Why I am frustrated with white silence at University as a non-black POC
Even if you as an individual can afford to be silent, we as a society cannot
UCL is often described as London’s global university, and like students all across the UK and beyond we have a responsibility to not only be not racist, but actively anti-racist. A key element for change students must undertake to play our role in the overthrow of racism is the recognition of white silence as a complicit act. We talked to Kabir Khurana, a student at UCL, about white privilege at our university and what can be done to change it.
“As a non-Black POC, I live in-between the marginalisation and benefits that comes from white privilege. While I can feel the negative effects of white privilege, my lighter skin and ethnicity allows me to be immune to the full impact and gravity of these biases and prejudices, and avoid some of the effects entirely. I will never understand how difficult it is for my black counterparts and while the focus should be on black voices during this time, frustration at the silence of white students feels like a comprehensively shared experience among the BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of colour) community.”
What would you say is the shared experience of BIPOC?
“On a basic level there are two universally defining characteristics of the BIPOC experience. Firstly, a constant awareness of the colour of one’s skin. Secondly, feeling as if one’s voice isn’t heard until forced to shout and scream, only to then be told our anger is “unhelpful” or “misplaced” and still be brushed aside. This is only made worse the darker one is. When it’s typically white male students that have the most influential voices among their peers it’s frustrating to see their current silence. Even though this isn’t solely the fault of white students, truthfully white male students tend to listen to one another more than they listen to anyone else. They seem to take initiative only after their peers have done so already.”
What should the student body be doing in response to the Black Lives Matter Movement?
It is important to see that racism is pervasive everywhere, even in institutions as “liberal” as universities and onwards from there. It is important to call out racism that has been imbedded in all of us from a young age.
Now that the topic of racial injustice and Black Lives Matter have become so dominant on instagram and twitter many people feel that they can cop-out, labelling their silence as refusing to join in something “performative” and “virtue signalling.” Admittedly, trends like the recent “black square” , posted by so many without any other resources or information, not only drowns out black voices and vital news, but has been entirely used to inflate one’s own ego or follow the “trend”. However, this cannot excuse complicit silence. The most effective tool that can be used to contribute to the movement is self-education. If we are going to post online, we should do so meaningfully, taking the time to affect change behind closed doors; learn, discuss and most importantly listen to Black voices right now.
White students feel uncomfortable talking about race and acknowledging privilege because they’ve never had to be aware of their own skin colour. For the first time it is not their faces or voices plastered over news and social media. It must be hard to admit we are beneficiaries of a system supported by white supremacy; but it’s even harder for those oppressed by it. It is necessary to recognise the underlying prevalence of racism everywhere, even in universities. It’s upping your pace walking from a club because there’s a BIPOC behind you. It’s that silent feeling of isolation created in social life at university, an ultimate white-dominated space. It’s when fellow students tell us they “don’t see colour” erasing entire histories of racial prejudice. It’s so subtle you wouldn’t notice it. Only by deconstructing and dismantling our own inner white supremacists (yes, we all have one) can we affect genuine change. Even if you as an individual can afford to be silent, we as a society cannot.