I have always really struggled to write about race and racial inequality. I felt like my voice didn't matter enough to share my opinions. The experiences I've had in my life, joint with the colour of my skin don't really give me any need or right to talk about it explicitly. Being white does protect me from racism, and therefore it limits my view. I will never be able to understand it to the extent that others can, and therefore their voice should always be heard the loudest.
But I still want to be in the conversation. I recently had the chance to visit both Berlin and Prague, two cities with infinite amounts of history.
When visiting Berlin I thought I was prepared for what the trip was going to be like. The history of Jews is an awfully fascinating one and is also something I've studied a lot throughout school. Nothing could have prepared me for the amount of emotions I felt at the Jewish Museum. I remember it being quite busy and I was just sobbing. The whole way round. I was honestly shocked and heartbroken. Yet this is something I know already. We know what happened. It was so nice to see Berlin accepting their history. To take something so horrendous and put it on show, was somewhat refreshing. It was like a constant reminder that this will never happen again here. We will never relive our history, we will learn from it.
While in Prague we had the chance to visit the Jubilee Synagogue as well as the Jewish quarters of Old Town. While inside the Synagogue, again, I was very emotional. I can't take reading such horrible personal stories. But this time around I felt more angry than upset. I had visited Prague Cathedral a few days prior, which in itself is a beautiful building. But that's all it is. Previously a place of worship, yes, but today it is just a tourist attraction, which my goodness was heaving. I have never seen so many people in one place. Yet at the Synagogue there must have been myself and 5 others there. I can't help but feel like people are done with hearing about the past. That it's over and done with. It's really not.
Inside the Synagogue, I was able to watch a few clips from Prague's history and there was a speech by a British Jew, who's name I cannot remember for the life of me. The clip was from the World Jewish Congress in 1947 but is so essential for modern society. He was saying that we need to forget about having 'Jewish history' and instead have human history. A world in which societies and cultures integrate together peacefully, but also remember their heritage and are allowed to live their life the way their culture states.
It really upset me to see all these individuals who had already experienced so much, to be so hopeful of this new world, knowing that we're still not there. We still can't live the way they wanted nearly 70 years on.
For me, I think we cannot get past the notion that cultures wanted to be integrated yet hold their own history. As a majority, I think we understand that segregation is wrong, and most of us would stand up to racism and discrimination. But we don't like that fact that groups of people want to live life differently, the way their culture teaches. We like this perfect idea that integration means that we all have to live the same life, it doesn't.
Cultural appropriation. Where do I even start with this?
Cultural appropriation is when a dominant culture adopts a cultural element from a minority culture. For example, white women wearing braids or using a 'blaccent'. Wearing braids as a white woman (me speaking as a white woman) can be done right when we acknowledge the culture we took it from and respect that. To me, the disrespect comes into play when we fetishise and stereotype this culture. I honestly stand by the notion that we can learn and share so much between different cultures, but we cannot take what is not ours. Alongside that, we cannot expect minority cultures to change their way of life just because it doesn't fit in with ours.
About 3 months ago I started emailing my local counsellors and MPs about the stigma (and pure racism) the Gypsy community were facing in my local area. I started this after seeing so many awful and disgusting comments about this group on Facebook. The amount of generalisation that was going on was enormous, and it would not be allowed if it was targeting any other group. Comments that not only portray this group as blood-seeking criminals, but also comment on the spread of their gene pool, or more on how they should be wiped out completely. That includes numerous comments actively stating how they would wipe them out.
I don't know what I really expected back when I started this, but it was definitely more than I got. I've had counsellors tell me that these comments are 'bordering on racism'. Wait, what. I'm pretty sure if I openly said how I would enjoy wiping out the Jewish community, how they were all this and that. There would be consequences, and so there should be. How is it right that we prioritise certain races? We are actively supporting forms of racism. All of this started because of some caravans parked on a playing field for a week. Isn't that what Gypsies do? Travel? Move about? Their culture is defined on not staying in one place.
(Disclaimer: wanted to add here that there is currently only 1 Gypsy transit pitch in Kent and none in Medway. So where are they meant to park if there's literally no legal pitches for them?)
No, I am not saying this group of people are perfect and always innocent, but no one is? If I were to assume that all black men were involved in violent gangs. Or that all domestic abuse is committed by men, would that be okay or moral? I mean we have statistics and research to show that most domestic abuse is committed by males? But that doesn't mean we can say they all will or do. All women are not innocent. The only group that commit crimes are humans. Black, white, gay, straight, on the spectrum or not, disabled, Gypsy, it doesn't matter. It doesn't define who you are. Who you are and who you choose to be is the only thing that can define who you are.
I don't believe we are anywhere near ready to face this, but I'm here and I'm trying. We are not ready to accept the Gypsy community, knowing that they live life so differently. We can't bring ourselves to allow them to follow the culture they have been living forever.
I am white so I will listen to those who's voices matter more than mine in this fight, but my colour does not define me, just like yours doesn't define you.
Your head and your heart are all that matters.