“You’re not English!”

It’s been a little quiet here because I’ve been plagued with some financial distress lately so am putting all – and I mean ALL – my efforts into job-hunting. While doing a trial shift at one workplace yesterday a customer looked straight at me and said, “You English?”

My heart sank. Not here, not while I’m trying to remain neutral and impress people… “Yes.”

He shook his head. “I don’t think so. English people don’t have that face.”

“I’m English,” I said, big smile on my face to keep the rage back, “I was born here.”

“Well,” he said, clearly humouring me, “It’s a very nice face.”

My co-worker’s reaction: “Got chatted up on your first day!”
My boyfriend’s reaction: “Oh… right. What an idiot.”

Both are white. My boyfriend tries, and he listens, but he doesn’t understand because he’s never experienced it. I don’t blame him for that, just as I don’t blame my white co-worker for missing the point entirely, although I’m not too happy that when I told her why I was annoyed she dismissed it in a single phrase: “That’s not what he was saying!”

I get that a lot. “You’re overreacting!” “You misunderstood!” “You should be flattered!” These are the times when I feel the most isolated, the most frustrated. And I couldn’t say a thing, because I was trying to make a good impression and had, not ten minutes before, been promoting my own skills of communication and diplomacy to the boss. I’m fortunate not to be harmed more by racism and other types of discrimination, and I understand that, but it’s a continuous slow burn of, essentially, “Your feelings don’t matter.”

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Filed under ethnicity: other, the personal is political

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