White People Don’t Get to Define Racism

4 mins read

By Kassel Franco Garibay

Not for the first time, this week I had a white straight man try to define my experience as a Mexican living in the United States for me. Over the last year and a half, I have had men make assumptions about what it is like to be a young Mexican woman studying abroad in the U.S. While some assumptions are pretty safe to make (“You must miss the food so much!”), there are some that are not only distasteful and ignorant but insulting as well (“You must get laid a lot, you know… everyone loves a Latina.”).

I am tired of white people thinking they somehow possess an overarching understanding of my feelings and experiences, of the experiences of other Latinxs, black people, or any other racial minority. I am tired of white people getting to be the ones that decide what is racist and what is not. I am tired of men getting to be the ones that determine whether their comment is sexist or not. I am tired of straight people defining homophobia.

We live in a time where there seems to be a war against political correctness. It is not rare to hear someone make an inappropriate joke and then play the victim when their audience gets upset. “Don’t be so sensitive,” people have told me after I didn’t laugh at a joke whose punchline involved the word ‘wetback.’ When people advocate to stop using the n-word or when people insist that sexist jokes actually promote violence against women, they are called fragile snowflakes. Suddenly it is our fault that there is an issue because we have feelings. It is never the oppressor’s fault when they upset us.

I understand why a white straight man would have a hard time understanding my reasons to feel unsafe, angry and vulnerable living in the United States. They must have never been followed around in a supermarket like I have; the employees always expecting the brown girl to take something without paying for it. They must have never had someone assume they are in the country illegally. “This emotional disconnect is the conclusion of living a life oblivious to the fact that their skin colour is the norm and all others deviate from it,” writes the British journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge in her article ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race.’ “They truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin colour can and should be universal.”

However, while I do understand where they are coming from, I also think it is unacceptable to continue to allow white people to get away with this. I think it is time I stop apologizing when I am angry about someone shooting a racist comment at me even though they did not mean to hurt me. I think it is time we all step up and tell white people that no, they do not get to minimize our experience and feelings, they do not get to define racism and they do not get to determine whether we are allowed to be offended by it or not.


Kassel is a sophomore Women & Gender Studies and International Relations double major.

Graphic by Caroline Polich.

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