If you’re really woke, you will listen when we call you out for causing us harm
Retreating into your white supremacy isn’t doing the work.
I read a Medium article written by a woman about her white privilege. She talked about how she came upon a young black man near her home, and his frightened look awakened her to her whiteness. It started out good. She recognized something many white people still say doesn’t exist.
I kept reading as she described how this new-found knowledge felt like a punch to her stomach. She talked about her discomfort. She talked about her pain, her confusion.
She said little about how this young man must have felt about her as a white woman. She ignored how he would have been well-aware of the danger he faced had she decided to wield that whiteness to accuse him of anything. She didn’t speak of how she could have cost him his life that day.
The entire piece centered her feelings. It was all about her pain, her discomfort. I chalked this up to this woman being new to understanding her privilege. She didn’t know focusing on herself and not the people affected by her power is textbook white privilege and white supremacy.
I responded to her article and told her she was centering herself too much. She responded with a private message (which gave me pause because… why private?) saying I gave her much to think about. I responded, challenging her to write an article discussing how her white privilege made that young man feel. I wanted her to delve into the power she wielded over him.
She edited the original article saying “someone” had asked her to write an article from the young man’s perspective and that confused her. She didn’t think she was qualified.
I responded publicly, acknowledging it was my suggestion but that I wanted her to talk about how her white privilege affects him as a black man. I wanted her to get away from her own feelings and understand how that privilege oppresses people of color. Another black woman and some allies from my group Real Talk: WOC and Allies for Racial Justice and Anti-Oppression weighed in, too. One of them said she had been where this woman was. She then gave her further direction to help her turn that attention outward instead of inward.
We noticed, while the positive responses to her article remained, our criticisms were disappearing. She was hiding any comments challenging the way she honed in on her own feelings to the exclusion of the young black man’s experience that day.
More allies weighed in…. so she deleted the entire article. All that work, all that effort to help her do better, was erased. This is textbook white violence. She silenced me and another black woman by wiping away our words. We didn’t matter to her. She also dismissed the free education allies tried to give her.
Her epiphany about white privilege was a facade. She may have some inkling about what it means, but she really doesn’t want to learn about the power she, as a white woman, possesses. That makes her dangerous to me and other women of color. Her ignorance and refusal to educate herself also made her dangerous to that young black man. Luckily her whiteness didn’t harm him that day.
Although this encounter was with a newly woke-ish white woman, this could be anyone who says she is woke, calls herself an ally, or claims to do racial justice work. This year has been eye-opening to me. White people new to this work, white people who say they have done this work for years…. it doesn’t matter. In every case, many will lose their minds when anyone questions their words, knowledge or commitment.
These are not allies.
If you are a white person in this racial justice fight, you will screw up. Your white supremacy will lead you down a path where you harm people of color. It will happen. The question is, when someone confronts you, do you lash out? Do you threaten to abandon the cause? Do you shed those toxic white tears?
Be honest about the ways you deflect from admitting you hurt us. We expect you to make mistakes. We also expect you to acknowledge that harm, learn from it and continue to do the work.
Not long after I responded to the Medium article I mentioned, another white woman wrote a piece that is spot on. This should be required reading for every white woman, so I’m including it here. Thank you Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings for getting it right.