Feeling Defensive With All the Talk of “White People This” and “White People That?” Watch This.
As a white woman, I post a lot of things on social media directed specifically at other white people and how we contribute to racism. I’m not doing the woker-than-thou thing, putting myself above it all. I’ve been actively learning about systemic racism in earnest for only about a year, and I have infinitely more to learn. When I post an article or video about something white people need to stop doing, I very well may have done that exact thing in the past. Unfortunately, that includes having said #notallwhitepeople, if not in those exact words. I’ll explain that in a minute, but first, please watch this 2-minute video about the problem with not-all-white-people sentiments, particularly in the context of what happened in Charlottesville two weeks ago.
Flashback to January, after the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. During an online discussion, a black woman I know expressed hurt and anger that so many white women finally got activated and came out in droves when things got scary for us (with Trump’s election), when we (as a whole, as a group) haven’t seen fit to lift a finger for our black sisters whose humanity has been under attack all along in countless ways. I commented to the effect that “OK, but some of us have done racial justice work. Some of us have been active on a variety of social issues before this election.” Needless to say, my comments were not well received. I felt defensive and embarrassed. I could have doubled down with logical-sounding arguments to try and prove my point. Instead, I stepped away, started digging, and was able to find things to read about why that type of response is harmful.
I learned that even if technically there was a bit of truth to what I had said, it was defensive, self-centering, semantic nitpicking that negated the essential, larger truth of what was being discussed. I had added insult to injury by arguing with the lived experience of a black woman who was understandably angry and hurting, and put her in the position of having to either grit her teeth and calmly explain basic things to me, or tell me to f&*% off. One particular blog post I found made it crystal clear what I had done: “Remember #notallmen? Don’t be that guy.” (The whole piece is great. Click here to read it.)
The other problem with #notallwhitepeople? It absolves us of responsibility for actively working to dismantle racism, because, hey, we good white people have nothing to do with it, right? This is beautifully explained here, with a story:
A creative take on the pitfalls of #NotAll hashtags targeting marginalized groups, and a simple, yet powerful, 3-step…storify.com
Everyone comes to sensitive discussions from our own perspective, and we can’t always predict how our words will land with someone whose lived experience is different. Mistakes, often called microaggressions, are inevitable — taking responsibility for them, apologizing, and doing better in the future matters most. Some universities and political organizing spaces use the “Ouch, Oops” framework for discussions. This acknowledges the inevitability of microaggressions and provides a structure for doing the necessary repair work. Knowing this framework can be useful when we participate in less formal discussions in our communities — we can learn to recognize an “Ouch” when we hear it, even when that word is never used, and we can respond accordingly.
All of us have been steeped in this racist culture our entire lives. This means that even if we think we are at the “least racist” end of the racism continuum, we are all on it somewhere. We we will screw up, and we all have to be willing to listen, learn, own our mistakes, and do better next time. All white people.
Come visit Camille Williams’s blog and find more stories on politics, social justice, parenting and life in a bicultural family, midwifery and women’s health and personal growth.