Acknowledging my Privilege as a White Traveller

Last week I talked about some of the stereotypes / misconceptions people have about Australia and Australians in general. In the article I touched lightly on racism and even lighter on the invasion of Australia by various white people who claimed to have “discovered” uninhabited land.

My search for other articles along a similar vein, and a conversation in a Facebook blogging group led me to this article by Alyssa of Alyssa Writes. In it she talks about the often racist stereotypes travel writers perpetuate when writing about the Caribbean. I encourage you to read it, but here’s a little snippet.

Why are people still using this word? ‘Exotic’ means very different, strange, or unusual; not living or growing naturally in a particular area; from another part of the world. When the word is used to describe a person (especially women), food, events, or costumes it is racist.

To refer to something as exotic is to Other it — that is, to measure it against ‘Western’ and white standards and mark it as marginal. Using it in writing implies there is one ‘normal’ way of being in the world and what you have encountered does not live up to it.

It also led to reading this article about other forms of racism in travel writing, and in particular the perpetuation of neocolonialism. This idea that white travellers are ground-breaking adventurers who are “discovering” new lands where indigenous people have lived for centuries. Meanwhile they are funneling money into corporations (such as hotel chains, resorts and all-inclusive travel packages) that only serve to widen the divide between the rich and the poor. I urge you to read that article too, but it forced me to think about my own travels and indeed my own blogging.

So, what about me?

Luckily I’ve not used a lot of the language they talk about in the linked articles, such as “exotic”, “far-flung”, “hidden gem” and “off the beaten track”. This is partially because I actually have only written about firmly white parts of Europe so far, and also partially because this has always seemed like lazy writing to me. They’re buzzwords, they’re clickbait. And now I see they’re racist.

I write about sexism and racism in a casual way. I throw it around because I have strong opinions about them but I don’t know if I should be the one to say it. More shamefully, I am afraid of the backlash. I see women abused online every day for existing and having an opinion, and it scares me. I didn’t even share the previously mentioned article where I touched on racism on all of my usual platforms because I was scared of offending people. As my boyfriend said to me when I said that “the only people who are going to be offended by that are racists, and they’re outing themselves as racist by being offended”.

And really the same goes for guys who get upset that The Doctor or Thor are women now. All you’re doing is outing yourself as sexist.

Acknowledging my white privilege

It made me wonder though if the crowded internet space really needs another white voice.

I wondered if I’m helping or just whispering my thoughts and then hiding behind the couch with a pat on the back. I feel like in my day-to-day life I try to acknowledge my privilege as much as I can. And I certainly call out sexism when I see it. I do this in the hopes that it may influence those around me into thinking differently about who they are and their impact on those around them.

But there’s a part of me that hides from it online. Because I’m scared of alienating people who I, for some reason, want to like me or because it’s drilled into our heads to be careful of what you say online because it might come back to your employer.

The Aussies in London Facebook page recently wrote a post commending steps taken by the Australian Labor Party to change the date of Australia Day. For those that don’t know, Australia Day is celebrated on the 26th January every year. It’s a day where we revel in our Australian-ness, get written off and listen to the Hottest 100 countdown. The problem is that the 26th January is Invasion Day. Australians every year, since 1994 when it was declared a national holiday, celebrate the invasion, genocide, rape and decimation of the Indigenous People’s of Australia. I whispered about this on my Instagram this year.

Anyway, I commended AIL for speaking up about Invasion Day and questioned whether they would be moving their Australia Day celebrations to another day in support of their #changethedate stance. As I suspected, they will not be.

They’re another white voice speaking up when it suits them and then immediately backing down when it comes to taking real action. As one commenter replied “classic lefty – take a stance and then back down as soon as the bottom line is threatened.” As a “classic lefty” I have to agree. They’ve backed down because they make a lot of money from their Australia Day events and even now, the backlash they’d face from moving the date of their events would be high.

And how am I any better?

I don’t want to back down, but I struggle to know if I am even necessary. I am white, able-bodied, from middle-class parents, and I have the privilege of living in London and travelling the world (mostly) unencumbered. That doesn’t mean I don’t work (and work hard) for what I have, but the privilege of my birth can’t be ignored. Every advantage I’ve had in this world has been as a result of circumstances of chance.

So who cares what I think? Well, basically, nothing is going to get better while white people like me whisper their disagreement at white people like them and then hide behind the couches while POC are left to fight their own battles.

So in summary. I don’t really care anymore if I lose followers or friends, or contracts, sponsorships or work because of my opinions. I don’t really want to be associated with people or companies like that anyway.

I acknowledge that I have a distinct advantage in this world, and I largely take that for granted. I will endeavour to do better. Because my privilege has to count for something more than just an easier life.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. Get in touch in the comments below or via the social links!

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White privilege is a real thing, and we know that. But travelling while white has it's own privileges

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2 Comments

  1. thenorthleftblog
    November 6, 2017 / 3:36 pm

    I LOVED reading this, Laura. It really reflects my own thoughts. I didn’t know anything about the whole Australia Day thing….that’s really quite shocking to me!
    It’s so encouraging to see people beginning to acknowledge privilege and ask what needs to be done to change things. xx

    • November 7, 2017 / 12:56 pm

      Thank you! Australia Day is an awkward one, especially when my British friends start saying “Happy Australia Day” and I have to either accept it or go into detail about why I don’t celebrate it. Always a fun time! x

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