Ten Things that White People Need to Hear … In Light of Black History Month

1. My country is not some abstract thing for you to pick apart as you try to decipher why the economy is struggling or why corruption is rampant. It’s quite simple, decades of colonization have bled us dry and left dazed. Systemic inequality is still a concern and our self-professed independence is still a work-in-progress.

2. My country is not a dream. For you, it is now a memory of visits past or a dream not yet realized, but for me it is an uncut umbilical cord to a history I cannot run away from.  Your love of Bob Marley means only so much when all you can ask me is if we all smoke weed, live in treetops, and wear dreadlocks.

3. My nationality is not a credential to be put on display. I am sorry that I can’t tell you about the riots and revolution, the folkways, and geography. My secondary education featured much more about European history than Caribbean history and I found that way more palatable than being reminded of the struggles my forefathers faced as slaves.

4. My linguistic skills are not trinkets for you to be amazed by. My first language is English; the accents popularized by North American productions are not reflective of the entire nation. Don’t compliment me because I am literate.

5. My hair is not a plaything. You do not have free licence to run your fingers through my hair when you feel like it. There is something called personal space. There is also something called respect. I am not your pet.

6. My skin is not something that you can try on. Don’t tell me that you wish you too were black because you would be able to ‘pull off’ that yellow dress. I understand that white privilege might render you blind but this skin is an ever-present indication that I am to be treated as something less than human.

7. My sexuality is not a sex toy. My penis is average length at best, my lust fleeting and my aggression is almost non-existent. I am not a beast made to plough through your vagina for hours on end. If this is what you want then find someone else, but don’t classify black men as aggressors and rapists.

8. If the word “nigger” comes up in class, do not stare awkwardly in my direction. Worse, do not avoid the subject because you think it will make me uncomfortable. Your refusal to acknowledge the issue is what makes me uncomfortable.

9. Do not refer to me as African-American. I am neither African nor American. It may make you feel as if you are being politically correct by using that term, but it isn’t fair for you to classify me as something I am not. We share a common ancestry, but our stories are different. On that note, you should also not refer to me as a “Caribbean.” The Caribbean is a geographical space, not a nationality.

10. Every time someone talks about “starving children in Africa,” something inside me stirs uncomfortably. There are children starving everywhere, Africa should not be seen as the poster child for “poverty” or used as the default image for the developing world. It’s particularly insulting considering you ignore the numerous achievements of countries such as this.

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