To Everyone Who Benefits From the Racist System (Whether They Want It or Not)


If you’re reading this text it means that you’d like to come to UEEH this summer. Looking forward to meet you ! But before, we’d love to share a few things.

These last years a lot of racist situations happened at the UEEH. A mixed working group met all over this year in order to prepare this summer’s edition (and more). The idea was to deepen our reflection on racism in the queer milieu, and to bring tools to change the power dynamics. It’s a huge task, and it will need much more energy than the few working weekends that we organized during this year ! That’s why we wanted to address this small text to all the participants of the next UEEH, so that everybody gets there with at least a little bit of reflection on their responsibilities during the edition (and beyond).

So, let’s get « straight » to the point.

We can be a dike, bi, trans and/or a fag, and maybe also on a wheelchair, economically precarious, seropositive, Deaf, out of beauty’s norms, neuroatypic or psychiatrized… it’s important that we can take our time during the UEEH in order to get back some strength about all the oppressions that we live in society. These oppressions are systemic, which means that they’re nourished and reinforced by a whole bunch of social, economical, political and historical factors, and therefore they’re often hard to denounce, even in the queer milieu. Yet, even when we live one or more systemic oppressions, we can still have privileges that others do not have.

In this text we’d like to point the specificity of the privileges that we can have according to our position in the racist system, which depends on our skin’s color and/or other characteristics linked to racist prejudices. It’s important to say here that the racist oppression is not « superior » to other forms of oppressions. There’s not such a thing as a hierarchy of the oppressions ! Yet, racist (micro)-aggressions are everywhere these last years in the UEEH, and it’s the time to deal with them. This effort is by no way meant to undermine the visibilisation of other forms of oppression, quite the opposite !

Racism(s) : a brief attempt of definition [1]

The racism on which « western » societies are built is an historical system bound to slavery, colonization, nationalism, imperialism, capitalism and christianism. At the end of the Middle-Age, Europe spread all around the world in order to steal resources, enslave human beings and exploit their working force. In order to justify its existence, this economical domination was based on a racist ideology where the white man (rich, cis-gendered, straight, able-bodied, …) was the final and universal achievement, the perfection to reach, the good master of all this living world. All the intellectual and scientific disciplines which developed since the Middle-Age have been structured (among other things) by the racialization of non-white bodies (but also by the hierarchies of genders and other systems of oppression). Today this ideology still goes on, and managed to spread all around the world. The people who take advantage of this system are white people, whether they want it or not, whether they’re conscious of it or not. And the people who’re exploited and oppressed by this system are the non-white, the People of Color (PoC).

Excluding criteria of whiteness are, among others, physical criteria (tone and color of the skin, hair texture, eye shape, …) reflecting superficial biological adaptations linked to geography. The meaning which is given to these superficial differences has real consequences on social, material, psychological and institutional levels. In other words, white people have social, material, psychological and institutional advantages that non-white people don’t have. The racist domination systems makes so that PoC are perceived as inferior in social norms, traditions and institutions and are disadvantaged on these levels. This kind of discrimination can also apply to cultural or religious groups that are racialized according to a mixture of physical characteristics, practices, customs or traditions, as it happens for jewish or muslim people for example. And we shouldn’t forget that different PoC experience different specific forms of racism, according if they are « métisse », from Asia, Maghreb, Rrom, Subsaharian Africa, South America, or from unceeded ancestral lands. In any case, racism is a complex system of oppression which has material bases and consequences, and changing the mentality of individuals is not enough to face it.

Which white privileges ?

White privileges are everywhere : housing, work, repression, health, education, papers, … In the queer milieu (and at the UEEH) they might show up in different ways, but they’re there. If you’re a white person who was born in France, for example, the culture you grew up with is represented everywhere, in musical choices, the dominant language, the way of organizing and different social codes. People don’t ask you all the time where you come from, what you came for in France or what is you family history. You’re not subject of morbid curiosity nor paternalistic pity. When you get to know somebody and you get into flirting, you won’t think that they might be attracted to you out of exotism, or in order to look « open-minded » to their family or friends. You can speak french without feeling judged about your level of knowledge of this colonial language. White people don’t come speaking arab or maori to you with no reason, even before knowing if you actually know these languages. People won’t just pop into one of your discussion to tell you uninteresting generalities on your accent, your clothes, your smooth skin or the country you/your family come from.

In the UEEH, you can feel legitimate and comfortable taking all kinds of tasks and occupying all sorts of spaces, and not just subordinate tasks and spaces. In the queer/activist milieu, you can participate to events, workshops and meetings without being all the time in a racial minority position or being invited just for « inclusivity » purposes. When you speak, people don’t treat you as if you were representing a whole group of people, your individuality is usually respected. If you get angry, people won’t say you’re being savage, they won’t see you as an uncivilized person who needs to be taught how to defend themselves. It probably never happened to you that unknown people touch your hair without asking. Or that people appropriate rituals, musics, hair-styles, traditional clothes or words which are politically or spiritually relevant to you, just because that’s the last trend or to look cool/weird/out of norms. What you own, people won’t think at first that you might have stolen it. And the clothes you wear are usually not at the center of national debates…

This list could be much longer, but the purpose is not to make it complete. What matters here is that, even imagining that you never had any racist behavior in your whole life, in any way you take advantage of a lot of privileges linked to the racist system. As for sexism, where all cis guys are not big machos but all take advantage of the patriarchal system, all white people are not fascists but all take advantages of the racist system.

To question one’s own privileges is destabilizing, because it implies to question a whole bunch of evidences (which are actually a part of the privilege) and therefore to get out of one’s comfort zone. Coming to the UEEH means therefore being ready to get into this troubling work.

Accounting for our actions

So, even if you don’t mean it, it can happen that some of your interactions with PoCs end up in uncomfortable situations. That’s not because you think you are a kind and open-minded person that it’s not going to happen. Racism is not just far right discourses, it’s not just open hostility towards non-white people. It can take several other forms, which are less visible and that you can totally miss out when you don’t live that oppression. That’s why, for a lot of PoC, everyday life is full of racist (micro)-aggressions, which are intersecting with other systemic oppressions. Most of the times, they go totally unnoticed : just a sigh, or an excuse to quit the conversation. But sometimes people try to point out these oppressive behaviors.

If you’re with a person who lives a form of racism that you don’t experience, and that person points out an oppressive behavior you had, trust them. Even if you don’t understand straight away. Even if their reaction looks disproportionate to you. Since they’re living that oppression, they know way more than you in this field, as it is for you for example if you’re a dike talking about homophobia with straights. What matters in this moment is not saving your face by claiming your « innocence » ; it’s accounting for what you did and respecting the feelings of the other person. It’s not because you did or said something racist that you’re a monster. But it’s important that you take responsibility of what you did instead of justifying over and over and thinking just about yourself. Sometimes sincere excuses are enough. Sometimes it won’t be possible to meet for a while and you’ll have to organize in order to ensure that. Sometimes a mediation process is asked. Every situation is specific and needs specific reactions. There are no guidelines, and the person you harmed is not obliged to explain you what you have to do in order to fix the situation. It’s your responsibility to question yourself, to take a step back from your ego and try to find solutions, which implies that you might get wrong and you might need help at some point. During this process, victimizing yourself is just a way to focus the attention on your ego and to avoid an accountability process.

Against « scape-goating »

If you witness or hear about a racist situation, please avoid scapegoating the person who committed it, which means, pointing them out as if they where THE racist person. We all can and do convey racist behaviors, even when we don’t notice it. When we point someone out as a scapegoat, we clear ourselves from our own responsibilities and we reinforce the general fear of being exposed and condemned on the « public space », of being rejected by our own community. As far as we try to hide our own racism behind these opportunist indignations, every person will try to find all possible means not to recognize that they did shit, including putting pressure on the person who called them out, ignoring, minimizing, ridiculing them. This discourages people who experience racism to denounce the aggressions they live. It’s the same mechanism which is maintaining other kinds of oppressions and which contributes to their invisibization. And there’s really no need for this, neither at the UEEH nor in the queer milieu nor in general society. Let’s try instead to make situations evolve towards something more satisfying.

Last thing : stepping out of all these issues just because they make you feel uncomfortable and hanging around just with your white buddies, that’s not a solution : that’s racial segregation. And it’s also good to remember that good speeches are totally useless if we don’t know how to put them in practice.

Here’s a list of resources on anti-racism which are available on the net (in french sorry…) : liens utiles pour s’éduquer sur l’antiracisme.

  1. This attempt of definition was partially taken from the document given during the white privilege workshop at the 2018 edition. It was modified following discussions and feedback we got during this year. ↩︎