I really don’t know how to describe the genuine fear that takes my body when I go out in Berlin. The ticktock of inevitability that goes through my head while I wait for yet another racist encounter to happen. And in time it always does, from the innocuous grilling about where I am from, to being asked if I have drugs and then being told that I look like a drug dealer because of my large curly black hair. But there is nothing more insidious than the form of racism that pretends to be your friend, that frames itself in kindness and concern only to be turned around and used as the knife to cut you open and be devoured.
You came up to me to thank me for a performance I had done at ISSA Comedy Show combining my spoken word and comedy. You told me how wonderful and deep you thought my performance was and I thanked you. Hoping that this would be the end of our conversation, hoping that you would leave me in peace to drop my phone in my bag and go back to not having to think about the world that a queer person of colour has to navigate every day.
Not bothering to ask yourself if you had any more business in my space, you stayed and asked me how I have been as if you ever knew how I was. But I obliged, I stayed polite. I told you that I’ve been great (this was a lie), I told you that I enjoyed being back in Berlin (this also was a lie) and that I had just returned from India where I was visiting my family (this was the truth and I regretted the words as soon as they escaped my mouth). I knew what would happen next. I knew it in my gut, in my bones because it has happened countless times before – and with almost laser like precision you dove in. “Does your family know you are gay?” The words came out of your mouth so effortlessly, like the hooks of a harpoon trying to tear into my flesh to see if I really bled underneath. You stared at me with fevered eyes waiting for a response that would satiate your hunger for my vulnerability. I stood there for a moment, breathing my anger inwards, becoming smaller as to not scare you as to not make you feel threatened by my presence. It is all too familiar tension, the knowledge that my anger in these moments will almost certainly mean my own destruction. The knowledge that as a white woman you will be protected, understood, sympathized and I will almost certainly always be the aggressor.
“That’s a really personal question to ask someone in the coat check line of Berghain”, I tried to say calmly. You stood there shocked, left speechless. I stayed silent because I couldn’t bother to dissect all the assumptions that laid beneath your question about my sexual identity, about my relationship to my family, about my gender. All I could do is stare at you and wait. Wait for you to swallow your words and apologize, say that wasn’t what you meant, that it was an accident. But I have had these accidents before, they are like drunken abusers who hit you time and time again telling you that they didn’t mean it. It was the alcohol, they say, but then they just keep drinking. You see, what you really meant by “Does your family know you are gay?”, is: Can I devour your vulnerability? Can I use the water in your eyes to lubricate my own sense of powerlessness in a world where the only people I can step on and over are people of colour? You see, the emptiness of your question is premised in the emptiness that whiteness is the only pathway to humanity. You already buy into the ideology that to be out and open is the only true liberation a queer person can have, not realizing I have met warriors for justice who have never once put on your rainbow flag. You want me to bask and be thankful of all the freedoms I have in the west and never once ever think of all that was taken away when your European ancestors colonized mine. And ultimately, you never once have to think about how I see this place as a prison and you the guard.
What comes with your privilege as a white woman is your entitlement to feel protected. To assume that somehow our liberations have been intertwined because you too have been oppressed. But you never have too look at what protects you, the veil that society has placed around you that now frames your victimization as excuse to swallow the words of others then use them as your own. I am not your object to be dissected nor a character in a novel you just read. My narrative is far more complex than what you can decipher from your narrow point of view. You came up to me at the coat check line of Berghain to scratch my skin to see if I bled, what you didn’t realize is that my armour can never come off.