Hey, white folks! I’ve got an idea: let’s stop shouting “Racist!” at each other just to end a conversation. Let’s honor where each person is in the long, hard, soulful world of becoming anti-racist, meet them where they are, and help them along.
Because it sure isn’t black folks’ job to do that. That’s all on white people.
I was at a meeting full of white folks who were ostensibly there to chip away at white supremacy and address institutional racism. An elderly, white, Southern woman shared something she and a friend were doing … I honestly can’t even remember what it was right now. What I do remember is the response from the young, white discussion facilitator. He interrupted her, voice raised: “That’s not enough! We have to move beyond that. We have to do more!” And he summarily dismissed her–right there. In front of well over 200 people.
That’s not going to work.
There is so much work that needs to be done. It is constantly going to feel like we aren’t doing enough. That’s because we have not done enough. But this isn’t a sprint. Stop for a minute to think how long this struggle has gone on. Racism is pervasive and insidious. It is not going away overnight. But we also can’t be running (potential) allies off because we fancy ourselves so much more “woke” than them that we dismiss them completely.
I fully believe I will spend the rest of my life unspooling my own racism. There is no room for complacency. It’s unnerving to discover something so ugly lying so deeply inside yourself. It’s easier to turn away than address it. Bringing it out into the light so that you can examine and release it takes unwavering courage.
White people need to encourage each other in this work, not shout each other down constantly. Because you cannot, you should not–DO NOT–expect black people to praise, encourage, or emotionally support you in your work to dismantle white supremacy & systemic racism. Do not expect your black friends to offer you a cookie for cluing in to the abject horror that is the racial landscape in this country. This is not their work. They should not have to praise you for finally seeing what they’ve been telling you is happening all along.
When I write about being silent or simply listening, I’m speaking specifically about how I think white folks need to conduct themselves in racial justice settings or discussions where black folks are present. Plainly put: do not tell black people about their own experience, do not talk over them, do not justify. And do not attempt to assume a leadership role. They understand this struggle better than any white person every will, so just listen. And follow instructions. It sounds so simple. But I can guarantee that the internalized centering of whiteness will make it difficult. Do it anyway.
For the love of god, call out racism where you see it. There’s certainly no shortage of it. But make sure you’re not centering yourself, as a white person, in the discussion. Our egos make the desire to be more knowledgeable, more righteous, more “woke” seductive.
If you are white, assume a complete lack of wokeness on your part. It’ll keep you from behaving like an asshat among other white people who are trying their level best. Offer suggestion, lead by example, challenge people to do more–but that can only happen when we don’t dismiss people who are new to this anti-racist journey.
Look, I’m so far from perfect at this. A white person yelling “Racist!” at me can silence me from 100 paces.It happened a few years ago in a discussion about our local schools. It was an absolutely crucial discussion, one that could have had a resolution that was rooted in actual equity, more integration, and a better educational outcome for all the kids. But folks started hurling “Racist!” at me, and I tucked tail and ran. I regret it. I backed down from what I really believed was right. I shut down.
Which is why, among white folks, there needs to be an understanding: if you see someone doing that grueling work of addressing their own racism, encourage them. No, they aren’t doing enough. Neither are you. But we all have to start somewhere.
Photo by Ryan Wallace on Unsplash
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