Understanding Everyday Racism by Philomena Essed

It’s time for me to share something about racism, which is an important part of intersectional feminism. I am truly ashamed that the Black Lives Matter protests have been the first thing to actually trigger me to learn more about racism. Racism is not something new, it’s just that I took action way too late. I’m trying to do better by educating myself, so that I can be better and act upon the racism I see, read or hear. This book I’m sharing today has been the first book (I do not only read, I watch and listen too, but more about that later) I’ve read about racism. It’s called: Everyday Racism by Philomena Essed.

White Audience

In my thought proces I think of this book as written mostly for white people. That is quite arrogant, really, and maybe I’m wrong. I think it’s written for white people because white people are the problem. White people have been the ones denying the existence of racism, while at the same time we are the power structure that created and maintains racism. When I look at The Netherlands I think: we are the ones who have colonized the world, traded enslaved people, send millions of people to their death during the Holocaust and still we think of ourselves as innocent. And because white people are the ones denying racism, I think this book is mostly here for us. We need to read this. We need to read what it’s like to live in our society as a woman of color. Because the women of color don’t need learn about it, they endure it every single day. As a white cis-woman myself, I can never imagine what it’s like. But I can read this book. No, it’s my obligation to read this book. Because white people need to do better. A lot better.

Understanding Everyday Racism

Understanding Everyday Racism is a book first written in 1984 by Philomena Essed. It is a sad book, showing the ugliest side of humanity. Even though you might think: ‘1984*? Things are better now!’. White people tend to think that (which is again racist), but unfortunately this is not the case. Things have not gotten better. If I may believe Essed, things have not gotten better at all. The Black Lives Matter protests prove that and the reissue of this book does too. But we shouldn’t look for proof ourselves as white people. We should listen to the people of color who are affected by racism. We should listen and take them seriously. Our experiences don’t matter when it comes to racism, because a white person doesn’t experience it. Therefore we should read this book. Understanding Everyday Racism is a collecting of real-life stories of women of color. Philomena Essed talked to about 20 women of color to share their story. Half of the women are Dutch women and the other half are Americans. The book starts with Essed talking about a big reason why white people tend to justify racism: freedom of speech. She debunks this and names examples of how freedom of speech is used to justify racist actions or statements (this part is only included in the reissues). In the second part the experiences of everyday racism by Surinamese-Dutch (this is what I think the women indentify theirselves as, but I might be wrong) women of color are told. The third part contains the experiences of everyday racism by African-American (again, I interpreted their identity as such, but it might be different) women in The United States.

*Since the first edition was written in 1984, there are offensive words used in the book. I read it in Dutch, but the n-word for example was still used. Or ‘blank’ (which refers to a colonial power structure). I just want to emphasize that we as white people should never use those words, even though it’s in the book.

The Racism

The stories are heart-breaking, obviously. I can never imagine what life must be like for women of color. What I found most disgusting is that most racism is sneaky (this is the best word I can find for it). Most white people don’t want to be called a racist, they deny that they act as such. While at the same time their actions are racist, but they don’t show it to anyone. White people would bully women of color, deny their applications for a job, deny them housing, give them lower grades at school, would not work with them, accuse them of stealing and way more. But still, they would always say that these actions aren’t based on racism. It’s the most disgusting thing. My interpretation of the book is that life is hard for women of color. They have to work three times (or more!) as hard as a white woman like me. It’s nearly impossible to lead a normal life this way. Not finding a home, not finding a job, being criminalized, everything is literally made harder.

My Role

I wanted to share this book to raise awareness and to educate. Please educate yourself. Everything that I wrote here is based upon my learning proces. I do not know it all. As a matter of fact, I barely know anything. That’s because I’m white. I have white privilege. Whenever you have privilege, I believe you must use it to empower those who don’t. I don’t want to be seen as some kind of expert on racism because I share about racism on this blog. It’s time for us to empower people of color. They are (unfortunately) the experts, they are the ones leading this fight. White people can be an ally, but we can never fight the fight. I want to say that: I want to be an ally and I can never be in the frontline. That’s why I share this book, to do my part.

Understanding Everyday Racism helps me personally to recognize racism and see where I can do better. Stand behind people of color in their fight against racism. Speak up to colleagues, friends and family. And change the system. Voting for women of color for example, or giving up your spot in a team, panel or conversation. There are so many things we as white people must do.

* as I said, I am no expert at all. Please correct me if any of the texts are offensive or wrong. It’s a learning proces for me too and I never claim to be perfect.

Yours sincerely,

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