This is a wasp (Vespula vulgaris):
Wasps can sting. What do you usually do if you see one? Run away? Swat at it with a rolled up magazine? Panic? But what are the chances of the wasp actually stinging you? Quite low, unless it perceives you as a threat. But still, many of us are afraid and our first instinct is to remove ourselves from the situation or remove the wasp, generally by squishing it by some means.
Ok, now what about this creature?:
It has black and yellow stripes. It looks kind of scary. Do you react in the same way? Many people do. We make assumptions. We see black and yellow and assume this is a scary insect that will sting us given half a chance. But this is a hoverfly. It doesn’t have a sting. It can’t harm you in any way.
Our conditioning has taught us that black and yellow stripes are bad. We don’t look closer and get to know the insect, we just react with fear because we have come to believe in this stereotype. We may not be aware of what we’re doing, we just react.
But if we want to enjoy being outside among nature, we need to learn that our conditioning has got it wrong. Not all black and yellow insects are bad. Even the ones we can categorise as bad in some way (stings) are actually kind of amazing. Wasps eat things like aphids and caterpillars – so if you’re a gardener they can be pretty helpful. They are also pollinators, like bees. They are capable of building amazing architectural nests too. And most of the time, they have no impulse to harm us.
So can you get over your fear and look a little closer? Learn a little about those black and yellow buzzing creatures?
Insects that don’t have black and yellow stripes are lucky. They didn’t do anything special, they were just born that way.
Think about a butterfly:
Not many people are afraid of butterflies. Imagine one landing on your hand. Imagine how you’d feel awe and wonder, looking at its beautiful wings.
Just by being born a butterfly (well, technically born a caterpillar if you’re being picky), this insect can go around seeking nectar, flying around, and nobody looks at it funny. Nobody runs away screaming, nobody tries to swat it and squish it. It didn’t do anything to deserve more respect, it was just born a butterfly.
I am a white person. I am a butterfly. I don’t think I’m better than anyone, I don’t think I’m prettier, I don’t think I’m more worthy of your respect or interest. I’m not going around telling people not to trust black & yellow insects, I’m not treating black & yellow insects badly, I’m not encouraging humans to run away or squash them. But, by being born a butterfly, I have privilege. Butterfly privilege. White privilege. And what I am learning is that despite my knowledge that colour doesn’t make one insect or human better than another, I am still privileged.
Butterflies have short lives. They get eaten by birds. Their caterpillars are popular food for baby birds. They struggle when it’s windy. Their life is not easy by any means. But they are still privileged. Just by their nature.
It’s hard to realise that you are part of the problem when you feel strongly that colour shouldn’t matter, when you think that all humans are equal, all humans are human. But when you have lived your life as a white person, you have not had to deal with the racism that black people (and other ethnic groups) have dealt with since the day they were born. You are privileged, just by your nature. It’s time to stand up as a white person and say that this is wrong. This is not how it should be. It’s time to not just stand by as black lives are cut short, black lives are laced with fear, black lives are not given the same respect that white lives are.
There are black and yellow insects that sting, and there are black and yellow insects that don’t sting. There are good white people, and there are bad white people. There are good black people, and there are bad black people. In fact there are just people. People who are all a little bit bad, a little bit good, it’s not that clear cut, nobody’s all good or all bad, nobody’s perfect. The point is, nobody should be treated with less respect because of the colour of their skin.
Black lives matter.