Addressing Racism Online: An Open Letter
Trisha Spearman, for Brown Girl Lifted
A couple of days ago, someone I consider to be a close friend sent me this mildly offensive meme that for one reason or another, she assumed I would find funny rather than offensive and hurtful.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Had it been something that somehow ended up on my Facebook timeline, I would have scowled in silent indignation and kept on scrolling. This ugly thing was staring at me in my messenger presumably waiting for verbal approval accompanied by LOLing emojis.
We’ve never discussed issues of race or racism in the past mostly because I felt some trepidation about addressing the issue directly for fear that she would shut down and become defensive as we have come expect from those who declare themselves “colorblind”.
What I DID say, in retrospect, left much to be desired.
“There are a bevy of fucked up implications in that meme. You probably shouldn’t share it with anyone else.”
In that moment, I thought it got the point across — a conversational, softball way of saying, “Yeah, no, not funny, definitely racist.” without having to explain too extensively. I didn’t want to run the risk of insulting her intelligence by giving her a run down of why it was offensive, but then, if she saw this meme on Facebook, chuckled to herself and thought, “I know who would enjoy this, let me send this to Trisha”, then I probably should have assumed her racial aptitude also leaves much to be desired.
This is an open letter to my friend. Words I wish I had the quick thinking and intrepidity to actually say when it happened.
I know you’re someone who likes to think of herself as “colorblind;” someone who rarely ever thinks about race. I need you to know that racism is something that I think about everyday.
You’re a white woman. You live in a rural white town. With few exceptions, your co-workers are white. Your bosses are white. When you page through magazines or scroll through Pinterest, your image is mirrored back at you consistently. When you’re looking for shows to watch on Netflix you don’t worry about whether the actors of your ethnicity will be depicted in a negative, stereotypical fashion — that is, IF you’re even represented at all.
I need you to step back think about what it must be like for the exact opposite to be true. Step into my world. A world where the majority of people I come into contact with when stepping outside of my house, do not look like me. A world where in almost every magazine editorial or advertisement, people who look like me are grossly underrepresented. If you’re able to think about these things, then hopefully you’ll be able to understand why race isn’t something that someone who is not white can just float through life not noticing. If you’re able to take what I’ve said into consideration you will realize the privilege that you possess because this isn’t a burden that you are forced to carry around with you.
With all of this being said surely you’re aware that there are certain stereotypes the world assumes about black people.
▪We abuse of government assistance
▪None of us know our fathers
Just to name a few.
The whip and nae-nae admittedly isn’t something you can spot ONLY black people doing. The song however, is by a black artist and if you watch the music video for it, it features black children. Just doing a quick Google video search of whip/nae nae, you’ll see videos mostly of black children. Now, in examining the meme in question, hopefully you’re kinda able to see where I’m going with this.
The meme is an attack on the black family. A disgusting and unwarranted attack on black CHILDREN and their parents. The person that would share this meme is saying to the world, “Look at those dirty black kids dancing. They shouldn’t be dancing and having a good time, they should be getting an education. You know most black kids can’t read at grade level, right?” — as if being educated and dancing on occasion are mutually exclusive.
I am a black woman. My entire family is black. My significant other is black. I will have black children. Understand what this meme represents for my own children. It’s indicative of the unrelenting scrutiny and judgement that awaits them before they’re even of school age — judgement of which your children have the privilege of exemption. It’s indicative of the scorn they will receive during adolescence, a prelude to what they will endure for the rest of their lives simply for existing.
What I have mentioned obviously doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of race relations, white privilege, or the negative effects of stereotyping. I hope that with this information you will take some time to self reflect, and realize that racism doesn’t end at Jim Crow and the use of the word “nigger.”
I want you to know I am not an anomaly. I am not an exception to the rule; one that defies the stereotypes that have been engrained into our society. I want you to know that my family and I are targets of that nonsensical meme. I want you to know that I would never (nor would anyone else for that matter) make the assumption that your children are dirty and uneducated should you post a video of them dancing and enjoying themselves as children should.
I’m telling you all of this because I do consider you to be a very good friend, this bad joke, as small as it may seem, took me aback. I hope at the very least this will have opened your eyes. Maybe this can be a catalyst for other discussions.
Sincerely, your (probably) only black friend,
Trisha Spearman (@BlckGirlWhtSpc) is an introverted, over-worked, womanist blogger, at Black Girl, White Space. She has opinions about stuff which she occasionally attempts to document through various forms of social media.