I am, I confess, a little too attached to my smartphone, tablet, and social media accounts. The endless stream of cat videos, dog ratings, and stupid human tricks is highly entertaining, but I also take in and share a lot of serious, thought-provoking materials.
Over Christmas I began to see a lot of people posting a version of an “anti-racism” meme that has been making the rounds for a few years. It includes two images: one with whole brown and white eggs in the shell; the other with those eggs broken into a frying pan. The message is simple: we may look different on the outside, but inside, we are all the same.
This meme has been widely celebrated across social media for (variously) explaining, fixing, or ending racism. I don’t think I would ever have agreed with these simplistic analyses, but I do think that not so many years ago I might have thought the egg meme to be helpful in addressing racism. That’s not how I see it now.
What accounts for that shift? Experience perhaps. I changed jobs a few years ago, and now work very closely on a daily basis with people of colour in a way I never have before. I expect that has had some impact, and I want to acknowledge it. But I don’t want to suggest that working or hanging out with people who have a different racial background from you is going to explain, fix, or end racism. For most of us, it doesn’t. Most of us continue to believe we are all just eggs, happily frying away together in a skillet.
The egg meme disturbs me because it is, I have come to understand, a lie. Break us open and we are not all the same inside. The person I am — the insides of my egg, so to say — have been formed by my past: poor White people who came to Newfoundland beginning in the 1700s and had hard lives but eventually prospered in the colonial economy at the expense of Indigenous people, finding a comfortable and privileged place in the social hierarchy. My colleagues and friends who are Black, Asian, Latinx, or Indigenous all have their own histories, as individuals and as peoples. Their insides — the people they are — are not the same as mine, or each other’s.
Their lives are built on wildly different experiences of the same historical forces that define who I am. And they continue to carry that differently within them, along with the way we, as White people, perceive and relate to them. To assume that we are all the same inside doesn’t bring us closer; it simply erases people of colour. It makes White people forget the racism that has been part of our socialization for centuries, and that we continue to benefit from it. And so it is a tremendous act of presumption and privilege to assume that we are “all the same inside.”
I’m all for social media. But when it comes to something as important as how we relate to each other as human beings, how we address racism, let’s get beyond the cute videos and memes. It’s possible to have to real conversation about this. Some of us just need to put the frying pan — and our privilege — back in the cupboard in order to let it happen.
— Sara Stratton is a member of The United Church of Canada’s White Privilege working group. These are her own opinions.