As people of colour, we’re having all sorts of feelings about the war in Ukraine and it’s time to unpack that.
We don’t know about you, but we are in desperate need of a word for the following two feelings happening at the exact same time:
The feeling of deep empathy and heartbreak as a racialized person watching what is happening to the people of Ukraine;
The soul-crushing devastation at how visible this crisis has made the feeling we’ve always had deep inside: that the international community always had the ability to rally and mobilize around a humanitarian crisis, but consistently choose not to when they affected communities of colour.
It is devastating, frustrating and exhausting to see that we’ve had the language and power to call out oppression and war crimes, impose sanctions and demand change this whole damn time, but that the world’s most powerful were only willing to act on it when it affects white people.
It means all this time when we were told there wasn’t the money, that sanctions would affect our economy, when we begged for more refugees to be brought here, when we begged for less red tape in resettling refugees, that every single word our leaders said were excuses.
It turns out, there was always the ability; there just wasn’t the interest.
Nevermind that these countries of colour that are so often ignored or sent the equivalent of a ‘thoughts and prayers’ global gesture are often the very same countries that housed proxy wars for powerful white nations. They are the same countries that were colonized, stripped of resources, and systemically destabilized before white colonizers left.
So much of what we see happening in these countries today can directly be tied back to either colonial or imperial interference by Western/white countries.
And yet, we’ve never seen an international response that is even somewhat similar to the response Ukraine is getting, in countries that are predominantly racialized.
Why don’t we care the same way when war impacts the human rights of the people of Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Haiti, Tamil Eelam, Cuba, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Venezuela, Sudan, Bolivia, Algeria, Ecuador, Yugoslavia, Honduras, Guatemala, etc.,
This isn’t easy to admit and it’s a feeling that brings up embarrassment/guilt, but we’re kind of jealous.
We’re jealous of the attention, the support, the aid, the solidarity, the clear global condemnation of a violent oppressor, the unified stance on sanctions, the media coverage, the commitment to resettling refugees, that the war in Ukraine is getting.
We’re embarrassed at feeling jealous, but jealousy is rooted in wanting something you don’t have so we’re trying not to fault ourselves for wanting something that hasn’t been historically afforded to us and our communities.
Especially when what we want isn’t just a privilege: it’s the basic principles of equality and safety as mandated by the United Nations.
Shouldn’t human rights always be upheld, regardless of your geographic location or the pigment on your skin?
Don’t get us wrong; we weren’t born yesterday; we’re painfully aware of the white supremacy in our world, but this moment, like the convoy, is such a visible and tangible reminder of how far-reaching white privilege really is.
To be clear, we’re not surprised. It’s just weird to have irrefutable proof of the systemic nature of white supremacy in our present-day world while receiving no acknowledgement from leaders and no real discourse in our media.
We don’t know about other racialized folk, but those of us from the BIPOC community on the project have been oscillating between this numbed feeling of anger and sadness. We’re tired all the time, many of us have brain fog which makes it hard to concentrate. Many of us feel like our souls are carrying this heaviness that we quite honestly don’t think most white folk could ever understand.
So while we still don’t have a word for this combination of feelings, we hope you don’t mind us taking the time to talk about this.
To those of you who are from a racialized community that, like us, have been carrying this awkward combination of feelings around while simultaneously experiencing some sort of intergenerational and/or personal trauma response to the heartbreaking footage coming out of Ukraine — we hope this post gives you the language to talk about it and lets you know you aren’t alone.
We also hope that this is a reminder for racialized folk about why solidarity between BIPOC communities (and other marginalized folks) is essential to the justice and equity we individually seek. Solidarity against white supremacy means seeing each other’s problems as our own and showing up.
Bc the world has already shown us, if not us, then who?