We all have opinions. Here’s why I don’t care about yours.

I spent four years in medical school. My professors were experts in their fields – accomplished physicians, prolific researchers, sometimes even pioneers in their areas of interest. From them, I learned the foundations of biomedical science – anatomy, physiology, histology, biochemistry – as well as the details of the various specialities of medicine.  There was no question at any point that these people who had spent their lives and careers becoming experts, amassing lifetimes of experience between them, knew more about their areas of interest than I did. This is why I was the student and they were my teachers. Generally, this is how education works.

I was born non-white. I grew up non-white. Non-whiteness has been a central fixture in my life for every single day of my existence, from the day I was born and my mother’s doctor remarked that I looked “like a little monkey” to the first time someone called me a terrorist for wearing the niqab to the numerous times I’ve been told my looks are “exotic”. One could say that I’m something of an expert in the field of non-whiteness and how it shapes a person’s life and experiences. This is my life, after all. Who could possibly know more about it than me?

According to the internet, the answer to this question is, “anyone with an internet connection and the means to communicate their thoughts to me.”

I cannot tell you how many times in the last week alone I’ve been interrupted whilst talking about my own lived experiences by white people who “just want to share their opinions”. Everyone, it seems, has opinions to share about my life and whether or not I’ve truly experienced it the way I say I have. From the well-meaning but misguided “I would never do that to you!” to the dismissive and trivialising “but I’ve never seen that happen!”, white people seem to be possessed of the need to tell me how they feel about my life and about my apparently audacious decision to talk about it in public.

The thing is…hmmm, how do I put this as bluntly as possible? White people, I could not care less about your thoughts on my lived experience if I tried.

You know what I never did during pharmacology lectures? Interrupt my prof mid-slide to let her know I had “thoughts” on the pharmacodynamics of anti-epileptic medication. Do you know what I never said to my consultant during ward rounds? That I had “thoughts” on his catheterisation technique or his provisional diagnoses of complicated patients. Do you know what I never said to the lab techs who taught me histology? That I had “thoughts” on microscopy that I really, really desperately needed to interrupt them to share. That would have been foolish. That would have been ridiculous. They had years of experience, knowledge and expertise that I did not. How could I possibly contribute positively to the discussion by sharing my uneducated, uninformed “thoughts”?

White people, let me lay this out for you. You do not know more about my life or my history than I do. You have not lived in this body for twenty-four years. You do not experience the multiple microaggressions I do every day. There is nothing in your life that you have experienced due to having white skin that is even slightly similar to what I have experienced due to having brown skin or what others have experienced due to having black skin. Nope, nothing. Not a single thing.

You may have “thoughts” about racism. You may have ideas about what we coloured folks need to do in order to better ourselves or improve our situation. Let me stress this again: your opinions could not be any more worthless. Until you have lived as a non-white person, until you have carried on your shoulders the burden of non-whiteness, until you know all of our stories and history and have borne our scars, your “thoughts” on non-whiteness are not only irrelevant, but completely worthless. I mean that in the bluntest, most direct way possible. I do not care what you have to say about non-whiteness. Nobody does. You talking about what it’s like to be non-white would be like me asking my pharmacology professor to take a seat while I talk about antibiotics.

I know you hate hearing this. If my mentions are any indication, you find the idea that nobody cares about what you have to say offensive. I am here to tell you that nobody cares about your hurt feelings, either. Not me, not my other non-white friends whose discussions you insist on hijacking and derailing. These are our lives we’re talking about. Our lives. The racism we experience is a direct result of white supremacy. What could a white person possibly have to say that could be of value to us, other than, “I’m sorry – what can I do to help?” (And even then, do you have to interrupt us to say it? Can’t you wait until we open the floor to questions?)

White people are used to their opinions carrying weight by virtue of the speaker being white. Maybe this is why they insist on barging into every conversation as though it’s their God-given right to take centre stage. Let me be the one to thoroughly disabuse you of this notion. White people, we do not care about you. We do not care about your opinions. We do not care about what you think being non-white is like. We do not care that you have “thoughts”. And most of all – and it is my great, great pleasure to tell you this – we do not care that this hurts your feelings. Your feelings are irrelevant in discussions of racism and white supremacy.

Here is what white people are welcome to do when non-whites are discussing racism and white supremacy: sit down. Shut up. Take out a notebook. Start taking notes. Ask questions when invited to and not before. Be humble. Be quiet. Remember that while you may be the centre of your own universe, you are not the centre of mine or ours. This is my story. These are our stories. If you aren’t prepared to listen to a lecture or two without keeping your worthless thoughts to yourself, please exit the auditorium before class begins. People are trying to learn here, you know.

Advertisements

17 thoughts on “We all have opinions. Here’s why I don’t care about yours.

  1. Wow, you sound really pissed. I know I would be too if that happened to me. Thank you for your thought provoking blog.

    I know you are right about indignation that some white people feel as I have seen that only recently when I watched two stand up comedians address exactly this issue. To explain to white people how it feels to be ignored and to overcompensate for your colour so that people dont think you are a terrorist. They pulled no punches and it was dark funny. Very funny to non-whites but not so for whites. I thought it was really interesting, very confronting and thought provoking. So much so I got my husband and 10 year old to watch it also so we could discuss the issues raised. I was amazed how offended my husband was. The indignation. The denial. It was a conversational minefield and he just wouldn’t listen.

    I realised you need an open heart. To imagine what that could be like.

    The people who say they haven’t seen it haven’t been looking. If your not looking it’s not overt. No one shouts “hey everyone, laugh at the black person” across the office. It’s subtle, like not inviting people to join you at lunch – day after day … Or giving them the worst desk position …. It’s not ok.

    In a similar vein – There is a girl at work who is grossly overweight and I see her being excluded on a regular basis, her opinions are derided and I know its because of how she looks. Because she is overweight, she is slow to move, and thats another annoyance for my coworkers. They are quick to note her mistakes and barely realise their behaviour makes her nervous and more likely to make errors. I hate seeing her pain. She sits quietly in the tea room trying to be invisible. This is not someone who I would naturally be friends with as we don’t seem to have things in common, but I feel I overcompensate for my other work mates rudeness. I try to engage with her as I would appreciate someone doing that for me. People are so cruel. I have seen it happen to non-english speaking background people, people with a different look or colour. All of them PEOPLE! Predjudice is everywhere and it’s revolting.

    It’s about treating people with respect – no matter the difference – weight, colour, ability …

    I really hope that your message gets out and touches someone who has not thought or had insight into these issues before. Maybe they will be offended but it just may make them look at their behaviour just even a little bit. I hope one day it’s not even a conversation we have to have.

    yours sincerely,

  2. White or black, I have this policy :

    1) no jerks.
    2) everyone has a story. Every story has value.

    Treating white people as if what they have to say is worthless simply because they look white–goodness knows, they couldn’t have any sort of intersection which might help them understand racism, like disability, or being female, so just blow them off without listening–is a jerk way to act and be. So thanks but no thanks. Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one. You get one. I get one. Mine is that you’re acting like a jerk. Acting like a jerk makes me not want to listen much. Everyone has a story and every story has value because every human has dignity. I treat you with dignity. But I don’t take sit down and shut up from anyone. If I am not welcome at the table, then my feet walk. And if you were treated with the same disrespect, you would do the same darn thing. We are all first class citizens and the color of our skin doesn’t control our knowledge and understanding. You lived yours. I studied and inferred from sexism and ablism to grok mine, but we both deserve a place at the table. I will listen politely to you and if I disagree, so be it. My experience doesn’t disprove yours. It’s an experience.

    • I think she was more implying that a white person’s opinions on race in particular will always be unimportant next to someone who has experienced racism — we can see it, and compare other experiences to it and think about it — but that’s just not the same. But on the flip side of that is the fact that those of us with disabilities of any kind have precedence on all matters of ablism.

      • Yup, and trans people know more about transphobia than I as a cis woman could ever possibly know, and so on. People take it so personally when it’s pointed out to them that they’re not experts on other people’s lives.

  3. Ha, this reminds me about an incident in Congress just yesterday (Context: I’m a a high school debater; Congress is an event where we pretend to be legislators and debate on fake legislation). The bill on the floor was a ban on affirmative action in the United States. I came out in a favor of it, and someone asked me if I would feel demeaned as a minority due to affirmative action. I obviously let them know that I could not answer that question, because I was not a minority myself. But the hubris some people had to “pretend” that they could understand a minority’s position was quite lulzy to me at the time.

  4. Thank you for this blog entry. It is far too easy to ignore or remain oblivious to issues that do not affect one as an individual in your day to day life. For people perception is reality. Without personal accounts that run counter to the ” white norm” people’s perceptions will never change. Thank you for continuing an eye opening journey of education for me.

  5. Aaminah, powerful stuff, thanks for sharing your story. I wish that the angered folks could have internalized your post… but instead it seems you were once again interrupted. Once again, their story mattered more. I just found your blog, I’l check back and read more. Take care.

talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s