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.