More Than Just a White Girl

28 Aug

I had a really hurtful incident happen to me Saturday. I process things and organize my thoughts best when I write them down, so I decided to write about it. I was unsure about whether or not I wanted to publish this, but a friend of mine told me that I write about hard things well and it is an important topic, so I have decided to share it.

One of my closest Ethiopian friends sent me this text message Saturday evening:

“Sorry Kyla, I can’t see you anymore because I don’t want to hang out with white girls for next eight months.”

My heart jumped to my throat and I immediately started to cry. For those of you that know me personally, you know that I do not cry often or easily, but I just couldn’t even process those words when I read them.

When living abroad it can be hard to find new friends, especially friends with whom you can be completely comfortable. This is especially true since sometimes there is the opposite of this text message – there are some who befriend foreigners because of perceived status. But I truly thought that I had found a good, genuine friend who liked me for me. We would spend lots of time together, he understood my sense of humour and he would even call me for support when he was having troubles in his personal life.

I am flawed, but I do think that I am a good person and a good friend – and I am DEFINITELY more than my skin colour or my gender. I am more than just a “white girl” and like everyone else, I have a dynamic and unique personality. There are definitely reasons why some people won’t like me. Don’t like me because I’m super sarcastic, or because you hate my politics, or because I tend to talk a lot and sometimes overshare; I’m a big girl  woman and I can handle (and even expect) that.

But I try very hard to educate myself about issues of gender, race, and other types of discrimination, and try even harder to only judge people on their ideas, their actions and the way they treat others. To have someone I care about tell me they don’t want to hang out with me anymore because I am a “white girl” was one of the most hurtful things anyone has ever said.

I am hesitant to call it racism, but I don’t know what else to call it. I am a firm believer in not blaming the oppressed for their oppression (e.g. not blaming women for a system of patriarchy), but the truth is that I personally experience prejudice every day here for being a “white girl.” Sometimes it works in my favour (such as security not being suspicious of me in the supermarket) and sometimes it makes my life more difficult (such as being yelled at on the streets and being given unfair prices). But these are all things I take in stride from strangers that only know me as a “white girl.” My friend knew my personality, my goals, my humour and my secrets, yet still chose to exclude me from his life because I am a “white girl.” It hurts my heart.

There is a chance that the man that said this to me will read this and I hope he does. After I received that message I asked him to explain but he did not reply. He wouldn’t take any of my calls. But he should know how he made me feel.

I am confident in myself and I know that I am more than what he sees. If he can’t see that then I feel sorry for him because he is missing out on some really great people by excluding all “white girls” from his life.

Forgiveness has been the hardest lesson that my faith has taught me, and I am struggling with it now. The wounds are little too raw for me to forgive right now, but I will forgive him. I will forgive him and I hope he finds the strength to apologize to me and to overcome his prejudice.

17 Responses to “More Than Just a White Girl”

  1. yeasaw at 5:51 am #

    Sorry Kayla for your kind of experience. I am an Ethiopian and to be frank with you there are a lot of ill bigoted expats here working in these country. For the past few weeks, I had read all the negativity that had been written on Ethiopia and its people and I had felt a sheer disgust to all expats. I even wrote blogs that could potentially hurt souls that are truly positive. Honestly, reading your email made me realized and again remember about all the optimist expats living and working here. I remembered my expat friends and how we used to joke and the open criticism on each others country, politics, development aid, laughter and at the end with nothing to be held in our heart. Your blog made me realize how negative minded people can affect us in a negative way. You are one bold girl, and if your friend really does not wish to be with “White People” any more, well its his/her loss and let them submerge in the small world that they had been living in so far. You just made me remember that as there are people who are as pessimistic and with a negative vibe all around, I am not just referring to expats, but include friends, and people that you know to your list…there are also amazing people out there. So Question remains, why would you want to waste your time with such kinds of people? If its the sense of rejection that you are hating most…well, what ever reason it is, its good news you are away from such a person. Why would I give a da** if such kind of person didnt want me, they really dont matter to you nor to this world. Girl, go out there, with a real people and have a beer and laugh about it! It really is funny when you think about it. I would recommend MKs to get a good draft beer, music and atmosphere…that is if you are still in Addis. Cheers

    • kylamckee at 8:02 am #

      Hey, thanks for the comment! First, I have seen some of the negative comments – particularly from a few heated discussions on the Facebook group What’s Happening Addis. People say horrible things on the Internet when they feel like they can be anonymous. I chose to stay out of such discussions, because even if they start out respectful and/or intellectual, they often degrade to personal insults.

      Second, I’m glad that I have been able to remind you that not all expats are the same! 🙂 Everyone needs to remember it goes both ways. Assumptions are dangerous.

      I am lucky enough to have many really cool friends here, and a decent social life if I do say so myself 😛 I have been to MKs a few times and have other places my friends and I enjoy as well. Maybe I’ll run into you one of these days!

      Thanks again for the thoughtful comment.

  2. Lorna at 9:01 am #

    We are all very proud of you, your work, and your dedication to helping others. Don’t let the words of one individual out-weigh the support of those of us who truly appreciate YOU.
    “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. ”I’ve heard this quote many times. It’s probably one of Nietzsche’s most memorable quotes – it aptly reflects the human condition, and it motivates, very much so.

  3. typeaunhinged at 10:16 pm #

    Hi Kyla,

    I’m a current blogger living and working in Thailand so I was searching through wordpress for people doing the same. I just happened to stumble upon your post, a post that hits so many points of difficulties faced by those living abroad. I know what it’s like to be discriminated against in all ways you described and I know how difficult it is to find a friend.

    I do hope for a re-connection with your friend. I also hope that something even better will come from it – a discussion about what happened. I’m a firm believer in open communication and the walls that it breaks down both socially and, of course, in relationships.

    I realize it may be too early to be thinking about such positive things that could result from such a disappointing text. I am, however, hoping for the best for you.

    Best of Luck,
    A fellow blogger

    • kylamckee at 7:57 am #

      Thanks for the comment! Unfortunately there hasn’t been a re-connection yet, but I am still hopeful. In the meantime, I am focusing on my other friendships and enjoying my stay 🙂

  4. marnie rice at 8:06 am #

    Kyla- So sorry that happened to you. I hope you apologizes after thinking about it. And everything you and you mom say in your is so right– You are always such a good friend and good person.
    Aunt Marnie

  5. Joy at 12:20 pm #

    Hi Kyla, I am really sorry this happened to you. It is very hurtful when your appearance alone is used against you. I just wanted to spread some light/theorize on what might be going on on his end. It seems like someone who was such a good friend of yours wouldn’t do this out of the blue without some external forces pushing him to. As a woman of colour myself, I have felt the pressures of finding myself with mostly-white friends (and romantic relationship prospects) and one of my sisters always being overly concerned about it. Its not that she thinks ill of people who are white, it’s just that she would always allude to whether black people “weren’t good enough for me,” or if I had lost touch with my culture. In this way, she would criticize my interactions, even my style and choice of music or books. One night I was getting ready for my boyfriend (who is white) to come over and had decided to straighten my hair (which I only do about twice a year when I feel like it). She saw me and immediately asked if I was doing it because my boyfriend was visiting. I was so angry. This type of badgering by people of your own culture wears down on you, and makes you wonder if you should just give up and only date someone of your ethnicity. Maybe that would to prove to them that you aren’t falling for a societal ideal that specifically devalues your own culture and beauty. Now my older sister has experienced more racism than me, so I think this is really just a defense mechanism for her. I would even get remarks from the few black boys that I knew. I haven’t let anyone sway me from my choice of friends or partners for the sake of respecting my culture. Living in a city where seeing another black person was a huge surprise also didn’t offer me the opportunity to make diverse friends anyways. Its gets so frustrating when you are constantly getting pressure from people of your own ethnicity (who want to make sure you appreciate where you come from), and people outside of it (who might not have had the support on their end to feel like they can venture out and still find suitable friends and partners). Bringing this back to your friend, he lives in a place where the population is predominantly black. His family and friends might be thinking the same things as my sister, and to a much more heightened degree. They might pester him on why he isn’t hanging out with the many “good black girls” around who would possibly make for an approved match later on. They might ask if his motives of hanging out with you are for a perceived elevation in status. Now, if this is the case, I really do wish he could have been strong enough to be firm about the relationships he is in, because we are all people, and colour shouldn’t matter. I don’t even know him and felt disappointed (and embarrassed) when I saw your post. You have had a successful friendship, and he should defend it. I highly doubt that his text was prompted by any fault of yours, it was the fault of the society we have all been born into. I really do hope that he rethinks his decision and can reconnect with you (because it was his decision, regardless of outside pressure – hopefully there wasn’t anything extreme like threats being given). You completely have the right to be hurt, and angry, like anyone who has been thrown aside for their colour. I just wanted to point out what might be occuring that could have prompted his disconnection from you.

    • kylamckee at 2:06 am #

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment Joy. I’m sorry for what you have experienced, and I have definitely seen some of my other friends experience similar challenges (in Canada, Botswana and here in Ethiopia). What you have explained could definitely have played into thinking, although our friend group here tends to be a very diverse mix of Ethiopians and foreigners. I do hope that we can reconnect at some point and that he feels comfortable enough with me to explain his thoughts.

      Thank you again for sharing your experiences! I think that it is so important to have open, honest and respectful dialogues about these issues, because even in a country like Canada where we like to think racial prejudice is in the past, it’s clear that it is not.

  6. Wakgotla II Mogotsi at 11:47 am #

    A rather disapointing text from your friend. I wish he come over say something and turns out it was a joke/prank or something along that line. Atleast he should have explained beyond not wanting to hang out because you are white. That’s insensitive to the core. As a black man with white friends (yourself included) I feel implicated by your friend’s attitude. Feel for you sis.

    • kylamckee at 1:58 am #

      Thanks for the support bro, I’ll definitely keep you in the loop. But at the end of the day, I deserve friends like you 🙂

  7. Chris at 11:17 am #

    Thought provoking post, thanks. I imagine this has nothing to do with your personality, and suspect it might be affected by the perceptions of people around him. Ethiopia is a proud and conservative place, which makes it so fascinating and unique as well as often frustrating. People are often very influenced by the perceptions of those around them, which is also beautiful and crazy in equal measure. I find it sad when I see people trying to have relationships with people based on their skin colour rather than their personality, and perhaps some people who care for or influence him have jumped to this conclusion, perhaps they have some misplaced sense of pride in Habesha needing only Habesha friends, which is just insecurity. Forgive him, give him a moment, he’s just having a moment where he can’t see the wood for the trees.

    • kylamckee at 1:57 am #

      Thank you for your thoughts Chris. I really do hope to reconnect with him at some point and get some clarity behind his reasoning, because you are right – I’m sure there is a lot more going on in his head. Thanks for the support!

  8. I’m sorry you’ve lost a good friend, that really sucks. I think you’re right to be hesitant to call it racism (because of the systemic and institutionalized aspects required for racism), but it is certainly racial prejudice. Either way, it’s unfortunate. I hope you get the explanation you need, and that it gives you a helpful sense of closure.

    • kylamckee at 11:20 am #

      Thanks for the support Veronica! And you’re right, I think that racial prejudice is a good term for it.

  9. Sharyn at 10:38 am #

    So sorry to read this, Kyla. It would be helpful if he responds to you to let you know his reasons. Perhaps he is being pressured by someone who is threatened by his friendship with you. You are a good friend and a good person. You are loved!

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