The 9 Things I Stopped Doing For White Comfort

I’ve Learned Docile Doesn’t Work

Dec 10, 2017 · 7 min read

A n indeterminable number of white people are anxious, angry, and agitated. We could say this about other races too, but none have the past and present like white people.

The terms white fragility and racial anxiety, speak to this need to be comforted, coddled, reassured, and esteemed.

Some white people will do anything to obtain and maintain their comfort. A threat to white comfort is dangerous, and it can even be deadly.

The absence of white comfort doesn’t produce mere crankiness. No, it makes for physical and social concussions and contusions for people of color.

The bruises and scars of white discomfort are evident everywhere. We can see them in changing attitudes, our election results, our laws, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in policing, and in the prison system.

At points during my life, I’ve tried to make white people comfortable to avoid physical and psychological injury.

But those days are gone.

It was too exhausting to think constantly about white comfort for my survival.

My coping mechanisms were a disservice to myself and others.

So, here’s a list of services I no longer perform for white America:

#1. Keeping My Distance.

A few years ago, I was walking on a path around a neighborhood park. I noticed an older white lady in front of me. It was broad daylight, and she was walking in slow motion. I needed to pass her!

As I got closer, I went far to the left, almost making an “L” to pass. I moved to create distance by instinct. Why? Because I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable as I approached to pass her.

You probably think I was overreacting, right? Well, a study by the American Psychological Association of over 500 white adults shows that racial anxiety can change how a person perceives time and motion.

The study shows that an approaching Black person raised anxiety for the white adults in the study. But, the white adults did not experience a change in time and motion when the Black person moved farther away.

Did we really need a study to tell us that a person who is anxious about race can misinterpret behaviors as threatening?

I already knew this was true and so did you. We all know the stories about people locking their doors when a Black person walks by their car.

It would seem like distance keeps Black people safe and white people happy. And, that’s what I used to do for white comfort. I got tired of the white faces turning whiter than white.

But, no more.

Go ahead and lock your doors and white-knuckle your handbags.

I no longer keep my distance or go out of my way. I give myself permission to move around freely. I want to close every social, financial, and health gap based on race. History and society have already put distance between us. I know success isn’t linear, but I refuse to take the scenic route anymore.

#2. Showing My Teeth.

If I smile, they won’t think I’m angry. If I smile, I can put them at ease. That’s what I used to tell myself. Walk by a person, smile. Go to the store, smile. Smile! Whether you feel like it or not, smile. I felt like a clown and a princess on a float.

Am I overreacting? No.

Did you know studies have shown that whites with racial biases are more likely to see neutral Black faces as threatening? Again, neutral faces, not even angry Black faces, are an issue. So, a smile is a necessary accessory.

I learned to be twice as good, and twice as friendly. I used to think you can kill them with kindness.

But, no more.

People get killed despite being kind. I stopped smiling first. I do return smiles. But now, you must give to receive.

#3. Wearing Uncomfortable Clothing.

For most of my life, there’s been a pressure to wear business casual clothes even out of the office. Tucked-in attire, I call it.

In my home, I’d wear tracksuits, hoodies, athletic wear, whatever was comfortable. But in public, baggy athletic wear was a no-go.

I know I’m not alone with these thoughts. A Buzzfeed staff writer took a whole week to test this theory. He dressed up one day and dressed down the next day. He did this up and down routine for a whole week.

His article even shows his outfits. And surprise, the Black man was treated better, even by the same people, in the same establishments, when he was dressed up.

I haven’t done a test like that because I was scared to know the results.

But, no more.

Now, I wear what I feel. I worry about my clothes making me comfortable, and not how others feel about them.

#4. Extending My Extremities.

Make my hands, visible. Let me go ahead and put my hands where you can see them. Don’t put them in my pockets. That’s what I’d do. Especially at night. Even if I had no gloves in the cold.

But, no more.

I’m not leaving parts of myself out in the cold, so people can see that my hands are harmless.

#5. Asserting My Orientation.

People won’t fear me if they know I’m gay. They’ll see me as the cowardly lion. If I figure out how to disclose my sexuality, this woman will have no cause to fear. If I share what’s not on my resume, this hiring manager will be at ease.

Those are the thoughts that go with asserting my orientation.

Princeton University did a study that shows Black gay men may have an advantage in the workplace. The double minority status of “gay” offsets the minority status of “Black.” In other words, Black gay men are defanged, and so white people are disarmed. But according to the study, in the workplace, Black gay men may have an advantage, not only over straight Black men, but gay white men as well.

In my case, I went along, to get along, for too long.

But, no more.

I don’t have to swish and shout my sexuality anymore.

#6. Using Throwaway Titles.

I no longer use pleasantries unless I am returning the favor. By throwing out sir and ma’am, I was hoping people would see me as polite.

But, no more.

I prefer not to assume gender. And, I’ve learned not everyone old in age deserves respect. So, I don’t waste my breath on throwaway titles.

#7. Cutting My Hairs.

A Black man with a bushy beard can be terrifying for some TSA agents and some white people. I used to worry and shave to avoid the looks.

But, no more.

If I shave, it’s for me.

#8. Nodding My Head.

There are some very bold white people who seek to corner off a Black person to try out their white theories. They will come up to me to talk about the news of the day.

Some will try to sneak comments by me about how police officers are just doing their jobs. They will ask why Black people riot and destroy their own communities.

It’s like I’m the one Black person they see, and they want to finally say to a Black person all the words they write online in the comment sections.

I used to nod my head and try to engage.

But, no more.

I’m not entertaining or legitimizing these crazy thoughts anymore.

#9. Adjusting My Playlists.

I like a variety of music, it’s true. I like classical music, opera, and pop music. But I also love R&B, gospel music, and some hip-hop.

Inevitably, in my interactions with some white people, I feel pressure to adjust my playlists or pretend I enjoy Taylor Swift. I have nothing against Taylor Swift, specifically, I just don’t care for her music. Okay, she has a few songs I like, but most of them don’t get me going.

Even Black people will disagree with me, but I am not a fan of the Beatles. I don’t think they are the greatest of all time.

I used to tolerate obscure and alternative music in my presence. I was hoping to make people feel comfortable by being cultured.

But, no more.

I’m not adjusting my playlists or pretending to like music I don’t like.

W hen I look at the short list of things I stopped doing for white comfort, I wonder about white people. I’m curious what white people do to make me comfortable? In what ways do white people avoid offending me? I need people to be careful about their biases and notions.

I know politically, I don’t see a lot of caution. If conservatives want to do away with political correctness can we get some political carefulness?

For sure, I no longer worry if people think I fit a stereotype. Psychologists call that fear and worry a stereotype threat. I call it stifling and suffocating.

I’ve learned — docile doesn’t work. And where being docile appears effective it is a sham. Being docile does nothing to really counteract stereotypes and educate people.

Being docile involves me not being myself.

Being docile means someone else has control over me.

And, if we really think about it, control can, in fact, make people feel comfortable.

But control can never make us closer or kinder. And, that’s what I’m after, a closer and a kinder society.

To get there, I suggest we deal with our discomfort. So, as for me, I’m starting by stopping. We all need to do something. Don’t you agree?

Sam McKenzie Jr.

Written by

I combat racism and whiteness with verbicide and literary devices. |

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