Amid the coverage of the #baltimoreuprising, I had a really strange thing happen to me. I spent a lot of my time
screaming at talking to white people when the news of the riots broke. Much of my conversation was spent defending the rioters, and their reaction to the consistent systemic oppression that people of color are facing across the country. Most of the people in the conversation are white. All of the people arguing against me are white. In fact, in the entire 48 hours and well over 100 FB notifications I got on the topic, not once did I see a person of color saying “well gosh, I just don’t understand why these savages, animals, people are burning down their own neighborhood”. Interestingly enough, I saw that comment many times, from many different white people.
Interestingly enough I saw that comment quite a lot from some of my more liberal minded friends.
In addition to the comments fighting with my friends who believe in equality, but couldn’t understand the riots, I had a friend private message me the following.
I was immediately grateful, because I like being praised. Because people like being praised. I was grateful that my friends felt that I was doing good work. I was grateful that a person of color felt that the work I was doing was good rather than harmful. I was thrilled to feel that I was doing something valuable for the people I love.
And then I realized how fucked it was. I was being thanked for doing the bare minimum. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the thank you. I truly did. It’s wonderful to be appreciated. But why was I being appreciated? I was being appreciated for being loud and yelling at other white people, because we live in a society that has made people of color afraid to speak up for themselves. How absurd is that? How ridiculous is that. That even among a number of liberal minded folks and friends, people of color are still afraid to speak up in favor of people who are behaving in a way they agree with. Because white people will no longer see them as a “good” person of color who behaves in a way that is acceptable.
That’s fucked up, and more than a little bit racist.
You’re probably racist.
Stings doesn’t it? We don’t like that word. We don’t like the implications. We don’t like thinking that we’re racist or problematic. Especially not if we’re a person who champions for social justice. NO ONE likes hearing that they’re wrong, or an asshole. No one likes hearing that they’ve hurt someone (Okay, yes, there are probably people who do, but they’re few and far between. #generalizations).
The Google Dictionary defines racist as:
noun: A person who believes that a particular race is superior to another.
adjective: Having or showing the belief that a particular race is superior to another.
Having or showing. Having is easy. “I have a black friend”, “my partner is black”, “I don’t hate black people”, “I don’t see color”, “I don’t think white people are better than black people”. It’s easy to say that you don’t hold a racist belief, and especially in progressive circles, truly believe you do not. Showing is a little harder because of a thing called microaggressions.
Now, Psychology Today defines microaggressions as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership”. We as white people are really good at identifying big racism (KKK- bad, separate but equal-bad, lynching-bad, etc.), but we are often terrible at identifying racism through microaggressions.
I believe, that often we don’t mean to be racist. We don’t mean to hurt people with the things we’re doing. But we are. In addition, we’re only making things worse when we react so strongly to being told that we’re being racist. We throw down attitudes of dismissal, and tell people they’re throwing the “race card”, because white people have the privilege of being able to ignore casual and overt racism that happens on a daily basis. Because instead of taking responsibility for our problematic behavior, we actively dismiss someone who is trying to help us.
In order to wipe out systemic forms of oppression, majorities need to stop taking criticism personally. We as people need to acknowledge that everyone fucks up, and everyone holds biases and oppressive behaviors of their own. The only way to fix things is to acknowledge that we are imperfect, and work at doing better.
If someone tells you that you’re being racist, don’t react by saying “I’m not racist, and here are reasons why”. Instead, try to learn. Ask what you did that was racist, and then ask how you can do better in the future and do so. To not at least attempt to do better when being called out is admitting that not only are you lazy, you are also part of the big bad -ism that you’re reacting to. If someone tells you that saying you’re colorblind is racist, and then proceeds to give you reasons why, ignoring them tells them that you could not care less about the lived experience of people who deal with racism on the daily.
If someone tells you that you were offensive, you tell them you are so sorry for having offended, and then ask them how you can do better in the future. It’s exhausting being a person who is constantly fighting against oppression. It’s exhausting to always be fighting. It’s exhausting to always be educating and talking about this one thing that people (even those who mean well), don’t understand. If someone is taking the time and energy to reach out to you and help you be a better person instead of just letting you dig a hole for yourself, you may want to say thank you, and thank them for educating. If they don’t decide to be your educator that day, maybe go online and look up why what you did was racist and learn from it. Don’t be offended that someone called you out on your bad behavior, be grateful that they’re taking the time and energy to educate you on how to be a better human being.
-The Frisky Fairy