Content warning: discussion about racism and being racist as a white person
I lived in my childhood home for fifteen years and about nine-or-so months. I didn’t move very far, only to the next town, but I did move. And I moved again. After gradually moving from a village to a town to a city and growing up half online and half in Finland (as nearly everyone my age there) the move to London wasn’t a big deal.
People have asked me how it felt and how different it must be. I never quite got that. London felt a lot more comfortable than the centre of the town where I grew up. There were so many people, all looking so very different, that you could easily blend in the crowd, and I loved that and still do.
But then some of my relatives came to visit me in my Brixton flat.
They were shocked by the amount of black people in my area. As they loudly expressed their opinions as we walked down the path to the tube station I thanked deities they were speaking Finnish, a relatively niche language. At the same time I was grossed out and thought highly of myself.
But I know now, and probably also then, that I wasn’t much better when I first moved here. Maybe that’s why I was so anxious hearing it.
On my first bus ride from the Brixton tube to the flat I’d rented I felt I was sticking out. I was in a new place and for the first time in my life I was a minority in that particular bus. I was surprised how few of the people were white.
While I didn’t comment or think negatively of it, I was still surprised, and I’ve only realised later how much people in places like Finland hold and feed prejudices against people of colour. It often goes invisible – no one in my childhood home “was openly racist”, but it was a racist environment, which I didn’t know. I even grew up to be a political teenager who thought he was Absolutely Not Racist. My mum had taught me values of tolerance and open-mindedness.
But 16-year-old Julius would’ve felt strange in that Brixton neighbourhood.
Being white and coming from a very white part of a very white country, I was terrified of people of colour. I was terrified of what they thought of me. Terrified of making friends because maybe I was racist and a terrible person. But the truth was that they would’ve been right. Not only did I in my head differentiate POC from white people but as a white person the society around me holds me in a place of privilege over people of colour in similar positions.
And this is why every white person should question themselves, especially if you think you’re not racist. Especially if you think that but looking at your relationships you only hang out with white people. Because you might be more racist than you want to admit to yourself. And that’s supposed to be uncomfortable. It’s supposed to be painful and disgusting and make you feel a whole bunch of other negative things. That’s improvement, and it has to result in action.
Beverage of choice: coffee with oat milk, but name’s a name