Racism At A Christmas Party
By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Racism never takes a break.
If you are a person of colour you’re never on vacation from racism.
Christmas and the Holiday season brings many fun occasions along with sad ones. Parties can be filled with laughs or traumatizing experiences, sometimes both happening at the same place.
I’ve been to a Christmas party and a Holiday party so far. It would have been three but family stuff came up. So far, racism has scored two for two.
Early this month I attended a Friday night gathering in a well to do area of my city. Walking through the streets of Cabbagetown was fun. The pretty houses made for good eye candy. The emptiness and quiet were much appreciated. I was willing to get lost is how much I enjoyed walking in front of the refurbished old homes with big trees and gates on their fronts.
I was the second person to get to the party. Within the hour there were ten of us. Intimate gatherings are my preference. You get to know people a lot easier. Conversations shift just as much as people do. Eventually, when the party is done you’ve done your rounds with new people and old friends.
Most of us at the party were new to one another as we were acquainted via a spiritual meet up we’ve been attending since the start of the year. The crowd was diverse in many ways: age, ability, education, gender, income, race, sexuality, spirituality…
Four hours into the party the talk of Trans Day of Remembrance came up. Most of the party goers were queer. Allies like me were in the minority; such is my life as I hang with lots of queer and trans folks.
The topic of violence came up. Trans Day of Remembrance is honoured every November 20 because of the violence trans peoples face; a violence that is six times higher than cis-gendered (non transgender) peoples experience. Not talking about violence just doesn’t happen when talking about TDOR. The day exists because of violence.
How the discussion about TDOR, and related topics, takes form is key.
Our talk focussed on a violent incident that happened at one of the many TDOR events that happened in Toronto 2014. Our group shared ideas on what to do with activist community members who act violently, in this case a trans woman of colour known to be violent in different ways. Most of the room, minus myself and two other people, were for calling the cops.
Calling cops is a big no-no!
Especially calling cops on trans women of colour let alone cis gendered people of colour; I don’t have to get into Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Alejandro Nieto, Sammy Yatim, Fredy Villanueva, and Neil Stonechild for you to understand.
Our brainstorming discussion/session took a big shift when Rooster, a white man, began to talk about Saudi Arabia and Jamaica and their high percentages of homophobic, transphobic and sexist violence. I stayed quiet for about three minutes while he talked before I said, “Check your white privilege.”
Have you noticed that Saudi Arabia and Jamaica have become the scapegoat for white North Americans when the discussion of homophobia, transphobia, and violence against women come up? Apparently homophobia and transphobia and the many different forms of violence that come with them only exist in Jamaica and Saudi Arabia.
Rooster, a kind, funny, high energy person got up, entered my personal space, put his hands on his hips while bending forward enough that our facial hair almost brushed, and said, “I’ll show you white privilege!”
Show me? He just exercised white privilege right there via crossing personal physical boundaries while in a cock fighting stance.
A woman of colour gave her opinion about my white privilege comment calling for the challenge to a non-existent form of racism: reverse racism.
“I don’t believe in reverse racism,” I said. “Racism has to do with power and white people have all the power in our society.”
We went back and forth respectfully; as respectful as one can be when giving licence and ammunition to white people to claim false charges of reverse racism.
This wasn’t the first time I experienced this. It’s an ongoing battle with my brother who also believes in the same thing, sadly.
What became interesting was the allies I had in the room who made themselves known: two white men, both queer, who live with visible disabilities. Their common sense matched with their calming voices challenged Rooster via talking about white people and colonialism and the responsibility of allyship via knowing herstory and it’s present day repercussions.
My two white allies talked about:
1. Acknowledging their white privilege
2. White privilege and its connection to colonialism.
3. Colonialism in the North American context and its links to Europe and its ramifications: ableism, homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia…
4. Whites acknowledging their ancestors roles in colonialism, the privilege for whites that has come with colonialism, while not being blamed themselves for the actions of their ancestors.
5. Not taking up too much space because whites own all the space.
After cocking his head at me in his pecking stance, Rooster walked over to his bag and pulled out conservative crap: “The Big Shift” written by White Racist Conservative Asshole #1 and White Racist Conservative Asshole #2.
Holding the book in hand Rooster began to read nonsense he felt made sense.
People in the room began to look at each other with eyes wide open. Eyes saying, “Oh my God!” I was thinking, and I think it’s safe to assume others in the room thought similarly, “what this guy reading?”
It’s great to be self-educating. I’m a writer so I love people who read books. But what are people reading is the question? If you are reading conservative think tank shit like “The Big Shift” (really, “The Big Shit”) then it’s no service to yourself or society.
Although some of us disagreed on cop calling and what racism was or was not we all agreed that the book Rooster was reading needed to be burned.
Some people in the room stayed quiet. The conversation was not for everyone. I felt bad for challenging Rooster because of the awkwardness in the room. I turned a party into a “Racism 101” workshop.
Our discussion lasted thirty minutes.
A long, tough, exhausting thirty minutes.
I ended by clarifying why I pointed out Roosters white privilege: he was talking about nations of colour and their homophobic, transphobic, and sexist violence as if such things don’t happen in the land now known as Canada.
“We don’t need to look far for homophobia, transphobia and violence against women. It happens here in North America every day. And white people are often perpetrators of such violence. Matthew Sheppard was killed by white people. Brandon Tina was killed by white people. Gwen Araujo, a Latina trans woman, was killed by four men, one of them being white.”
“Let’s take a photo!” said the host. It was her way of shifting us from our discussion turned argument turned workshop to a positive ending to our evening.
“Give me a hug,” said Rooster as he walked to me with open arms not really giving me a choice. I did not protest. It was my way of ending the night well. Rooster is not my enemy. Neither is the woman of colour who believes in reverse racism.
I left the party feeling shitty. I felt I had ruined a great evening.
The next day I got an email from one of the people in the room who was quiet, a man of colour. He was the person I felt most guilty about because I thought I had ruined his night as he looked stressed throughout the entire talk. His email read:
How odd, this is the first post I saw when I opened my buzzfeed app walking home, revisiting our conversation about race tonight.
I felt as if people were looking at me to say something tonight as I am a person of color. Truth is, I am extremely uncomfortable speaking about race, as it is just an extremely violent and upsetting topic for me to be able to discuss so openly. I felt I still wanted to at least send this note across not as justification as to my lack of participation, but as a part of my own self-healing and acknowledging my own pain through sharing with those that I feel comfortable.
Tonight re-opened wounds that I haven’t touched in a while – wounds that feel like poorly patched-up bullet-holes in my chest. The conversation tonight made those wounds start to bleed out again, as well as a mixture of emotions, however it was good as it was a reminder I still have work to do in my healing. Thank you for being part of the catalyst tonight to help me revisit those dark places, and begin my rehabilitation towards being healthy again.
Take a glance at the link below if you have time – ok, ciao! 🙂
His email was positive in terms of our talk re-sparking his healing journey. And the cartoon he shared is a good teaching tool for starting a talk about racism.
I’m not sure what positives Rooster got from our talk. We’ve seen each other twice since then. We smile, greet one another, and part ways.
Last week I went to Holiday party. As written early on, there was racism. I challenged a white person on calling Thai food “alternative food”. Alternative? Because it was not Kraft dinner or turkey or meatloaf? I’ll leave that for another post or video blog, maybe.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!