Jack Dawkins, 2009. Significant updates in July 2023.
I was thinking about my old ‘race issue’ article from last year and feel as though I’ve oversimplified things a bit, at least regarding our experiences as a system. While I still have my own experiences as a white person within this system—and my own privileges to check—I see that as a separate issue from what we, as a system, experience at front. At front, we’re definitely not perceived as white, and because of that, we experience the oppression that any person of colour would experience. It sometimes has a different flavour, because we don’t have any Black frontrunners right now, but that doesn’t mean that the discrimination isn’t there. (I’d say that it’s similar to misogyny that trans men experience before they socially transition–they are judged by the feminine appearance of their bodies pre-transition, and experience misogyny, even though they are male.)
I’d say that ‘system of colour’ isn’t one of our main identities, and many of us take issue with the expression ‘person of colour’, but we think it’s important to acknowledge the effect of systemic discrimination on us—and the necessity of fighting it. This isn’t to say that we were ever overtly racist, but we were quite oblivious of a lot of cultural racism, mostly because most of this system is white, and we missed a lot of things that we wouldn’t have otherwise. It was a lot easier for us to spot other forms of discrimination, like misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, because we had women and LGBTQ+ people in the system. If our system were all male, or all straight, I don’t think we would have been as attuned to gender- and sex-based discrimination, either.
Saying ‘we’re people first’ may emphasise that we’re not representative of $MINORITYGROUP, but that isn’t going to stop racists judging us by our front body’s ethnicity as a qualitative aspect of us. It’s not going to stop us being looked at with weird looks when we go out, because ‘that Black guy is going to GRAB my HANDBAG and RUN OFF WITH IT.’ In essence, ‘we are people first’ works with those who see race as a socially constructed concept, and see us as separate people first, but it doesn’t work for those who don’t know us as individuals, or reify race as a valid construct. Racism affects us both overtly and covertly, and we’d be sticking our heads in the sand to NOT recognise that as a social factor that affects our daily life at front. This isn’t to say that we ‘wallow’ in oppression, without recognising personal factors, but that it is a factor, and I refuse to deny that racism has affected us in a tangible way. We’ve dealt with the suspicious looks whenever we stand in a queue to withdraw money (because the SCARY BLACK GUY is going to STEAL THE MONEY you’ve just taken out, right); we’ve been accused of being ‘angry’ or ‘oversensitive’ about race-related issues; and our early education was characterised by racist stereotyping.
That being said, I still don’t feel that we have to be a ‘representative of the Black race’. I don’t think anyone should feel that they should be representative of their ethnic group, or in the case of plural systems, their own ethnic group or the front body’s ethnic group. I don’t represent the English. I don’t represent Western Europeans. I represent myself, Jack Dawkins. I don’t represent all queer people. As a system, we don’t represent all Black people, or all queer people, or all autistic people or all plurals or anyone else. One person, or one system, doesn’t represent the totality of any group.