For Our Black and Brown People Fighting for Survival in Toxic White Spaces
When you’re pursuing a degree in a white-dominated space, it’s easy to find yourself a) the only person of color in the room and b) stuck with a clueless white professor, most likely liberal. The kind of liberal who marched with a pink pussy hat. The kind of liberal who wore a visual representation of the fact that a lot of white men didn’t care donald said about Black people, or Muslims, or Mexicans, but grab a white woman’s pussy? Gasp.
It’s not an accident that many of us find ourselves with white professors in colleges and universities. That’s on purpose. And so we unfortunately find ourselves in classrooms where the professor insists she doesn’t see color and doesn’t think we should be talking about race anyways, because it’s “divisive.” And we find ourselves in classrooms where white fragility assaults us not only from the professor, but from our classmates, too.
We bit our tongues to survive. We ignored the professor who said we shouldn’t talk about race and made sure we talked about race in the essays we wrote. When one of our classmates claimed that she had experienced “reverse racism” because the “Spanish” girls at the local hotel didn’t want to hire her, because as you know, “they like to keep to themselves,” we rolled our eyes but didn’t say anything because that white woman or white man in the front of the classroom was in charge of our grade. And we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves. We wanted to be the Good POC.
Then something broke. Maybe it was when our brother or father got pulled over for the umpteenth time and had the police point their guns at their heads for no goddamn reason except our brothers and fathers are dark-skinned. Maybe it was when the KKK started running for office openly again.
Or maybe it was when the least-qualified person to ever run for president won the election that night on November 8, 2016. Maybe it was when the person who ran openly on a platform of hatred and bigotry and misogyny and racism was actually elected. Maybe you, like we did, watched the returns come in and you saw the country bleed red like the hot fire of hatred of you and your people, and you watched this ugly man give his acceptance speech and in the audience, some white man yelled, “Kill Obama!”
At any rate, at some point, we said enough is enough. We said, “Fuck it.” We had zero fucks left to give. And we started pointing out every microaggression and white people got uncomfortable. We said we were interested in researching teacher bias in education, and we felt that thick white silence in class. We told our classmates that they benefited from white supremacy and we heard their gasps and saw their metaphorical pearl-clutching and we didn’t give a shit anymore. We saw our professors get that flinchy looks on their faces. And we didn’t leap up to smooth things over. We refused to say “Oh, I know, not ALL white people.” We said “white people” and we let it stand. We noticed how hard it was for some of our professors to say the word “white.” They still can’t say Black or Mexican or Muslim. They all sound pejorative to their sensitive white ears. They speak in coded white-speak: people from underrepresented communities. The Spanish-speaking community. People from Middle Eastern descent.
They patted themselves on the back for marching at the women’s march and we asked them, “Did you see that picture of the Black woman at a march holding a sign that said, ‘White Women Voted for Trump’?” They had not. So we emailed them the link.
We sat in our chairs while our white classmates looked at their hands, their feet, anywhere except our brown faces. And to ourselves, we said, you know what? Fuck it. Biting our tongues only made our tongues bleed and made white people feel like they could get away with anything. Listening to the tsk-tsking of the “violent protesters” at Berkeley while they said nothing about the murders of our Black and brown children made us sick until we finally said, “Anyone without a deep understanding of state-sponsored violence against people of color and the history of a diversity of tactics really ought to refrain from commenting on the destruction of commerce which is an entirely different thing from ‘violence.’”
Maybe our white professors listened every once in awhile. Maybe we got some private understanding from them or maybe we got white tears. But in the end, the only thing that mattered to us was that we spoke our truth and said to hell with accommodating white feelings, to hell with moving carefully around white discomfort, and to hell with being silent.
*This is the collective product of women of color and allies, and this piece specifically comes from a woman of color voice