I wrote this over a month ago after an argument with a friend. I didn’t publish it then, but I do think it’s important now. White people are important in fighting the racism and hatred that this election has encouraged. So I think it’s important to get on the right page of what it means to support the communities that are being attacked. It takes more than a safety pin or other symbol. It takes action. It takes understanding. It takes time. It takes a willingness to look closely at yourself and listen to those around you as they tell you what they need. It may hurt to have someone question you as the nice, anti-racist person that you think you are, but think instead of the person that you want to become. No one is perfect. We all have prejudice and misguided ideas. We all have work to do.
You’re not talking to me right now. That’s fine. I’ve decided I’m not going to wait until you’re done being mad because addressing racial issues is more important.
I felt like there was some betrayal when we argued.
One of my first impressions of you was that your belief in social justice was important to you and that it’s important to you to be an ally. That was one of the things I value most about you as a friend.
You’ve expressed your anger and wanting to distance yourself from other white people and your racist ancestors because you don’t like the things they do/have done. Maybe that is why you get so offended when I have strong opinions that challenge that part of your identity? Because you think I’m saying you’re like them?
We’ve had very deep conversations about identity. I shared some painful experiences about the ways that I’ve been hurt because of my race or gender. You said you appreciated that I’d share something so personal with you. You were there to listen, to comfort, to share the feelings about how some people can be so ignorant in the way they treat others. But when I wanted to talk to you about something you said or did that was hurtful, your response was different. Suddenly I became the aggressor, because I told you, my friend, that you’d hurt me.
The times that we’ve had these arguments have been issues that I felt were central to colonialism, racism, and sexism. These are all issues that have negatively affected me and people like me. I think/thought/assumed that the people affected by these issues are people that you would consider yourself to be an ally to. Which, during those conversations, led me to a few feelings:
- Shocked that an ally would have a point of view that is not in the best interest of said marginalized community,
- Curious about how an ally would come to adopt a point of view that is not in the best interest of said marginalized community,
- Hurt that expressing my concerns, based on my lived experience, cannot be heard because my words are perceived as an “attack,” even though an ally’s role is to listen, learn, and support.
At first I tried hard to understand which words I may have used that were hurtful to you. I went back through that conversation so many times to find where I went wrong. I couldn’t find it.
It is hurtful to be told that I’m too aggressive, too angry, or attacking someone because I share the truth of my experience. It’s a harmful stereotype of the angry black woman, used to silence us by portraying that our statements are irrelevant because we’re inherently aggressive and angry.
I’m not saying that you purposely intended to hurt me with a stereotype — I’m convinced the trope never crossed your mind. In fact, I don’t think that you intended anything, which is part of the problem in my mind. Instead, it felt like you let your white fragility make you defensive instead of approaching the conversation as an ally and friend.
It is not my responsibility to protect anyone’s feelings from difficult truths that negatively affect me and other people, especially not when we think we’re speaking with an ally who claims to support us.
Voicing real issues and concerns is not akin to accusing you of something. You understand the larger picture when we’re discussing racist systems and the words and behaviors of others. Remember that when we’re discussing your words and behaviors.
Throwing out responses like “I feel like I don’t have a right to an opinion” are defensive moves to shut down a conversation that you’re uncomfortable with having. You already know the script. You and I both roll our eyes and shake our heads at one another when we hear it from others.
Cishet white men: *say something that others find harmful*
Offended people: That’s harmful to [marginalized identity]. Here’s why… *give description of why it’s been a problem throughout history and still affects peoples’ lives.*
Cishet white men: I can’t even have an opinion anymore without being attacked! I have the right to say whatever I want! My rights are being trampled upon!
Of course you have the right to say whatever you want. And others have the right to say whatever they want in response. As you said, it’s okay for us to disagree. And wanting to talk it out with counter questions doesn’t mean I’m shutting you down. Using my right to speak doesn’t negate your right to speak.
I did not accuse you of being racist. I did ask questions that concern me.
I did not try to bait you into saying “the wrong thing.” I did try to learn more about you and how you came to that idea.
You said I had accused you of being “ignorant of racial implications.”
YYYEEESSS. 100% yes! I do think you’re ignorant of some racial implications. How could you not be? You’re white. My whole life has been a racial experience and I’m learning everyday. So why would you be offended if I imply that there are racial implications that you, a white man, may not be aware of?
I appreciate white people who make it a point to learn about racism. But there is no ceiling to that learning. There is not a critical mass of documentaries and books to absorb, at which point you know all things race-related. And no matter how much information you think you’ve internalized, your role as an ally is to listen and support. And support takes action. It means speaking up and organizing.
Maybe you used to be more active in social justice movements, but have not done so much lately. Being an ally isn’t a life-long membership to claim. It’s not irrevocable. Your ally-ship is not for you, it’s for them. It’s a way for the marginalized community that you support to identify you as someone who protects their best interests and furthers their cause. So if you’re not consistently doing the work to help a community that is consistently marginalized, how is your ally-ship more than an idea? You don’t get to decide how helpful you’re being. They decide. We decide.
Facts of Life
I suggested that maybe you didn’t understand my perspective because I’m looking at the scenario as a woman of color, while you fit neither of those identities. You were looking at it as an atheist and atheists are the most hated group in the US, you said.
I suppose this was meant to show that you empathize with marginalized groups, as you are part of one. But this struck me as being off the mark. So I looked it up.
Of 5,479 hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2014, 1,956 were hate crimes against black Americans; 1,161 were hate crimes against LGBTQIA people; and 13 were hate crimes against atheist, agnostic, etc. people. Any number of hate crimes is too many, but there is a sense of scale here that is too unbalanced to be ignored.
Being able to practice one’s religion freely and without fear is an extremely important issue. At the same time, there are lives at stake on a far larger scale for issues other than atheism. You cannot legally be fired for being an atheist. However, you can legally be fired for being gay or trans in most states.
It is important to acknowledge the ways that we can empathize with oppressed people. It also important to keep a realistic perspective of the risks that certain groups face that we do not.
It is not the job of the oppressed to comfort or educate the oppressor. And yet I just wrote this. I hope this creates space for understanding. This may make you more pissed off, but I’m very much done apologizing for white tears.
It’s been real,