Nice Day For A White (Person) Wedding
There is a wedding. One of my Mormon cousins is getting married. Ezekiel looks like James Franco and has the affable nature of someone who does not realize he looks like a movie star. They are having a very untraditional Mormon wedding. It’s held at a venue where there is actual alcohol available to drink for those non mormon friends and relatives. I think this is lovely. I assume they will be having a traditional temple sealing for all time and eternity in the Melbourne Temple at a later date. Those ceremonies are only able to be witnessed by people who have temple recommends. I have not had one of those since I was 15. When Ezekiel’s sister got married in the temple my father and I waited in the car while my temple recommend holding mother was inside. My father had a nap and I read a book. Then we went to the reception at another location.
My partner and I enter the venue. There are white guys in suspenders and bow ties and moustaches and white girls in dresses some with the undeniable splash of colourful prints associated with a popular Melbourne based designer. I reach for my partner’s hand and squeeze it.
Speaking to a friend of the bride, I ask what the bride is like. What is she passionate about? I am told she has been crushing hard on Ezekial for over six years, that she likes shopping and was at university but has quit now that she’s getting married. I try not to look too horrified as I nod politely and sip my beer. When you are no longer in the Mormon bubble you forget certain details. Sweat slips down my back.
The ceremony is short and sweet. The bride looks beautiful and and my cousin is wearing a very dapper suit. Things they would not be able to wear if getting married in the temple. The strapless dress would not be allowed.
After the ceremony there is mingling. Wait staff serve canapés on silver trays. My partner and I get talking to an aunt and uncle I don’t see very often, about the Book Of Mormon musical. They went to see it twice. I am astounded at the money that would have cost. I had had to line up for twelve hours in order to get two affordable tickets.
I chat with my aunt and uncle about the musical. My uncle says that If there was a musical like this about Muslims we would get blown up by Isis. The joke falls flat and I remain unsmiling. I explain that that is not a fair comparison to make as ISIS is not affiliated with the Muslim faith. Muslims are getting much abuse due to that misunderstanding. Muslim people are getting far more abuse than Mormons ever have and this is because people let white Christianity do pretty much whatever it wants. I explain to my Uncle that In New York City a young Muslim woman was pushed down subway stairs and called a terrorist. In London another Muslim women was pushed in front of an underground train.
My uncle tells me he is not like that he does not discriminate. ‘’You know what? The very next day after nine eleven I sat next to a Muslim woman on a train.” OK. I say, silently refusing to congratulate him. Considering the joke he made contributes to the demonizing Muslims. I have not lost my cool or been speaking in an aggressive way.
Up to this point my partner had not said much but simply stood behind me and making it clear without any words that he has my back. When discussion turns to race things get heated and out of control. My partner and I are presented with the full extent of white fragility reactions. All because my partner tried to explain that as the only person of colour in the room he felt he needed to explain how jokes like that are not helpful. “Its not your fault.” He said but society has not treated you the same way its treated me or other people of colour. So jokes like that are not helpful.” He tries to explain how white people can have a hard time due to financial hardship and all sorts of other horrible things but their lives are never hard because they are white. ”Not being white is something that cannot ever be hidden or escaped from.” My partner says. ”All those thousands of tiny micro-aggressions add up. So when a person of colour is explaining what life is like for them its good to listen.”
He is barely able to finish as he gets talked over. There are tears and accusations of my partner attacking them. ‘’You don’t know me.’’ My aunt says crying white tears to perfection. ‘’I voted Greens.’’ My uncle shouts.
My aunt and uncle do not listen. They are very upset and nobody seems to be noticing or coming to diffuse the situation. My aunt tries to get me alone and asks me if my partner and I talk about this stuff at home. I say that we do.
I want to respond with a yes and that it never ends with white tears and me screaming that I’m being attacked. It makes me uncomfortable how she seems to have cloistered me away momentarily to get me alone as my uncle continues talking loudly over my partner. It is obvious to me what is being attempted here. They are trying to get me back on side. What about white solidarity? My aunt tells me I’m a lovely girl and that its not my uncles fault he is upset. I don’t stay ‘lovely’ for much longer.
She goes back to crying and my uncle is still being belligerent. It’s all a bit scary as he is much bigger than me. It is at this moment that my partner and I realize that this is going nowhere. They are not going to meet us half way. They are not going to give an inch. My partner grabs my hand. ”We have to go.” He says quietly. We exit the venue without saying goodbye to anyone.
Once out and walking. We didn’t even know where we were going we just had to move ourselves forward and as far from that place as possible. At an intersection I burst into tears myself and my partner hugs me. ‘’I am so sorry.’’ I say. We go to the Fox Hotel and call his cousin Sarah who lives near there. Her and her boyfriend meet us. We drink and debrief about the incident. I keep checking my phone to see if anyone calls to se if we are ok, if someone texts me to see where I went. Nobody does.
I am furious. I am paranoid. They must be talking about me to my parents I stress inwardly. What would they tell them? That their eldest daughter and boyfriend were disrespectful and hurtful? That we attacked them verbally with talk of racism and ruined a lovely family function with thier social justice ramblings?? Did I ruin the wedding? Should we have simply let it go and enjoyed the afternoon? But we would not have enjoyed the afternoon.
I feel the guilt wrap itself around me like a sweaty hug. My chest heaved with worry. It was worth it though. I was convinced of this. I was. Wasn’t I? I would be. I look at my partner and it washes over me like cool fresh water flushing out the anguish: love.
That night we both have trouble sleeping. The next day we go to Hiede Museum and try to rectify the weekend. As we are getting ready we hear a knock on the front door and I feel weak kneed in worry. They have come to yell at me, I think in a panic. The door is not answered. Both my phone and my partner’s phone rings. We do not answer. I text my mother from the car as we are driving towards the art museum: On our way to a museum out of town.
I agonize over adding an emoji like a smiley face but then decide not to. I’m filled with rage. Talking didn’t help. I am angry that my partner tried to articulate himself calmly and was decried as an attacker. His experience was not listened to. We were not ready to act like nothing unpleasant happened.
I know that I got off easy. The environment I was in when trying to use my whiteness for good was family. I was not going to lose a much needed job over this stand I was making. I was not going to lose social standing. I was around people who love me and the relatives that I stood up to were not relatives that were very close to me. The cousin whose wedding it was was close, in the past while we grew up together anyway. Before I lost my faith and became a feminist killjoy. Before I became a stout believer in the need for overthrowing white supremacy, neoliberal capitalism and patriarchy. These things make it pretty difficult to stay close to people who though lovely, unwittingly hold up these values.
Im not a hateful person I silently try to convince myself as I wander around the art gallery. In the gift shop I purchase a decorative tea towel that says BE NICE in big black capital letters, in between the two words is a painting of a rainbow. It gets put up on a wall in our apartment. A cute token that reminds us that to be nice sometimes involves being seen as not nice by people who have vested interest in the upholding of the status quo.
Ezekiel gave me the password to his Netflix during my time in hospital three years ago and I had been enjoying free Netflix ever since. That is until now. ‘’Oh no! Our comeuppance has come!’’ I exclaim on discovering that I couldn’t log into the streaming service. The wedding had only been 48 hours ago. This meant we had to pay for the streaming network ourselves. This swift and calculated response to our hasty exit speaks volumes. Let that be a lesson to you. If you decide to rail against racist comments at a family function, make sure you are not relying on a relativ’s Netflix password. And then speak up anyway.
In a country where, in the last few weeks alone: a Tasmanian football player recently dressed up as Serena Williams using black face, an aboriginal man dies in police custody, two children drown in the Swan river following a police pursuit and Tony Abbott is appointed as the Envoy for Indigenous Affairs, not speaking up in the face of any casual racism seems like the more hateful option.
Being Netflix free for a few weeks is hardly an issue when you have the internet, a hard drive full of classic 90s cartoons and random television shows, friends and books to read. My partner’s sister gives us her password when she heard we were paying. Comeuppance in this tiny instance, is reversed. I do not see or hear from the extended family even now, over a year later. it is not enough to be affable and polite today. You have to be actively anti racist. The idea that being nice is enough is a faulty one.
As Layla f. Saad explains white supremacy is a system that I have been born into. Not being aware of it does not make it less true. Being a woman with a disability does not mean I don’t have white priviledge. All I can do is try to disrupt and overturn this system and work to dismantle it within myself and the world.
Layla f. Saad has created a free download of her Me And White Supremacy Workbook, a workbook written for white people who are willing and able to fully deconstruct and disrupt the roll they play ( the roll I play) upholding white supremacy and how You and I can do better.
You can download the workbook by pressing on the link below