell me? What is the information you're trying to send? »

- The connection I see is that, you know, we talk about speciesism, which is basically discrimination between species, so it's a form of discrimination just like racism is, maybe that's the connection the guy made? Now why switching to another topic instead of just listening to you, listening to the actual problematic, in terms of race and not switching to another species...

- Yes, and I only touched on how it goes into sexism, like, I get a lot of that with my male friends, bringing their experiences and say I've never had their experiences to lower the extent of it, it's a form of gaslighting, telling them the reasons why your reason to talk is not as important as you think, so a lot of the examples of the way men do it is, if women are talking about like... rape, yeah, rape is a very good one, it's a very prevalent one that we get, they are talking about rape or an event of rape that happened, and then you commenting about men also getting raped, well, we know that, and we do talk about that, if you go to feminist pages you will know that it is something that we talk about, so what are we supposed to do with that information and the person that has gotten raped? It's a form of gaslighting, and it's really not the way to go. There is so many different ways, I could go from mental health to racism to sexism to homophobia, like as a straight person, I know I'm a black woman, but if trans people or gay people are talking about their experiences, I don't need to fit in my experiences as a black woman, it's not an oppression olympics! (laughing) You get a lot of that! I know I face certain kind of oppressions but the oppressions I face as a black woman is com-ple-tely different to that of a gay person, it's so different, you can't put them together. You have to treat them as separately, because there are black women that are also bisexual or transgender so at the end of the day, people still kind of fit into these places, and I guess that's what intersectionality is all about, understanding how these differences like race, sexuality etc all fit in. So that's why it's important to have them as separate entities.

- It's interesting, intersectionality, five years ago I've never heard this word at all, and I start to hear it more and more... I feel like things are moving, there's still a looooottt to be done but...

- It's slow, I do think we are improving, but it's obviously not there. And I don't think we would be here without voicing these out so this is good. For example us having this conversation...

- Yes, that's good! You addressed many points and I guess the main one was « When I'm talking about an issue, just listen. ».

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