It’s Not About You, and other adventures in privilege

The other day, as I was contributing a few choice witticisms to the hashtag #whitefeministsbelike, I heard the dreaded wailing in the background.

Someone had sounded the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON.

For the next twenty-odd minutes, my mentions were inundated with the thoughts, feelings and opinions of a self-proclaimed “white feminist” who desperately needed me to know how badly I’d hurt her feelings by implying that she was racist. I had not mentioned her name. I didn’t even know who she was. My tweets did not read “#allwhitefeministsbelike” or “#everysinglewhitepersoneverbelike”. The hashtag was clearly about whiteness-as-power-structure, not whiteness-as-her-personal-life-experience-that-she-needed-to-share-like-RIGHT-NOW.

But here I was, being tearfully reprimanded by a complete stranger, because my critique of a power structure that oppresses me had hurt her feelings.

I am not, despite my frequent jesting, anti-white. I do not hate white people or white culture. Actually, I quite enjoy Shakespeare and Mad Men and the odd visit to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger with that cheese that I’m fairly sure has never had even a passing relationship with the stuff that comes out of cows. But whiteness-as-power-structure? Whiteness-as-supremacist-ideology? Whiteness-as-oppressive-ideal? Those things, I do not like so much. Those things are responsible for taunts and bullying and my mother being yelled at by strangers on the street and my sisters being harassed and, on a memorable occasion that I’m sure will haunt me until the day I die, my father once threatening to beat the shit out of a couple of boys at a Hungry Jack’s who were making fun of my niqab. (He had removed his belt and was preparing to tan their hides with the buckled end before management intervened and made the young men in question leave, but I’m sure those seats still smell like adolescent male fear-sweat to this day. My father is a very imposing man.)

Whiteness, in short, is something I am very much committed to critiquing, de-centring, and even tearing apart a little. Whiteness is the reason there are very few role models for black and brown children in mainstream entertainment media. Whiteness is the reason that when I see a Muslim character on television, they’re more likely to be a terrorist than a love interest. Whiteness is incredibly problematic and we can and should question it and the ways in which it affects and harms people of colour. Because that’s what it’s about, see – not making white people feel bad, not white guilt or white-shaming or reverse racism. It’s about tearing off the shackles that bind us.

It is, in other words, Not About You.

To the white girl who felt the need to tell me I’d hurt her feelings, I have to ask – what were you trying to achieve? Did you really need the reassurance of a random brown stranger that you aren’t a bad person because of the colour of your skin? Did you need to be preened and petted so much that you had to interrupt a brown person’s narrative – the narrative of a person who is interrupted, silenced and shoved aside by white people constantly –  so that everyone in the metaphorical room could attend to your needs and desires for a little while? What did you stand to gain by pointing out huffily that you, individually, were not racist? Did you want a medal for basic human decency, perhaps? A ticker-tape parade with a float staffed by non-white people showering you in confetti and holding up a big sign saying “This White Person is Not Like the Others”? A lovingly-baked cookie containing the blood, sweat, tears and gratitude of a brown person, delivered to you in a little box with a card reading, “thanks for achieving the minimum standard required for being a tolerable human being”?

Because that’s the message you send when you derail conversations about whiteness-as-power-structure to point out that you, an individual white person, are not racist. You are saying: my feelings as a white person who is complicit in and bolstered by white privilege are more important than your right to talk about the power structures that oppress you. You are saying: I cannot abide a conversation that does not centre me, my feelings and my worldview. You are saying: me. Me me me me me me me me me me me. Also, me.

And let me tell you, that gets kind of intolerable after a while.

Yes, individual white people, I get it. You’re better than the others because you have black and brown friends, because you donate to charities that benefit non-white people in need, because you told a black woman her hair was neat and resisted the urge to touch it. And now, having achieved the standard of good behaviour we might expect of a house-trained puppy, you feel the need to tell every. single. non-white. person. ever. You are so desperate to differentiate and distinguish yourself from Those White People, the nasty racist ones who oppress blacks and aren’t as enlightened and caring and compassionate as you, that you need to make every conversation not about our continuing plights, but about how You Are Better Than Them and we need to acknowledge all the hard work you’ve put in.

How many times do you need to be told this? Being an ally or standing in solidarity with a group of oppressed people is not about you: it’s about the people you are trying to help. And that means that when those oppressed people are talking about the ways in which power structures marginalised and silence them, contributing to that silencing by talking loudly over us and ignoring our objections makes you part of the problem, not the solution. A white person who really does make an effort not to be complicit in white supremacy does not need to trumpet that fact. In fact, they don’t have time to do so, because they’re busy rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty with the rest of us. Ask yourself, well-meaning but self-absorbed white woman whose name I don’t even remember any more because this happens to me literally every single time I write about whiteness, why most of the people criticising you and asking you to pipe down were also white. Was it because they had something to prove? Was it because they wanted brownie points and a pat on the back?

Or maybe, just maybe, was it because they were seeing something you weren’t?

If you really are Not Like the Others, prove it to me not with your words but with your actions. Be an amplifier and supporter of non-white people. Give us space to speak. Listen to and internalise our stories when we share them (because believe it or not, hearing those stories is a privilege, not a right, and should be treated accordingly). Share our stories with your white friends. Stop your fellow white people from perpetrating the dozens of microaggressions that perpetuate and reinforce white supremacy every single day. Lobby for fairer representation of non-white people on television, in politics, in the corporate world, in academia. Fight anti-blackness. Ask before partaking of our culture so that you can be sure you’re not taking something that’s not yours to take. For the love of whatever you deem holy, DO NOT touch our hair or our niqabs without our permission. See us as people, not as curiosities. And stop equating your hurt feelings at being forced to confront the reality of white supremacy with the real hurts non-white people experience because of the insidious influence of white supremacy in their everyday lives.

Solidarity and intersectionality are not labels. They are things you practice. They are ways of living and being. If you truly want them to apply to you, stop making everything All About You and start listening a bit to all of us.

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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.

A white woman walks into a bar. She claims it.

Once upon a time, a white woman came into my life and proceeded to cast me as a background character in her life story.

It’s a perplexing feeling, being relegated to second fiddle in the course of living your own life. It feels strange to watch, almost from the outside, as you are repositioned far from the centre of your own tale so that you can be part of the scenery in someone else’s. It doesn’t stop feeling strange the second time, or the third time, or the tenth, or the hundredth. It never stops feeling strange, actually. It always feels the same – like you have been uprooted, shoved out of the way so that something bigger and more important than you can proceed without interruption.

To white people, that’s what I am – an interruption.

Intersectionality as a concept has been around since the nineteenth century, but it was given a name and definition by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989 (the year of my birth!) in her paper, Mapping the Margins. Since then, it’s been adapted in theory and practice not just by women of colour, but by queer women, disabled women, trans women, non-binary people, sex workers, poor and uneducated women, women in the developing world and many others. Intersectionality gives us a framework within which we can discuss and try to understand the tangled webs of oppression and privilege that we’re forced to navigate throughout the course of our everyday lives.

No intersectionalist believes that oppression is some kind of competition. There’s no prize to be won for being “most oppressed”. What I love about intersectionality, in fact, is how open and permissive it is, how it creates a space for all of us to share our lived experiences and learn from each other. I share this space with native women who share my experiences of coming from a colonised culture; with trans women who share my experiences of feeling pressure to pass as a member of the dominant group in order to survive; with sex workers who share my experiences of navigating sexuality and agency whilst beset on all sides by people trying to rob them of both. Our experiences are not the same, but there is a thread of commonality that links us – we experience oppression and privilege in varying ways, and we understand on a very profound level what it means to eke out a life, as it were, on the margins, leveraging our privileges against our oppressions so that we might stake whatever claims we may on this territory people call “humanity”. We have found, by battling through our differences and disputes, an ideal many claim to aspire to but few ever achieve. We have found that thing called solidarity, and while it doesn’t mean we never step on each others’ toes, it means that at least we’re getting better at apologising for it.

Alas, to the last bastions of privileged cisgender white feminism, this rich and complex tapestry of human experiences we have woven is nothing but a backdrop, a mere insignificant detail adding a little colour to the scenery as they play out the stories of their lives on a stage that should belong to all of us.

I do not hate white women. I would go so far as to say I don’t hate anyone. This stage is truly big enough for all of us. There is space for every voice, a place for every story, and they are all important and valuable and worth telling and hearing. I do not believe a rich white woman’s experiences with sexism are trivial or that they should be dismissed. What I believe is that anyone who is willing to make other people into scenery so that they can become the stars of everyone else’s stories is not just dangerous, but malicious. On a stage with room enough for everyone, it takes a very specific kind of person – someone blinkered by greed and egocentrism and vanity – to demand that everyone else surrender all available space to them. It takes a mindset that is nothing short of toxic to expect that all concerns must always be and will always be secondary to one’s own.

No intersectionalist believes this, but many white feminists do.

I am not a supporting character in anyone’s story. I have eked out this space for myself on the stage, a space where I can tell my story, but also a vantage point from where I can listen to others. I am not particularly territorial about my space. I’m happy to share it, exchange it, hand the mic over to someone else with a story to tell, carve out sections for others who don’t have spaces of their own. I lose nothing by sharing my space. But I lose everything by having it taken from me. I lose everything by having myself relegated to supporting cast in what is meant to be an ensemble production. I lose everything by being denied my right to play out my own story because someone else has decided I’m in the way of them playing out theirs.

A white feminist walks onto the stage and demands the spotlight – and once she has it (and she will have it, or there will be hell to pay) – she insists it must be hers forever. No sharing, no exchange, no back and forth, no taking turns. The white feminist colonises the stage as she colonises the bodies of women of colour, the gender identities of trans women, the agency of sex workers. The white feminist takes our tapestry and rolls it up and bundles it off in a corner because it’s taking up space she wants for herself. And when we dare to protest – after all, this is everyone’s stage – she calls us bullies, bitches, beasts. She pushes us further outwards into the margins. She is not content until the spotlight does not shine on us at all.

This is the toxic and insidious work of modern-day white feminism. There is no solidarity in it. There is no sharing, no back and forth, no time or space for other people to live their lives and be acknowledged. There is just a white woman in the spotlight, demanding that everything be about her. And the sad thing is, had she just asked, we’d have happily shared our space with her. We are not greedy or selfish or grasping, at least not more so than any other human being – intersectionality is beautiful in that it is about the intersections between every kind of privilege and oppression we experience. There is no need for this false dichotomy of white neo-colonial feminism and intersectional feminism. It exists because white women created it, and all in a last-ditch effort to take over the entire stage for themselves.

It saddens me to see that so many white feminists refuse to embrace intersectionality. It saddens me and hurts me and makes me angry. It makes me wonder how insecure they must be in their power, if even the thought of sharing a stage with other people makes them blanch so. Mostly, it just makes me tired – tired of fighting, tired of being cast as a bully, tired of being pushed into the background mid-sentence so that someone who already has a platform a hundred times the size of mine can speak over me. One’s back can only be used as a stepping-stone on the way to a pedestal before it breaks, and mine, I fear, is close to breaking. I am very tired of being a rung on a white woman’s ladder to greater heights.

I find my strength where I always have – in the women here on the margins with me, staking their claim to whatever space they can find, sharing their stories and living their lives and banding together. We have no need to cast each other as background characters or use each other as props. Our strength comes from encouraging each other, amplifying each other, celebrating our successes together, commiserating together when we feel grief, helping each other up when one of us falls. This is that ideal they call solidarity – not unthinking devotion to one cause over another, not unresisting compliance, but a space within which we are free to raise our voices in harmony, not in unison. We are different in so many, many ways, but we have in common the only things that matter – humanity, love, compassion, a desire to create a better world for each other and for those who will come after us. We don’t always agree and we don’t always get along, but we always support each other and we are always there for each other in times of need. Solidarity doesn’t mean a lack of dissent – it means working together to overcome our differences and move forward. It means nobody left behind. It means humanity.

A white woman walks onto the stage and claims it. The rest of us shrug and find another stage, because whatever white feminists may think of those of us in the background, we play second fiddle to nobody. We are not bit parts. We are not props or pieces of scenery. We have our own stories and we will tell them whether white women want to listen or not.

I dedicate this to everyone with whom I stand in solidarity, and everyone who has ever stood in solidarity with me. Our stories are ongoing. In time, we will find a space to tell them all.

Dear white people: STOP TALKING. (Just for a second. Please?)

Take a seat, white people. Take a stadium full of seats, actually, because we have a lot to discuss.

Let’s take a quick look at what white feminists have been doing on Twitter so far in 2014:

  • Trying to “reclaim” intersectionality from the women of colour who created it because they feel like intersectional feminism is simultaneously “too intellectual” and “not academic enough” (and also, when did white people ever see a thing created by black people that they didn’t want to steal and make their own?)
  • Claiming that they can absolve themselves of the responsibility to own their privilege by claiming to be green instead of white (yes, REALLY)
  • Storming into hashtags like @Auragasmic’s #WhiteWomanPrivilege to sound the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON

Damn. We’re only halfway through January. What’s the rest of the year going to be like?

I thought white feminists had hit critical mass in 2013 with the whole “Miley Cyrus is feminist, stop slut-shaming her! (but really, is Beyonce feminist tho?)” thing, but it seems like they were only getting started. Women of colour are, depending on who you talk to, either too intellectual or not intellectual enough, too outspoken or not outspoken enough, too aloof or too crass, or, y’know, just big ol’ scary bullies. White women have built us up into some kind of collective bogeyman (bogeywoman? bogeyperson?) – a looming monolith of coloured folks who won’t stop whining when they misstep, who won’t sit down and shut up when they start making white folks uncomfortable, who’ve made feminism hostile to women who want to feel like they own it.

Sorry, whiteys. This movement belongs to all of us. Accept that you don’t get to call all the shots or get left behind. I don’t really care which, to be honest – at this point, I could take or leave most of you without shedding a tear. But if you’re going to stay (and really, I’d like for you to stay even though I can’t stand you, since I do support all women), we are going to need to talk about how this is going to work moving forward.

Here are some things you need to stop saying if you want to be a useful part of the feminist movement in 2014 and beyond.

1. “NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE”

Every now and then, a woman of colour will be talking about her experiences when she begins to hear that all-too-familiar wailing sound. That sound is…

…the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, white folks, but we know full well that not every single white person on the planet has done the thing we’re talking about. You do not need to interrupt us as we share our lived experiences to tell us that you would never act that way, or that none of the women you know would do those things. Maybe that’s the case and maybe it isn’t, but how does that affect the veracity of our stories? Unless you personally know every single white person in the world and can vouch for the fact that not a single one of them has ever done [x], you need to sit the hell down and let us finish talking. We’ll take questions at the end if we feel like it, not before.

Discrediting a WoC’s lived experiences by sounding the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON isn’t just rude and demeaning – it’s downright racist. It derails conversations and re-centres them around white people and their perceptions and experiences. You hate it when men do that to you, so why would you do it to other women?

2. “But what about ME?”

A WoC is sharing her experiences and you just have to jump in and point out that, hey, that happens to white women too, why isn’t she talking about that? Is she…reverse racist?

No, she’s just trying to have a discussion about WoC, and you’re derailing it. Again.

This has happened to me several times in the last two weeks alone. I try to talk about sexual violence against WoC and someone HAS to point out that white women experience sexual violence as well. YES, I KNOW. But I’m talking about the hyper-sexualisation of WoC in particular and why that leads white men to target them disproportionately, not about sexual violence in general (I talk about that all the time, why not join in on those discussions rather than trying to make this one All About You?). Or I’ll bring up the perpetuation of racist stereotypes in the NFL and someone will have to point out that the NFL mistreats white athletes as well. Yes, it does! I’m a huge fan and I’m aware of this! But what does that have to do with the fact that DC’s NFL team has a racist name and mascot and the NFL commissioner refuses to do anything about it and has even supported anti-reform sentiment?

White people, I know this hurts to hear, but NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT YOU. We have discussions about white people’s problems all the goddamn time. We will have more discussions about them tomorrow. We will have even more discussions about them the day after that. For now, I’m trying to talk about something that disproportionately affects PoC and WoC in particular. You’ll get your turn in the spotlight. Why must you begrudge us ours?

3. “Why does it have to be a race thing?”

Short answer: because it is a race thing.

Long answer: because it is a race thing, and questions like this are why it’s become a race thing in the first place.

The other day, I tried to have a discussion about the exotification and fetishisation of non-white women, particularly their skin and hair. We’re often described in ways that specifically otherise and exoticise us, and this is both uncomfortable and dehumanising. It took about ten minutes for a white woman I have never so much as spoken a word to in my life to chime in with, “but all women are exoticised, why is this about race?”

Really? I mean, REALLY?

Yes, all women are objectified and subject to the male gaze. Women of colour are objectified in a particular way – by being treated as exotic objects, like museum exhibits you can fuck (before you go settle down with a white girl, because everyone knows we brown and black girls are just too wild and untameable, right?). That was the discussion I was having. Again, I talk about how women in general are objectified all the time. Why not join in on those conversations? Why do you feel the need to make this one about you?

(Bonus lulz points: when called on this, the woman in question claimed she’d been “branded a racist” and that we “all wanted her to die”. Well, no, but if you’re offering…)

The reason we “make things about race” is that they’re about race. It really is that simple. Maybe you don’t see that because it’s not something that affects you personally, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And when you challenge us on that – when you claim we’re “playing the race card” or “reading into it too much”, you’re invalidating our lived experiences and silencing us. End of.

4. “Why do you have to be so mean?”

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

This is just playing into cheap racial stereotypes. Angry Black Woman. Scary Brown Lady. Neurotic Asian. Sassy Latina. Backwards Muslim. By our powers combined, we’re the Intersectional Bully Squad!

This is one of the most down-low and dirty ways white women try to silence us, and it has to stop.

A woman of colour calling you on your shit is not being mean. She’s calling you out, the same way you call men out for slut-shaming or street harassment or rape jokes. We are trying to help you. We want feminism to be all-inclusive and welcoming and we’re doing our best to get you to play ball because the truth is, we know we work better together than we do when we’re at odds. But just because we understand the value of solidarity doesn’t mean we’re going to let you walk all over us. If you’re going to silence any criticism by calling it bullying, don’t expect to be respectfully engaged and coddled in return. We get enough people trying to silence us. We don’t need to deal with your shit too.

5. “You’re being so divisive.”

Let me take a few deep breaths before I tackle this one. Bear with me. Give me a moment…

…And I’m back. Still mad, but coherent. (I hope.) Let’s do this.

When a white woman talks about her experiences, that’s feminism. When a black woman talks about her differing experiences, that’s divisive. What’s wrong with this picture?

This continues to be white feminism’s go-to silencing technique when nothing else works. Tried calling them bullies? Tried making the conversation all about yourself? Tried sounding the klaxon? When all else fails, accuse them of being divisive and paint yourself as someone trying to save the movement from falling in on itself. That’ll do it.

Thing is, we’re not trying to divide. We’re trying to unite. We’re trying to make feminism bigger, better, broader and more open. We’re trying to make it about ALL women, not just the ones who can afford fancy suits for their TED talks and TV appearances and book signings. That solidarity y’all love talking about? We are trying to make that happen. We are bringing in women who are too poor for academia, too brash to be palatable to those upholding the status quo, too far away from support, too different to be noticed. We are taking the platforms we have – platforms we’ve fought for, by the way, because we sure as hell didn’t get given this space without having to fight tooth and nail for it – and sharing the mic with women who wouldn’t get a chance to say their piece otherwise. We are doing what feminism is meant to be doing. We are using our voices and helping other women use theirs.

That isn’t division. Look the damn word up in the dictionary. What we’re doing? That’s solidarity, the real thing. No lip-service, just putting our money where our mouths are.

What are you so scared of, white feminists? Are you honestly so addicted to power and control that it scares you when a woman who isn’t just like you has something to say and says it? Do you want us to have to beg your permission before speaking? Because that sure as hell ain’t going to happen, not any more. We do not need your permission. We have our own voices, our own platforms, and you’re damn right we’re going to use them, because this is as much our movement as it is yours, and we will keep reminding you of that until you finally take it to heart.

I do not want a feminism without white women. I want a feminism that has space for every woman, regardless of skin colour, sexuality, gender, profession, wealth, education or health status. I want a feminism where black women and native women and disabled women and trans women and sex workers and non-binary people and queer women and poor women are sharing centre stage with white, rich, cis, able-bodied, straight, educated women, because they all deserve a slice of the pie. I want a feminism where we all get our time in the spotlight. If you don’t want that, that’s divisive. Being inclusive and welcoming isn’t.

I am one brown girl with several mental illnesses and a hot temper. I don’t want this mic to myself. All I’m asking for – all any intersectional feminist is asking for – is the chance to share the mic around. Not just with us – with all women, no matter who or where they are, no matter what they do for a living, no matter whether or not they know the “right” words to express the way they feel. That’s all we want.

If you think that’s too much to ask, I have to ask you – what the fuck is the point of your feminism, anyway?

Ten ways to be a better male feminist

Who says I’m always negative? Leaving aside the substantial evidence in the form of blog posts, angry Twitter rants and the rages that overtake me when my football team isn’t winning, I assure you I’m capable of being reasonable, constructive and even – make sure you’re sitting down for this – pleasant.

You may be under the impression that I hate men. This is not the case. Men are fine! (Some men are really fine, if you get what I’m saying, which I’m sure you do, because that had all the subtlety of a large-scale trainwreck.) What makes me mad is misogyny. What makes me madder is the appropriation of the feminist movement by men who either don’t know what they’re doing or are deliberately trying to profit from it.

Let’s say you’re the first kind – well-meaning, but just not that well-educated about what being a feminist entails. You’ve come to the right place! I’m going to stop yelling for long enough to tell you ten things you can do in order to be a better feminist, a better ally and – let’s face it – a better person.

1. Leave your baggage at the door.

I know you have a bunch of preconceptions about what feminism is and what your place in the grand scheme of things might be. That’s perfectly natural – all of us have preconceived notions about the world based on our prior experiences. But I’m gonna need you to drop all of that when you walk into feminist spaces.

Feminism is a movement that is largely based on female lived experiences. If you’re not a woman, you can empathise, but you simply can’t say you know what we’ve been through. And that’s fine! There are plenty of causes I support even though I’m not directly linked to them or affected by them. Nobody’s saying you can’t be a feminist. What we’re saying is that you need to follow our lead on this one, because this movement is about the way power structures affect our lives in ways that you may not even be able to perceive from where you’re standing.

Come in with an open mind and be ready to learn, and you’ll find yourself not only having your eyes opened to a whole new world, but being much more capable of understanding and processing what you’ll see and hear.

2. Be prepared to do a lot of listening.

You probably have a lot of insights that you want to share. You want to tell us why men act the way they do and how you think we can change that behaviour. And there’s room for that in feminism…to an extent. But for the most part, what we need men to do is just to listen.

I want you to think about all the women who are denied a chance to speak by men around the world – women who are barred from obtaining an education, women who are subjected to genital mutilation, women who aren’t allowed to work, women who are survivors of sexual abuse, women of colour, trans and queer women, sex workers. Don’t they deserve a chance to be heard? Wouldn’t you like to be the person to give them that chance?

It seems simple, but it’s so, so important. A huge part of being an ally is being prepared to listen to our stories – and there are a lot of them. A lot. You might want to get out a notepad and start taking notes. There may or may not be a test later.

We have been silenced for so long. Let us speak. Please.

3. Don’t expect an automatic welcome.

You’re a stand-up guy, right? Here you are, ready to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty fighting the good fight. If only more guys were like you!

The thing is – and don’t take this personally – we’ve seen a lot of guys who looked just like you, talked just like you, were just as enthusiastic as you…who proceeded to talk over us, silence us, demean us or use our movement to profit off us. Can you blame us for being a little wary? Can you blame us for being suspicious when men try to enter our spaces, no matter how seemingly good their intentions?

Under the guise of “feminism”, men have sexually harassed and raped women whose trust they’d gained, used their positions of influence to bully and silence women (Hugo Schwyzer, anyone?) and even gotten away with murder. No, you probably won’t do any of those things – but we can’t be sure of that. So be prepared for a little hostility. We’ve had to learn the hard way to be suspicious of strangers bearing gifts. If you work hard and do right by us, we’ll accept you in time.

4. Don’t expect special treatment.

This is something a lot of men struggle with, and with good reason – they’ve come from a position of total privilege, where their ideas and opinions are automatically given weight by virtue of their gender. You might not even realise this, but your maleness gives you huge advantages out there in the big, wide world.

If you want to be a feminist, you have to be prepared to give that up.

It’s hard. I know how hard it is, because there are times when I’ve had to do it myself. Sometimes you’ll find yourself feeling offended or affronted. You’ll find yourself wondering why you even bother if people aren’t going to acknowledge your efforts. That’s your privilege talking, and you need to learn to set all of that aside if you want to do this right.

Welcome to the new world, friend. Enjoy equality!

5. Don’t talk over us.

A lot of men take offence to this, but you need to learn to bite your tongue.

This is our movement. We’re glad that you’re along for the ride, but you have to learn that you don’t get to take centre stage. That space is reserved for women with real lived experiences to share. If you find yourself with the urge to talk over a woman who’s sharing her story, just…don’t. There is no easier way of riling up a feminist than by trying to tell her story for her, or assuming you know it better than she does. I promise you, no matter what the situation is, you don’t. You haven’t lived her life, you haven’t seen what she’s seen or felt what she’s felt, and there is no way that you, a man, can possibly understand 100% of what it’s like to be a woman.

I’m not saying you’re not allowed to speak. I’m saying you have to wait your turn. In feminist spaces, a woman’s lived experience takes precedence over your insights as a man. We’re kind of natural experts in this field, you know? Just let us talk.

6. Don’t stay silent when you see sexism in action.

Your buddies all tell rape jokes. They make you feel awkward, but you don’t say anything because you don’t want to be That Guy – the one who kills the buzz, the one who’s the PC Police all the time. You smile awkwardly when your bestie tells women to make him a sandwich even though you think it’s not really that funny, and you let yourself be drawn into discussions that degrade women even though that’s not your intent.

Yeah, that needs to stop.

If you want to do something concrete – and I’m guessing you do – this is the best place to start. Call out sexism when you see it. Tell your buddies those rape jokes aren’t cool. Roll your eyes at your friend’s sandwich jokes and tell him he’s being an ass. When you witness street harassment, step up and say something. Be the guy who doesn’t let other guys talk shit about women behind their backs. Be the guy who never lets “she was asking for it” stand.

I can’t stress enough how important this is. Your intent means nothing if you don’t back it up. Help us out here, dude. Use your voice for good.

7. Never, ever mansplain to us.

You’re talking to a sex worker who’s sharing her story of what working life is like for her where she lives. You feel like she’s getting some of the details wrong – maybe you’ve understood a certain law differently from her, or you find it hard to believe the police are so unsupportive. You tell her you don’t think that’s the way things are and proceed to explain reality the way you’ve experienced it.

That’s mansplaining, and you shouldn’t be surprised if that sex worker gets more than a little testy when you do it.

I know some of you do this unintentionally, but you need to catch yourself doing it and stop. Mansplaining derails discussions, trivialises the lived experiences of women and is just outright rude. Do you honestly think you know more about the reality of sex work than the girl who was talking to you about it? She lives it. You’ve just seen a documentary on TV. She doesn’t need you to explain to her what her life is really like.

8. Don’t tell us to calm down.

I think I’ve kept my tone fairly light thus far, but most of the time, if I’m talking about social justice, I’m pretty goddamn angry. This is a natural response to being discriminated against for being a woman for my entire life. I know that anger can be very confronting and a little off-putting, but there are reasons for that, those reasons being that a) the reality of existence as a female in our society is pretty confronting, and b) being faced with brutal, unpleasant truths is naturally very off-putting.

You might be tempted to say something about catching more flies with honey. The thing is, we’re not trying to catch flies. We’re trying to change the world, and you don’t change the world with niceness (believe me, even Gandhi was a manipulative old bastard – no activist is ever as serene as they may seem). As my dad was fond of saying: the reasonable man adapts himself to the world, whereas the unreasonable man adapts the world to himself; therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

We’re the unreasonable women, and we’re adapting the world to ourselves, because that’s how you get things done. Telling us to calm down is tone policing, and if you’d like an explanation of why that’s a terrible thing to do, click that link above and prepare to feel like you’ve just been slapped in the face repeatedly by several angry women all at once.

Or you could take my word for it and just let us be mad when we need to be. Trust me, it works better this way.

9. Amplify and empathise.

If you find a great blog post about sex worker rights in India, share it with your friends. If someone you know is sharing their experiences as a trans woman going through the medical system, retweet the hell out of her and encourage people to follow her. If, say, a fiery young Muslim woman you know writes a great blog post that you find really useful, spread it around to everyone else you think might find it useful too. Allies are great amplifiers – they help spread our message so that it reaches audiences it might not have reached otherwise. That’s a valuable thing.

And while you might not understand what we’ve gone through or what it’s like to be us, when we share our experiences, listen empathetically. It means a lot to know that even though you might not know how we feel, you care that we’ve felt pain and it pains you, too. Be there for us. March with us. Listen to us vent. Come along to our seminars and tell all your friends to come too. Be a part of the creation of safe spaces for us because you genuinely care about our safety and well-being. Be the great person I’m sure you’re capable of being. This is what allies do.

10. Don’t give up when it gets hard.

Not if – when. Because it will get hard, I promise. You will be forced to re-evaluate almost everything you’ve ever known about women and feminism. You will learn about experiences that are totally alien to you. You will probably be taken down a peg or two when you mess up. (Don’t worry, we all mess up, and we all eat crow afterwards. It’s fine, the internet has a pretty short memory.) And once you start doing this, you can’t just stop, because even if you want to, you won’t be able to shut your eyes to reality once you’ve had them opened.

This is a war so many of us wish we didn’t have to wage. I can’t tell you how tiring it is to spend day after day after day having to fight for my fundamental human rights. It’s draining and exhausting and, to be quite honest, pretty damn demoralising sometimes. You won’t experience all of that, but you’ll experience enough to make you wonder why you got into this in the first place.

Here’s why: because equality matters. This stuff isn’t some kind of abstract academic debate. This is about the way fifty percent of the world is forced to live because of a system that regards them as second-class citizens. Isn’t that wrong? Isn’t that hateful? Shouldn’t it change?

And wouldn’t you rather be one of the people helping to change it?

Feminism is vital work. It’s hard, it’s messy, and it’s often thankless, but it’s also very, very necessary. It’s necessary for all the reasons I’ve stated and re-stated on this blog dozens of times. It’s necessary because when we don’t do this work, people don’t just suffer – they die because of our inaction. And it’s not just women who are affected – it’s every man ever criticised for choosing to stay at home with his kids, every man who likes crafts more than sports, every man who’s ever cried in public, every man who isn’t arrogant and self-assured enough to bluff his way through life as though he owns everything he sees. You might even be one of those men. If you are, this isn’t just about us, this is about you. This is about a world in which we can all be free to express our genders however we like without facing judgement or discrimination for simply being who we are.

I want to live to see that world. I’m sure you do, too. So welcome aboard, friend. I’m glad you’ve decided to join us. Let’s save the world together.

We need to talk about tone.

So here’s why I’m not “nice”.

Do you know what “nice” gets you? Nice gets you harassed on the street by guys who refuse to acknowledge that you are clearly uncomfortable with them hitting on you as you wait for the bus. Nice gets you passed over for promotions because you were the weakling who didn’t put herself forward. Nice means that when you’re raped, people will say it was your fault because you didn’t say “no” loudly enough, often enough or quickly enough to your rapist (who wouldn’t have listened anyway, but who cares about that?). Nice gets you not taken seriously. Nice is the inch you give that leads to a mile being taken.

Nice gets you a whole lot of nothing.

You may take issue with my anger. I’m here to tell you that I could not give less of a damn about your hurt feelings if I tried. I’m angry for a reason. I’m angry because nice has gotten me and other women like me and other women who aren’t like me at all absolutely nowhere, no matter how many times we’ve tried it. I’m angry because that is the only way people will sit up and take notice.

I’m angry because I have a right to be, and if you want to come into my spaces and try to police that anger, try to make me act nice because it’ll make my message more palatable for you, then I kindly invite you to take a rusty farm implement and fuck yourself with it, because you have colossally missed a point that I am getting very, very tired of explaining.

There is nothing militant or radical about anger. Anger is an entirely logical and reasonable response to decades upon decades of oppression, marginalisation, silencing and dehumanisation at the hands of the privileged.  Anger is what keeps us going in the face of man after man after man telling us that we do not deserve the fundamental human rights we are being denied. Anger is confronting, yes. It’s meant to be. You know why? Because the facts we’re dealing with here are pretty confronting things, and sugar-coating them so that you’ll find them easier to swallow is counter-productive.

It is a fact that women are raped and sexually assaulted in horrifyingly high numbers across the globe. It is a fact that women are being denied access to healthcare by men who think they are the best arbiters of what a woman should be allowed to do with her body. It is a fact that trans women, sex workers and women of colour are disproportionate targets of violence and other hate crimes. It is a fact that the system, such as it is, is so firmly rigged against women that compared to us, Sisyphus had it easy. It is a fact that women are paid seventy-five cents on the dollar to what men are paid in comparable positions. It is a fact that rape culture exists. It is a fact that women of colour are hyper-sexualised and fetishised, their bodies reduced to props on a white woman’s stage. It is a fact that female genital mutilation leads to morbidity and mortality of thousands upon thousands of women across the globe, even in the so-called developed world. These are confronting facts. They’re worth getting angry about.

You want to tell women to tone it down, to be less emotional, but the fact is that this is not a matter for abstract academic debate. These are our lived experiences. This is the metric fuckton of bullshit that we are forced to wade through every day in an effort to live our lives the same way the other fifty percent of the population are allowed to without impediment. What function would be served by being nice? Do you honestly think that if we piped down, stopped yelling, stopped marching and protesting and refusing to back down, that men would suddenly realise that we had a point and we needed to be listened to? Is that how you think the way the world works? If so, that’s a spectacularly huge rock you’re living under, because you are so out of touch that I have to question whether or not you’ve ever come into contact with any semblance of reality at all.

Nice gets us nothing. Nice gets us ignored, pushed aside, relegated to abstract academic arguments that can be debated by people in ivory towers who do not have to live what we live, who have never had to experience what we experience, who have never had their identities and humanity denied by a society that considers them second-best. Nice gets us no further to breaking the glass ceiling, no closer to liberation. Nice gets us crumbs from a man’s table and a pat on the head. Nice is useless.

Anger gets us heard. Anger is confrontational and in-your-face and impossible to ignore, and because of that, anger makes men uncomfortable. It makes them want to turn away because having the truth pushed repeatedly and persistently in your face by someone who won’t just shut up when you tell them to is not how men are used to experiencing the world. Anger got women the right to vote, the right to work, the right to have sex with who we choose, when we choose. Anger makes you listen, and just because you don’t like what you’re hearing, that doesn’t make the anger less valid or less justified or less necessary, because without that anger, you’d never have listened in the first place.

There is no room for nice in feminism. There is no room for nice in any movement for equality, because all nice does is uphold the status quo. It’s anger that gets us places. The fact that so many men feel the need to police it, to silence it however they can, is testament to its effectiveness. Anger works. And you’re damn right, it’s unpleasant and uncomfortable. That’s because “unpleasant and uncomfortable” is the reality of female existence in this society. It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable to hear the truth because the truth is nasty and violent and shameful. It’s a truth you helped build and maintain. Don’t be so surprised that you’re finally being made to face it.

I could have written this non-confrontationally, and it would have made no difference, because when people say, “you need to be nicer,” what they actually mean is, “you need to stop talking about these things I don’t want to hear.” And that’s not going to happen. This is the truth of the world that we live in and I am not going to stop shouting and marching and protesting just because you don’t want to face the facts. This anger is the result of every catcall, every man who thought my sexuality existed for him and turned nasty when he was proven wrong, every friend I know who was raped and never saw their rapist brought to justice, every trans woman who has contemplated or carried out self-harm or suicide, every sex worker who has been dehumanised and degraded and treated like trash, every woman of colour who has seen her sexuality turned into a sick parody of itself for the entertainment of white people. This anger is because of you.

You can’t stop it. You can’t silence it. I’m damn well not going to let you police it. So you might as well listen, because I’m not going to stop being angry until you do.

Ten things white folks need to stop saying to me

Dear white people,

I know you’re usually well-intentioned. I know you’re trying to broaden your cultural horizons by exposing yourselves to people from all walks of life. That’s great! Exposure to different ideas is an excellent way of tearing down misguided preconceptions and becoming more open-minded. (Why do you think I’m dating a white guy? I’ve learned so much!) So I get that when you ask me questions, you’re probably doing it out of a desire to learn and become more educated and aware about the world around you. Kudos! I wish more white people would do the same.

That said, there are a few things you need to understand about me. Firstly, I’m not a walking, talking, nicely-tanned substitute for Google. Secondly, you need to think a little before you speak. I’m pretty understanding, but I’m not that understanding. Here are ten things I really don’t want to hear you say to me – no matter how good your intentions are.

1. “Your looks are so exotic!”/”Your people are so beautiful!”

Um, excuse me? “Exotic”? I know you think this is a compliment, but I’m a human being, not a zoo exhibit. I was born and raised here in Australia. I’ve been back to Pakistan once, and I was two years old and barely remember anything. I’m about as exotic as the imported Greek feta cheese I buy at the supermarket – of foreign extraction, perhaps, but otherwise pretty ordinary (if incredibly delicious). And even if I was a foreign immigrant – which both my parents are – I still wouldn’t be exotic. I’d just be from somewhere else. Calling a non-white person “exotic” isn’t the compliment you think it is – it’s just a reminder that you see us as unusual and foreign.

And all this “your people” stuff? Which people would those be, exactly? Most people who say this to me mean Indians. I’m not even Indian. I’m Pakistani and Afghani on my dad’s side, and Turkish on my mum’s side – and yes, there is a difference. This is kind of like asking a Welshman which part of England he’s from. (Note – I did this with a supervising doctor once. He did not take it well.) And besides, “my people” are just as diverse in appearance, behaviour and custom as your people are. We’re not a monolith. There are plenty of brown South Asian folks with whom I have things in common, and there are plenty who would consider me just as “exotic” as you do.

2. “Where are you from? No, I mean, where are you really from?”

Short answer: Australia.

Long answer: Australia. I was born in Canberra.

Do you ask every white person you know exactly which part of Europe their ancestors came from? Probably not, because you consider them just plain ol’ white, just like you. So what makes you think it’s any of your business which part of the world my ancestors lived in? Maybe this is just you trying to strike up conversation, but when I answer your first question with “I was born here”, and you follow up with “yeah, but where are you really from?”, my answer is going to be, “from somewhere where I was taught not to ask pushy, invasive questions. Where are you really from?”

I’m proud of my ethnic heritage, but I was born and raised Australian. Any details I choose to share about my background are optional extras. They’re things about me that you’re not necessarily entitled to know. So when I politely rebuff you the first time, don’t push it. I’ll tell you if I want to, not before.

3. “So, like, do you have an arranged marriage?”

So, like, did you learn everything you know about brown people from fragments of an old Bollywood movie you saw on SBS one time?

This is an offensive question for a bunch of reasons. Firstly, it makes assumptions about my assumed culture, and secondly, it implicitly judges said culture based on those assumptions. For the record, no, I do not “have an arranged marriage”. Neither did my parents – they met here in Australia, dated and got married in the regular (i.e. Western) way. I’m currently in a relationship with a guy I met all on my own, no parental nudging involved.

A lot of people ask me this because I’m Muslim, which is doubly offensive because it plays into stereotypes about Islam as a religion that are rooted in half-knowledge about some of the cultures of people who practice Islam. Now, I’m not saying I have anything against arranged marriages – I’ve known plenty of people in them who’ve found love and long-lasting happiness. But you know what they say about people who assume, right?

4. “So does your dad wear a turban?”

No, because he’s not a Sikh – and even then, not all Sikh men these days wear turbans. You’re aware that brown people, even South Asian brown people, aren’t one giant cultural and religious monolith, aren’t you?

…Aren’t you?

Turbans are, generally speaking, associated with the Sikh religion, which is, generally speaking, followed by quite a few people in Punjab province in both India and Pakistan (though this is not a hard and fast rule – there are non-Punjab Sikhs and non-Sikh Punjabs). My family aren’t Sikhs, though I grew up with Sikh friends (many of whom did not wear turbans except on formal occasions, just for the record, because we live in the tropics and those things are heavy). This would be like asking a Hindu woman why she’s not wearing a hijab. Don’t assume a religion or set of cultural practices based on my skin colour, please. You will almost always be wrong.

Honorary mentions go to all the people who’ve acted confused when they’ve seen me eat beef (that’s a Hindu thing, not a Muslim thing), all the people who don’t understand why I don’t eat bacon (that actually is a Muslim thing), and everyone who’s ever asked me about bindis.

5. “Why don’t you wear your traditional dress more often?”/”So do you own any saris?”

The last time I owned a shalwar kameez was when I was about thirteen. It was maroon with cream embroidery, a combination that is absolutely killer with my skin tone. I haven’t owned or worn one since because, as it turns out, we brown folks often dress for comfort and utility, just like white folks do, and a heavy knee-length tunic and wide pants are not the most practical garments for someone who lives in Oh My God When Will The Humidity Stop, I’m Melting, Queensland.

And no, I don’t own any saris, those being items of clothing more commonly worn by Indian and Sri Lankan women than by Pakistanis or Afghanis. (Or Turks. Why does everyone constantly forget that I’m half-Turkish?) I actually do know some Indian and Sri Lankan women who choose to wear saris when they go about their daily business, but that’s a personal choice on their parts. We’re not obliged to remain in costume just so you can easily identify us, you know. It just so happens that I’m more comfortable in miniskirts than I ever was in heavy shalwar kameez. That’s not to say I wouldn’t wear one again if an appropriate occasion were to arise, just that I don’t feel obliged to wear one every day in order to prove my South Asian-ness. My cultural background is quite a lot more than just a costume, you know.

6. “You’re Pakistani? I met this Pakistani guy in [town I’ve never visited], maybe you know him!”

Wow, you’re white? I met a white guy at LAX once! Maybe you’re cousins?

India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka combined easily have a population of almost a billion, possibly a little more. No, I do not know every single one of these people. I barely even know a fraction of them, and most of the ones I do know are blood relatives of mine. I am no more likely to know the random Pakistani dude you met at a conference than you are to know the white guy who checked my bags in Dallas one time.

Now, if you were to ask my dad, on the other hand, he’d probably know exactly who you were talking about. He’s connected, man. You don’t even know.

7. “You’re the first [Muslim/Pakistani/Turkish] person I’ve ever met!”/Introducing me as “your Muslim friend”

That’s great! You are not even close to the first person who has ever said that to me!

Again, I am not some kind of novelty. I’m a human being. Am I the first one of those you’ve ever met? If not, you probably shouldn’t be getting so excited about this. Despite my skin colour and facial features, you and I actually have a huge amount of DNA in common. We’re not that different, so please stop treating me like something out of one of those alien encounter movies. Brown girl phone home? Yeah…not so much.

And while we’re on this, if you feel the need to introduce me as “your Muslim friend” (or “your Pakistani friend”, or “your Turkish friend”), I am going to start introducing you as “my white friend who is incredibly boggled by the idea that non-white people exist”. Sure, it’s a little unwieldy, but maybe if I keep doing it, you’ll get the point eventually. I’m just your friend, m’kay? You know, like all your other friends. (Or are you one of those people who introduces folks as “your gay friend”, too? If so, you have so, so many problems that I do not even have time to start fixing.)

8. “Can you teach me your language?”

Well, I would be happy to, but it seems to me like you already know how to speak English, seeing as you and I are using it to converse right now.

My parents both speak different first languages, so growing up, we all spoke English at home because it was the only language my parents had in common. It’s the only language I speak fluently (though I can teach you how to say a few phrases in Turkish and how to count to five in Urdu). And even if I did have a different first language, why would you feel entitled to free private lessons from me? I happen to teach English (the language I do speak) for money. Why would I teach you for free?

I get it – speaking other languages makes you feel enlightened and cosmopolitan and worldly. But if you want to learn, do it the way everyone else does – either travel overseas or take a class. I’m not your private tutor.

9. “Can you make me [insert food here]?”

Yes, because a little-known secret about us foreigners is that we’re actually born with the instinctive knowledge of how to cook the perfect biriyani.

Seriously, now? I mean, I grew up eating curry pretty much every day for twenty years. Then, when I left home, I never ate it again, because it’s pretty much the equivalent of the old steak and three veg to me. What seems like exotic, exciting food to you was just “dinner” when I was a kid. Not only did I not put much effort into learning how to make it (because I wasn’t all that interested in eating it), but even if I did…you’re aware that there are restaurants that specialise in the cuisine of different countries, right? You can literally go right in and ask for all the curry you want! The people who work at said restaurants are paid to make you feel like you’ve got a little bit of [insert country here] at your doorstep. I’m not.

Other things I get asked for a lot: Turkish delight (no, I do not know how to make this), dolmades (I’m pretty sure even my mother doesn’t know how to make this), some Indian sweet that you don’t know the name of that you tried at a multicultural fest one time and really liked. I make a great baklava, though, and if I like you a lot, I might make it for you some time – without you even having to ask first!

10. “Your culture is so fascinating, teach me more!”

I’m putting this one last because it’s pretty much the first nine all summed up in one sentence.

Look, it’s awesome that you want to learn more about other people. But to me, this isn’t “fascinating” – it’s just my life. I grew up in a mixed race household in a white country exposed to all kinds of cultural influences, both ancestral and otherwise. It’s not exotic or exciting or foreign to me. It’s just a part of who I am.

If you want to learn more about my culture, or the cultures of your other non-white friends, engage us respectfully. Ask specific questions about things you’ve observed (“so, I noticed that you call all your mum’s friends Aunty and Uncle – what’s with that?”) and I might answer you if I feel like it. What I won’t do is answer blanket questions based on mangled pop culture references to “my people”. What I also won’t do is educate you on whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, solely on your terms.

I’m just a regular person. This is my life, not a National Geographic documentary giving you a glimpse into the mystical people of some far-off land you’ll never get to visit. Please stop treating me like a museum exhibit. If you want to learn, ask respectfully – and don’t be surprised if my answer is “I can’t really explain that, it’s too complicated” or “that’s not really something I’m comfortable talking about”. It’s cool that you want to learn, but you don’t actually have an inherent right to that knowledge. This is someone else’s life and history you’re talking about. What we choose to share is entirely up to us, and we’ll be more likely to share if we don’t feel like we’re being asked to entertain you or help you feel more sophisticated. That Eat, Pray, Love garbage just won’t fly, you know?

Respectful cultural exchange is an excellent way of learning more about the world, being exposed to new ideas and finding things you love in places you might never have thought to look. I would love to learn more about you, and would be happy to teach you more about me. But let’s do it the right way, m’kay? That way, we can come away from the experience enriched by our new knowledge and nobody ends up feeling like someone else’s neat party trick.

Now – who’s up for white people food?