The White Allies’ Guide to Collecting Aunt Linda
You’re minding your own business, scrolling the feed, liking pics of toddlers at the pumpkin patch, and suddenly there it is:
Linda Smith: I’m glad that illegals are facing consequences! Illegal immigration is ILLEGAL! I can’t afford my doctor bills, why should I pay theirs?
Oh hi, Aunt Linda.
You know it’s your job to collect her, right? You’re supposed to blow your ally whistle, throw a red flag in the air, and snatch Aunt Linda so she can’t do anymore harm.
But then this debate happens in your head:
She’s wrong and she needs to know how wrong she is!
Tell her off, right there on her FB page!
Quick, before any of your anti-racist or POC friends see you’re related to her!
Whoa whoa whoa.
What are you trying to prove?
She’s from a different time.
And hey, everybody starts somewhere.
You don’t want to offend her.
Try to understand her point of view.
That’s white supremacy talking!
Trust your gut.
You know you should deal with Aunt Linda. But how?
How do you wade through the swamp of warring voices in your head?
Call her out! Call her in!
Annihilate her! Invite her!
and your personal terrors
What if I do it wrong?
What if I look racist?
What if I look self-righteous?
What if Aunt Linda gets mad at me?
…to find the exact right thing to say? How do you collect Aunt Linda?
Stop chewing your fingernails (that’s gross) and let’s get to work.
1. Know Your goal.
First, let’s redefine “collect.”
It’s not your job to save her soul. It is your job to make her uncomfortable with casually demonizing immigrants on the internet.
It’s not your job to ensure she will like you afterward. It’s your job to show her you won’t let her hurt people. It’s not your job to protect her heart. It’s your job to protect other people’s lives.
It’s your job to stand up first; perhaps others will follow. You will show the way to the lurkers who saw the comment and lacked the guts to say something, or didn’t understand what was wrong with her comment.
When you collect folks, don’t worry about being perfect. Your goal is to speak up, challenge racist ideas, make mistakes, learn from them, and keep going.
Think of yourself as a human Taboo buzzer when a friend, relative, or back-asswards stranger strays into unacceptable territory. Not okay, Aunt Linda! Can’t let that go unaddressed, Steve!
2. Be patient. Invest in the “half-wokes.”
It takes time to help people empathize. Ifo a single internet conversation ends with Aunt Linda changing her will so her money goes to the United We Dream foundation, count yourself lucky. Don’t expect a sudden transformation.
But guess who else read Aunt Linda’s post? A whole crew of half-woke white people who see that post was cruel and racist, but also kind of don’t understand “why undocumented immigrants should expect amnesty, right?” These people want DACA, but still describe undocumented immigrants as “illegals.” They have good intentions, but have not yet learned that intentions don’t really matter if they MEANT to give a pedicure but ended up slicing off a toe.
Invest your time and energy with those people. Some of them will reveal themselves to be not-quite-ready-to-be-woke, get defensive, and storm off. But others will grow. Remember that, when you reply to Aunt Linda, those people are reading.
3. Get angry.
Yes. Get angry. Aunt Linda has just said something really offensive. You get to be pissed off about that!
If you are committed to anti-racism, then you need to get comfortable fighting against racist thoughts and words, and the people who think and say them. The only alternative is to cooperate with racist thoughts and words, and the people who think and say them.
So get angry. Anger is the appropriate emotional response to witnessing the systematic and interpersonal dehumanization, humiliation, and violence against other human beings.
4. But don’t get too angry.
Boy oh boy, does it feels good to lay into a racist without mercy! You feel so juiced up, purposeful, alive! The problem is, that energizing anger? It’s not your anger.
You’re angry with Aunt Linda on behalf of other people. On behalf of the people of color that she wants to deport. On behalf of the mothers of kids killed by police officers, who have to hear her say, “All Lives Matter.” Not on your own behalf.
And the madder you get, the better you feel. You are genuinely mad, but be honest — you’re also kind of impressed with yourself.
Recognize what exactly you’re doing here. You’re stealing anger rooted in someone else’s suffering, and harvesting its fruit to feed YOUR emotional catharsis.
If you are getting angry about other people’s pain, then your anger had better be serving those people, not yourself. So yes, get angry. But never forget whose anger it is. Never lose sight of the people actually experiencing that pain. Remember you are not one of them.
5. Hit the books.
Google is your friend. Let’s break it down now: Facts, stats, knowledge, and facts.
“Aunt Linda, it’s a common assumption that undocumented immigrants drain public resources. But actually, most undocumented immigrants pay taxes and contribute to social security, are employed, and aren’t even eligible for most social safety nets. Check out this article:
Or this one:
Not only will you be rooting your argument in, you know, facts, but you’ll also be sharing resources with those other convo-watchers, who can turn around and share them with Uncle Bud, and Monica from high school.
A couple of important guidelines:
- Include a couple of salient details in your comment; don’t just post a link as your entire response. You know Aunt Linda isn’t going to click on that business just to spend 20 minutes reading about how wrong she is. You need to make it easy for her to learn she’s wrong.
- Check your sources. If Aunt Linda shared a Breitbart article to support her claim that Elizabeth Warren is actually the Grand High Witch from Roald Dahl’s children’s classic “The Witches,” would that make you reconsider your position on the matter? Share reputable news agencies and journals, and stories from people who have firsthand experience.
6. Assume everyone is capable of learning.
Many of us white allies reflexively make excuses for people who say racist things.
“She’s so sheltered.”
“He grew up in the South.”
“They live in a really conservative area.”
These excuses help you blame a person’s racist actions on an amorphous third party or entity, which means they are irreversibly racist — which means you are off the hook and don’t have to collect them. Phew!
But if they are irreversibly racist, what cost does that impose on YOU? Are you now going to cut them out of your life? No. You’ve simply performed the mental gymnastics necessary to fit a racist loved one into your life without opposing their racism out loud. You’ve found a way both you and they can stay comfortable, right where you all are.
What you might not realize is that you’re actually side-stepping, and worse, enabling. So maybe you yourself might have said that same racist thing 6 months ago. So maybe you might love Aunt Linda deeply and don’t want to point out that she’s doing something shitty. But don’t get it twisted: making excuses for racists turns you into an apologist.
Every person who can type something racist on the Internet is also capable of typing something not racist on the Internet. Stop inventing excuses for them — they’re not toddlers anymore.
7. You are not anyone’s hero.
Collecting your people is highly visible and often dramatic. As these conversations get heated, responses get more poetic, powerful, visceral, and staunch. Sometimes you’ll type or say something ***TRANSCENDENTLY AWESOME*** and you’ll be like Anchorman Ron Burgundy:
When you catch yourself trying to get in the spotlight, stop. You are engaging in “Ally Theater,” described here perfectly by Black Girl Dangerous.
“Ally Theater” is about making you look good. It’s obvious to everyone, it creates aggravating extra work for the people of color you want to help, and it’s a transparent bid for everyone to recognize that you are one of the good ones.
Stay focused. Your job is to show Aunt Linda that what she said was wrong. Your job is to point out the people she’s hurting.
And along those lines, if you are ever in that conversation with Aunt Linda, and your friend Ana hops on to offer her perspective as a daughter of immigrants, your job just changed. You are now the “liker” of everything Ana says, and the bodyguard who protects Ana’s space to speak.
Stay focused. Ana can hand the reins back to you when she’s done with Linda’s nonsense. Remember, you are not the hero, and this isn’t about you. Stay focused.
Your words are your weapons. Use them wisely.
Get mad. Be firm. Don’t flinch. But fight clean.
When you make a factual error, a false assumption, or a foray into “Ally Theater”, own it and apologize.
When Aunt Linda’s portly neighbor Gerald calls you a bitch, don’t come back with a fat joke. Come back with more facts, more stats, more knowledge, deeper focus.
Think before you use anti-racist lingo like “privilege,” “oppression,” “white supremacy,” or “cultural appropriation.” I’m not saying don’t use them. I’m saying think about them. Choose thoughtfully.
Because you know what Aunt Linda is going to do as soon as you say “privilege.” She’s going to tell her story about eating wood for breakfast every day one winter during the Great Depression. Choose words that Aunt Linda might actually hear.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
If you don’t already have your own personal meme bank on your phone, you better get cracking!
A good meme is the perfect marriage of truth bomb and snark, biting text and searing image. It is far more effective than the novel you were planning to write on the subject.
More importantly, a meme can reframe the speaker’s problematic point of view in a way that is clearer to them than any word garden that you plant on their page, no matter how well-researched or briskly phrased.
Memes communicate to the speaker that their idea is not the original stroke of brilliant insight that they believed it was. A meme shows the speaker that “all lives matter” is actually such a boring racist housefly of a thought that 40,000 brilliant artists have already created 40,000 perfect fly-swatters to smack it down.
Be brave and don’t give up.
If you’re doing this right, Aunt Linda will get mad at you, you will lose friends, and you will get a reputation for being an evangelical anti-racist. Steady yourself because this one’s a doozy: the people who socialize with you, work with you, and love you will begin to think of you as “someone who talks about racism a lot.”
I don’t know why that is such a scary idea to so many white people — actually, maybe I do. Anti-racist white people surrender social capital. Your friends might get nervous that you aren’t going to be cool with them anymore: with their sweet little princess in a Moana Halloween costume, their use of the word “ghetto,” or their casual disregard for the prison industrial complex. Your friends don’t want to feel guilty around you, and talking about racism always makes them feel guilty.
But if you are as anti-racist as you like to think you are, then you won’t be scared of being LOUDLY anti-racist.
You still have it easier than people of color, because you still get to choose when and where you engage in conversations about race. If you’re tired, imagine how exhausted people of color must be. If you feel hopeless, keep going as if you had no other choice, because the people you’re fighting for do not.
If you remain silent, the racists are dribbling down the field with no referee in sight. If you don’t blow the whistle and don’t throw your flag, then they get to do whatever they want. Your silence gives them permission to shoot and score, kick people over, and throw elbows again and again and again. Your silence tells people of color in the stands that your comfort is more important than their lives.
Do better. Show up. Put your skin in the game. Go collect your racist aunt. That’s what integrity looks like.