22 Jun 2017

The White Enlightenment Era is Some Centuries Late

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Are you a white person that identifies as an ally to people of color? Are you sure?

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The acquittal in the Castile murder tells us that it is Murder-a-Black-Man thirty again already. We can set our watches by this same story over and over again. White people, at least those of us that have some brains and decency, are horrified and shocked. Sadly, as our news feeds evolve we will inevitably wander off and leave our friends of color to worry about this without us.

Have you ever stopped to imagine your father, husband, child, or even just fellow citizen being murdered by police, in broad daylight on any given day, on video for the world to see, and then hearing the words "not guilty"? Can you imagine having this fear all the time, about many or all of your loved ones, friends, and neighbors? I accidentally ended up in heavy traffic with low air pressure in one tire and an oversized amount of heavy home improvement purchases. I suddenly realized that I forgot to renew my license's plate and had left my driver's license at an appointment. Not ideal, but I did not have to wonder if I would be murdered for it. That is because I was a petite skinny white lady in a minivan. I propose we try a new approach with this tragic murder and lack of justice. I propose we feel some outrage now.

First, please know, that it was only a few months ago that I was the white person getting irritated, annoyed, and downright pissed off going through this "process". I knew that I did not have one iota of hate in my heart for any population of people, and people suggesting I was not an ally to people of color was not easy to hear or especially believe. Since then I have observed many discussions on race and it becomes more obvious every time. It is almost like an awakening for white people, and you have to go through some unpleasantness to get there.

I should mention that I do not know everything, or even close. White people are frequently intimidated to talk about racism because they do not want to say the wrong thing. Now, I know that I will say the wrong thing sometimes. When appropriate, I hope that other white people would "call me out". This is not a punishment or about shaming. It is about learning. A white person needs to be willing to be called out on this topic. And that is OK. It feels embarrassing and crappy at first, but this gets easier with time.

If you noticed, I said "white people" should call me out. There are many reasons for this including but not limited to: POC have been trying to explain to us for a long time, and we tend to not really listen or hear. If POC keep going on about it so we hear, we call them angry or obsessed with race, etc. POC are tired of this being a 24-7 issue for every second of their lives. White people can take a break or not think about it ever again. POC do not have these options so should not also shoulder the responsibility of educating us. Racism is often an emotional discussion for POC. So it is not OK to demand POC to help us get it. If they choose to join in, please note that it may be more emotionally taxing for them, and the least we can do is listen. It is not about making a rebuttal, or a response. It is about listening. Really it's pretty easy to just listen. It should not warrant a huge blow back. Just listen. So I am going to give a few tidbits here to help some more of us see. That is the intent anyway.

1) When POC are sharing about racism, or even when a white person is, please know that it is not appropriate to change the subject or topic. For instance, I posted a Black Lives Matter picture, and the responses (some of them well intended) were about white people and a quick mention of unity. Yes, there are other groups and populations to discuss, and please do bring them up... just do so in its own conversation. If you were telling your friend about a problem, and they immediately go on about their problem, you would be irritated, and not feel heard. You might bring up your problem again, and let's say your friend changes topics again... what do you do? If you keep bringing up your problem that your friend clearly doesn't want to hear, they get annoyed (because they are acting like a jerk). Your other choice would be to let go of your problem, and assume you do not matter to your friend. It's the exact same thing when discussing race. Hence, Black Lives Matter.

2) I once read an article trying to understand the term "white fragility". It gave a scenario with a POC talking to a white person about race. The white person would only respond with,  "I'm not like that" and the like. Just stop to think really about that and it is quite weird. But just watch at the next opportunity; at least one white person will almost always chime in with this or the famous "Not all white people". Wouldn't it be more appropriate to say "That is horrible" or "I am sorry, how can I help", or just listen? Just know and accept, that in a race discussion we are not talking about specific individuals. We are not talking about you. The thing is that it is not about you. None of it is about you. Just erase yourself from the story. You are not in it. This is really hard for us for some reason. But once you grasp what I mean, you will see this white defensiveness and denial happen time and time again.

You will quickly understand that there is never a time when we feel comfortable, and we do not change the subject, and we do not say "I don't do that". The conversation has been started a zillion times, but has it ever been finished??? I do not know. Maybe if there aren't white people around! But white people are the ones that need to hear, because POC already know. So if you want to respond to a discussion regarding racism, please refrain from using "I" and "me".

3) Finally do not try to sympathize by sharing something about you. Similarly, do not minimize what is said. I know I was extra guilty of these. It is a natural reaction to want to make someone feel better. But in this instance, listening and hearing is the most helpful. If someone used a wheelchair, and was struggling with that in some way, you would not try to commiserate with them and talk about how your knee hurts. Or tell them it isn't a big deal and maybe they will walk tomorrow. Again, it is the same thing.

I could go on, but this is a nice start for now. I hope more white people can maybe try to see, and check any defensiveness next to their privilege. After all, you have the option to pick all that back up at any time. If you aren't getting it yet, please just think about it for a while. Do not be mad, sad, make rebuttals about why I am wrong (about my main point at least), or throw a tantrum. Please? I suspect there will be some white people out there muttering "I don't do that" right about now. Let us be certain we are sure.

 (A bonus tidbit: Do not expect an official POC cookie, sticker, trophy, prize, or parade for being white and reading this or doing something nice in your past. It is time to buck up since we are some centuries late here.)