I have lived in extremely white-dominated environments for the majority of my life and as a child, whilst trying to make sense of the world, I remember vividly having this exact thought process:

I am a woman.

I am unlucky because men have more power than women.

I am not white.

I am so unlucky because white people have more power than people of colour.

I am a woman of colour, therefore

I am the unluckiest of the unlucky.

My young mind was certainly not capable of being proud of who I was back then. I only felt unlucky, wishing that one day life could be easier for me. Wishing it could be different, if only I were different too.

If I were at least a white girl, it would be so much easier.

Today, I regret ever possessing those thoughts. Yet I do not blame my younger self, for those thoughts were merely part of a survival method. As the years went by and I began to comprehend the intricacies of the world more and more, I became even more acutely aware of how ‘unlucky’ my condition truly was. Only I was not wishing I were different; I just wished the system were. Today, I have become someone who is not ashamed nor fearful of who they are. Yet I cannot ignore the disadvantages I face on a daily basis in comparison to my male and/or white peers. The experiences that women of colour share are undoubtedly uncharted to many. Men of colour cannot comprehend because they too are complicit in perpetuating misogyny. Similarly, white women cannot even fathom understanding our experiences since they also belong to the root of racial discrimination. Being at Oxford, I find it especially alienating being who I am. I often feel as if my identity is merely treated as ‘diversity’ and what an invalidating feeling it is, having to try a thousand times harder than others in order to be seen and to be heard, only for the extra effort to go unnoticed each and every time.

Even in a society and community as advanced as ours, I cannot help but notice how much more arduous life is as a woman of colour. Discussions about feminism with my white peers always feel so unjust and insufficient to me, as a little voice in the back of my mind keeps whispering to them: “at least you are white”. Yet I am aware this mentality can be deceitful and even harmful; there is no necessity to compare struggles and inequalities. At the same time, however, there is such an impossibility for us women of colour to raise the subject of ‘race’ in these conversations. At least not without being labelled as those who “always make it about race”. Nonetheless, it is an unquestionably difficult thing to do, to acknowledge that your white friends (especially those who are not men) will simply not understand those aspects of your life that are dictated by your racial identity. You could sit down with them for hours and hours and attempt to untangle your experience as a WOC, and it would simply not change a thing, you will feel neither understood nor validated. To accept that this is the reality and that it is not one you could alter, or one you should try to, is devastating.

Yet it always makes me feel out of place to hear about women’s issues when they blatantly ignore those that primarily affect women of colour. Not having the liberty to discuss them with white women is not much more different than men not caring about women’s problems in general.

The few times I have attempted to carry such conversations with my white friends and peers, I was always given one of two reactions: pity or indifference. I still find it difficult to decide which one is worse than the other. How can you, as a white person, listen to your POC friends without being condescending or invalidating? I should not have to tell you how. What I mean by pity, however, is not your friends simply exercising empathy towards you. What I am referring to is that sense of white guilt that all of a sudden gets stuck in their throat, and all they feel is sorry for you without truly acknowledging your struggle and the trauma that comes with it; simply feeling pity you had such a hard life. Then, over time, I have noticed this turn into indifference. A dangerous kind of apathy and silence whenever I ‘accidentally’ mention anything related to racial issues. An awkward smile. An ignored text-message. Silence.

Why is it so uncomfortable for white women to listen to women of colour talk about their experiences? Why are we so often met with an unresponsive audience, a passive comment or even a change of subject? There is discomfort in hearing about any form of injustice and hatred, but it is through sharing and active listening that we can educate each other on matters that do not necessarily affect us directly. In the same way we all wish men educated themselves on feminism and women’s issues, why can we, women of colour, not expect the same from white women? Only because their discrimination terminates with their gender, does not mean that the rest of us are also untouched by other facets of misogyny. Our female condition occupies so many other layers in society, so many deeper battles, generational trauma and obstacles that are idiosyncratic to us only. Being a woman and being a person of colour are obviously not mutually exclusive, and neither are the disadvantages that come from each one of them. Womanhood, just like everything else in this world, preserves deeply embedded social hierarchies and disparities. One cannot claim to be fighting for equality if one does not acknowledge and employ their own privilege within these systems, properly.

Dear white women,

If you ever feel invisible, consider what it is to be a woman of colour.