Reading and Responding to the Margins 

I write a lot about race, racism, and whiteness. And without fail, I’ll hear from a white person responding to my work with:

I get what you’re saying, but [lengthy whitesplaining].

Or

Well, actually, [lengthy quibble about the accuracy or inaccuracy of one statement I made among many].

It’s funny because it’s like these folks are demonstrating my point for me. I write about the often subtle nature of white supremacy and then a bunch of white people fill my comments and Twitter notifications with real-life examples. They don’t even realize they’re doing it. And so the cycle continues. 

These responses, no matter how well-intentioned, are a form of defensiveness and derailing–a means of shying away from dealing with the true nature of what has been written. Rather than accept my experiences as a black woman for what they are and processing their feelings accordingly, these folks retreat to petty debates about word choice or experiential accuracy. (This last even more so in the age of “alternative facts.” This false dichotomy of facts versus non-facts represents a very colonized way of knowing. That’s not to advocate for “alternative facts” or lies at all, but to say that there are other traditional ways of knowing and embodied experience that go beyond what is and is not a fact. Alas, that’s a post for another day.) 

These comments get framed as friendly debate and discussion but are actually active examples of white supremacy refusing to be in any way affected by the racialized reality of one of the oppressed. 

It’s a natural reaction. And it goes beyond discussions of race. I myself have read things by queer folks, native folks, trans folks, disabled folks, working class folks, and reacted in this very same way. I have to fight the urge to reach out to them with my response because I realize it doesn’t matter. I, in my position of privilege, get to see and hear my perspectives and realities all the time, everywhere. They, in their marginalized identity, have to fight for the right to express their truth and speak their reality without reprisal. My defensive maneuvers are not necessary and are certainly not welcome. 

Despite my hurt privileged feelings, it is not silencing for them to tell me to shut up and go away. The fact that I feel the need to ‘splain my privilege all over them is the true silencing of oppression. 

Next time you read something by someone “at the margins” and feel the need to respond with a question, comment, or correction, ask yourself these three simple questions first:

  1. What is it I want to say about what I’ve read?
  2. Why do I feel this way about what I’ve read?
  3. Why is it important for this marginalized person to hear my reaction?

Be honest in your answers. And even then, sit with your reaction for a while. Give it space and time to breathe. Re-reflect and allow yourself to form a new response. You just may learn something. 

Everything But…Racism

I don’t use racial slurs or burn crosses on people’s lawns so I can’t be racist…I have black friends so I can’t be racist…I work with a lot of people of color and I respect them so I can’t be racist…I’m not a neo-Nazi so I can’t be racist…I have liberal politics so I can’t be racist.

For as long as there has been time, white people have been fighting the notion that they are racist. For them, it is like the N-word, the C-word, and the B-word all rolled into one. (If only those words didn’t exist and we didn’t know which slurs they referred to.) It is their kryptonite. It is the moment when all communication on issues of race break down. It is the sledgehammer that shreds their delicate #whitefragility to dust in a shower of #whitetears.

And all this is sheer and utter nonsense.

Racism is everywhere. It is the norm. It is the foundation upon which every white colonializing country was built. It doesn’t matter if you’re not American, not Southern, not mean, not old, not conservative. Racism is the fertile soil upon which white supremacy grows. And white supremacy is like ivy. It is everywhere, it is hard to uproot, and it grows fast.

161493870_536f9d4131_z

“Ivy” by Jordan on Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

White people are so intent on treating racism like it’s an anomaly, a disease, rather than realizing that racism is the default. White people, by virtue of their race privilege, are racist. All of them. Everyone. It is how white privilege exists and continues to persist. It is a painful reality, I know, but a reality nonetheless.

It’s also important to note that this ubiquity and inevitability of racism exists on both the systemic and individual level. Yes, we live in a society beset by systemic racism. But that doesn’t absolve individuals of the role they play in and the benefits they enjoy from their own individual racism. Racism is both macro and micro; it’s all over the big picture and in every tiny detail, too.

The only way we will ever truly dismantle white supremacy and dig up the manure of racism in which it grows is if we all face this truth: Racism is the foundational default and all white people are guilty of it. There’s no getting around it.

Antiracist work has to begin with this acknowledgement. Antiracist work will inevitably fail without this realization. Anything else is just an adolescent “everything but…” approach to racism:

I’m not racist because I do everything but use racial slurs…I’m not racist because I do everything but become a card-carrying member of the KKK…I’m not racist because I do everything but actively hate all people of color.

White folks, racism is not like justifying your virginity after a steamy summer at Bible camp. You don’t get to do “everything but” and remain “intact.” Whatever line you think there is, you’ve already crossed it. I guarantee it.

So, now, let’s face facts and get to work. Granted, it may take you awhile. For many of you, this post feels harsh and divisive and mean and insulting and untrue. That’s okay. That’s just your #whitefragility acting up. Go ahead, take a moment to yourself or with some fellow white people, and cry those #whitetears. (Just don’t burden people of color with them; we’ve got better things to do.)

And when you’re really ready to be honest and do this work, come on back. It’d be great to have you as a true antiracist ally.