How to use “not all white people” statements
and how not to use them. Your PSA for the masses
My partner told me this morning about a post on Facebook that mentions white voters and Trump, and the comment under the post was “not all white people.”
I swear he told me that, and I’m sure it happens many times a day. Not all white people say, or type, “not all white people.” But if they do, it’s typically a bad tactic. The “not all” statements that white people draft and send to Black people or people of color are unhelpful.
If I write, “white America is racist,” the worst part of the sentence is the word racist. Personal identity is not always the worst part of a bad reality. People should focus on, and correct, the worst part. The reality of racism should outrage people.
If someone then says, “not all white people,” it’s like demanding a recount that will not change the outcome. When the verdict is clear, there really is no need to poll every juror and ask them personally if this is their verdict.
Often the people who want to put a dagger — instead of an exclamation point — at the bottom of a statement made by someone trying to survive and thrive are not the ones in danger of daggers.
That said, “not all white people” is actually important to share with certain people by certain people.
In his letter to his nephew, My Dungeon Shook, James Baldwin mentions white people who believe they are superior.
He writes, “most white Americans [think they are superior]… many of them, indeed, know better.”
Baldwin used qualifiers. He did it more than once. He intentionally made it clear to his nephew he wasn’t talking about all white people. Not that Baldwin always used qualifiers, but in that instance, he did for his nephew.
Here’s my observation — “not all white people” is not the best phrase for interracial use.
Those who wield qualifiers should be in the line of fire. It’s the people who can be the targets of oppression who need to know about the exceptions from people like them.
But since friendly fire is a traitorous phenomenon, no matter the skin they’re in, qualifiers should not downplay injustice. No one should use them as a silencer. Instead, use them to give context.
Qualifiers work best in a relationship with a strong bond. My conversations with my dad about racism illustrate my point.
When my dad told me about the klan, I needed to know from him — “Son, not all white people.”
When my dad sat me down to talk about white people who use the n-word, I needed to know from him — “Son, not all white people.”
That was vital information.
Here’s another thing — most Black people already know white people aren’t all the same.
In her essay, Know Your Whites, Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom says, “knowing your whites is to be intimate with some white persons, while critically withholding faith in white people categorically.”
Her whole statement is downright delicious, but “critically withholding faith” is worth many bites. Faith is to believe, hope, trust, rely on, and expect.
While a “not all” statement from white people comes from white fragility, white denial, white innocence, and white individualism, it can also be an attempt to restore faith or to gain faith — even for themselves. Again, it’s a bad move across racial lines.
A white faith is not what Black people need. A white faith is colorblind, and it never opens its eyes. A white faith can proclaim liberty and justice for 400 long years while living a lie.
If you’re not white, white hope in a white-supremacist society is a setup for disappointment or worse. Disappointment is a peculiar betrayal; it is one people can avoid, and should avoid spreading.
It’s far better to live it than to list it. It’s far better to say, “too many white people,” than “not all white people.”
It’s best for white people to aim their “not all” statements at each other — in private and directly.
If a white person doesn’t see themselves as the issue, then they should interfere with other white people who are the issue. The white people who are the issue need to hear and read those “not all white people” statements in private and directly.
Say it about their racist jokes. Say it about their racist support for the police departments they never interrogate. Find those white people!
They need to know “not all white people” have to be racists, and they need to know white people can be antiracists too.
This means more white people should talk to themselves. Apparently, “not all white people,” say what they should say to each other.