Off the Board, Opinion

I’m so tired of being a person of colour

It’s a thought that fills me with unparalleled shame. As soon as it forms, I want to bury it. But as I sit with my friends, at home, at work, I feel the burden of existing as a radical act, as political praxis: The thought creeps back in. How do I stop dwelling on something I will never be? How do I stop imagining my life without this roadblock? How do I accept this relentless stream of oppression as normal?

These days, when I, or those around me, experience racism, all I feel is a resigned exhaustion. As I desperately grasp for the anger I know must be inside me, I can’t help but wish it were different, that I were different. I get lost in the daydream.

I imagine being vocal, loud, and confident in my opinions without being characterized as aggressive. I imagine being allowed to only have a surface-level, condemnatory understanding of racism. Ignorance is a bliss I too often long for and trust me, I’m ashamed of it. A world where all my articles are not somehow related to race, because my life does not revolve around it. Where I don’t give up, smiling like I don’t care, shortening my name to “Sepi” whenever somebody mishears me (no matter how many times I promise myself I’ll stop).

I snap back. Back to the place where people press their arms up against mine, “oh my god, you’re fully Persian? I’m, like, way darker than you though!” The look of pity when I say I’m from Iran is one that I can’t stand. White people tell me that it is so great that I work hard to humanize the people in Iran when all I’ve done is talk about their current struggle. As they leave the conversation, happy with their anti-racism, I am left wondering what they saw in front of them before I was humanized.  

A defining feature of musing with whiteness is the overwhelming need for secrecy. It isolates me. I could never mention the exhaustion of being racialized to non-racialized people because this is not the strength expected of, almost mandated onto, people of colour. When allyship is so fragile, any wrong move can project “allies” into a frenzy rife with racist sentiments. I am not allowed to represent myself. I am a woman of colour, a journalist of colour, an unwillingly elected representative. The consequences of every mistake I make will reverberate on all those I am forced to represent. And it’s scary. 

When I speak with “too much” emotion, when I use the sharp words that come to me too naturally, I play it back in my head a million times. I lay in bed, paralyzed by fear, condemning myself for making mistakes, for being human, for forgetting that I am not allowed to be. Some days I worry my passion will be permanently muted out of fear. Will this silencing come from my surroundings or from me? The question haunts me.

I wish I could present a solution for this exhaustion, but I don’t have anything. I don’t need to have anything yet. All I know is that writing it down helps. That talking to other people of colour helps. I make a home out of people of colour I love, make sure they know that my heart aches for them as I watch them be forced to mince their words the way I work hard to mince mine. As sad as it makes me, not sharing a fake smile or greeting but exchanging an exasperated, defeated, “I’m so exhausted,” acts as solidarity and understanding in a way that I cannot fully describe. And right now, maybe that’s all we’ve got.

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