White Centering

“There is an expectation that we can talk about sins but no one must be identified as a sinner: newspapers love to describe words or deeds as “racially charged” even in those cases when it would be more honest to say “racist”; we agree that there is rampant misogyny, but misogynists are nowhere to be found; homophobia is a problem, but no one is homophobic. One cumulative effect of this policed language is that when someone dares to point out something as obvious as white privilege, it is seen as unduly provocative. Marginalized voices in America have fewer and fewer avenues to speak plainly about what they suffer; the effect of this enforced civility is that those voices are falsified or blocked entirely from the discourse.” Teju Cole, Known and Strange Things: Essays

“For the oppressors, exists only one right: their right to live in peace, over against the right not always even recognized, but simply conceded, of the oppressed to survival.” Paulo Freire – Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” MLK Jr, Letter from Birmingham Jail


Table of Contents

White Centering
White Fragility
White Comfort
White Guilt
White Victimhood/White Tears
White Silence
White De-Centering


Respectability Politics
Tone Policing
Civility and Divisiveness
Spiritual Bypassing
Non-Physical Racial Violence

Common Excuses to Deny Racism and White Privilege


White Centering

“Rather than focusing on the lived experiences and traumas of People of Color when talking about racism, the focus is placed on the host of emotions that white people go through when confronted with racism.

Rather than focusing on how People of Color feel on an everyday basis from having to deal with racist institutions, interpersonal relationships, and ideologies, the focus goes to white people just beginning to confront how they benefit from racism on many levels.” Jennifer Loubriel, Everyday Feminism

  • White centering
    • Putting higher value on white people, white values, white norms, and white feelings over people of color
    • Making white culture the “norm”
      • What is good, right, normal, worthy
    • While making black culture “abnormal” or “other”
      • What is bad, wrong, weird, abnormal, unworthy
    • In a white supremacy society white centering is automatic
      • Often most white people aren’t conscious its happening or exists

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Everyday Feminism: Why White People Shouldn’t Impose Their Feelings Into Conversations on Race

To be completely honest, talking about race and racial injustice makes me very uncomfortable. Whenever someone brings up topics like police brutality, immigration, or protesting, I squirm a little. The more they talk, I feel a pressure in my chest and a desire to swiftly exit the premises. All the while, I’m praying they don’t ask my opinion or say something so off-the-wall that I have to interject.

As a black writer who often writes about racial injustice, this may seem strange. I’m very comfortable behind my keyboard. Writing the articles allows me to thoroughly research, organize my thoughts, and present information using the stylistic choices I feel are appropriate.

In a live conversation, I can’t organize my thoughts and present them in a clear manner as easily. I can’t always pull up quotes and statistics off the top of my head or walk away if the conversation goes rancid.

Truthfully, it isn’t the subject matter that bothers me – it’s the people who want to have these conversations who make me feel uncomfortable.  I hate having conversations on race with misinformed white people. Most of my experiences doing so have been quite unpleasant.

I’ve found that white people took comments too personally, as if I was blaming every societal injustice on the white people in the discussion. I wasn’t. Still, they expressed feeling like they were under attack, feeling as if I was trying to make them feel guilty, and feeling tired of having these race-based discussions (which confuses me, since they were always the ones to bring up the discussion in the first place).

If you’re a white person and you’ve participated in conversations on race and racism, this might sound familiar. And you’re certainly not the only white person who has had such feelings arise in these discussions.  These white feelings, the feelings many white people have when they encounter conversations and situations involving race, make conversations on race difficult. Additionally, they are detrimental to progress in our society.

Here are four reasons why.

1. White Feelings Derail Productive Conversations

When I must have conversations about race with white people, I’m always aware of how many times they use the word “I.” While “I” statements are useful for interpersonal communication, they can also be powerful tools used (sometimes accidentally) to disrupt or change the course of a conversation on systemic oppression.

Before bringing the word “I” into a conversation on race, white folks should ask themselves a few questions:

  • Am I asking for advice on how I can help eliminate the specific problem addressed in the conversation?
  • Am I being a supportive ally by checking the other white people involved in the conversations?
  • Or am I centering myself in a conversation that isn’t really about me?

When white people bring up their feelings, they often change the course of an otherwise productive conversation by making everyone in the discussion cater to their emotions. These feelings leave little room for diving deeper into the discussion and brainstorming actions that can be taken to find solutions to problems.

In the time it took to coddle the upset white person, the conversation could’ve gone many other ways: It could have been a valuable learning experience for other participants involved. It could have won over a few potential allies. It could have led to change in a company’s culture to make it more inclusive, a healthier classroom environment, a safer neighborhood for children of color, or a decision to retrain of a violent city police.

When your feelings take precedence over social change, we have a serious problem.  See, whether a conversation on race is productive or it comes to a screeching halt, white people don’t have as much to lose. You already live in a society that’s friendly to your whiteness.

Because you benefit from white privilege, you don’t really even have to have these tough conversations. You might even just consider it a fun exercise in debate. But it’s so much more than that to people of color. So disrupting a conversation that could benefit people of color is not only selfish, but it also means you are figuratively standing in the way of much-needed progress.

2. White Feelings Often Tone Police People of Color

Sometimes white people feel under attack in discussions on race, especially if the people of color involved are passionate. Here’s the thing: Racial injustice physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially hurts us. Sometimes, it even kills us.

Therefore, when you ask my opinion on police brutality and I tell you a story about how my partner and his friend almost didn’t make it home one night because the police pulled their weapons on two unarmed black men, I’m likely going to tell this story with a heavy heart.

When another person of color tells you the story about how they had to change the name on their resume to a more “American-sounding” name before hiring managers started contacting them, they might tell that story with some frustration – especially if they are in a financial strain.

This is one of many reasons why you should avoid tone policing when people of color express strong emotions on race-related topics. These emotions are legitimate reactions to our reality. They are not personal attacks on your character. They aren’t actually about you at all.

Furthermore, tone policing also suggests that only certain “non-threatening” people of color can be involved in such conversations. For example, you might prefer to speak to my pacifist father rather than my ex-con childhood friend (both black men) about systemic racism.

My father might tell you of stories growing up in the projects in Chicago in the ’70s, and how white students in his public school were encouraged by teachers and counselors to go to college, while black students were encouraged to find jobs after graduation – and he’ll do it with a calm, collected approach.

My childhood friend could give you a first-hand account of his experience as a black man in the penal system, his struggles to find employment, and the roadblocks he faced with registering to vote. (Despite only having a misdemeanor, he went through a long process to make sure he could vote after his release.)

His blackness and his criminal record strongly impacted his life. Searching for a job as a black person is hard enough; searching for one as a black person with a criminal record is harder – and studies show that it’s harder than a white man in a similar position.

He might become angry while telling his story, but it is an important story nonetheless. Both of their stories offer unique perspectives about different examples of racism in our society. When you brush off passionate voices like my ex-con friend’s, you deny yourself access to varying perspectives.

Your exclusionary approach to conversations on race dismisses the experiences of many people who don’t live up to your expectations for what these conversations should entail.

Discussions on race are not about accommodating the white people involved.  These conversations can become heated, especially when people are addressing painful experiences – but getting heated doesn’t mean they can’t offer positive outcomes.

3. White Feelings Don’t Compare to the Reality of Racial Oppression

When you enter a conversation on race, you may feel uncomfortable, guilty, or upset. In comparison, people of color feel unsafe in their environments, fearful for their lives, worried about their status in the country, or heartbroken from the loss of their loved ones due to a hate crime.

Your whiteness means you don’t experience this to the same extent – or at all, in many cases.   If you think talking about police brutality is uncomfortable, imagine the fear that comes over many black people when we are pulled over. Many of us are thinking, “Am I next?” and wondering if we’ll receive the same fate as Sandra Bland or Freddie Gray.

You may feel uncomfortable talking about microaggressions in the few minutes that you spend discussing it, but you have to understand that microaggressions are a daily discomfort (to say the least) for many people of color.

Additionally, I often see white people derail a conversation by bringing up how they “feel the same way” or they’ve been oppressed like people of color because they are also marginalized. But there are holes in this argument. Even if you’re marginalized in another way and you want to talk about your oppression as a working-class person, as a queer person, as a woman, and so on, this isn’t always appropriate either.

At the end of the day, you’re forgetting three important things:

First, you still have white privilege.

Second, the conversation isn’t about how you are marginalized.

Third, people of color can also be working class, queer, women, and more, and their race intersects with other marginalized identities.

Because of how our various identities intersect, your feelings about how you “feel the same way” because you’re also marginalized aren’t exactly as similar as you think they are.  If you do want to find parallels and ways to relate your experience to that of a person of color, maybe you can find time to talk to them about it in another conversation.

Just be careful about dismissing their oppression or saying it’s the exact same thing. There may be parallels, but every person brings their unique experiences of privilege and oppression. In the future, you could also use these parallels to help other white people who are marginalized understand racial oppression.

4. White Feelings Keep Potential Allies From Taking Action

Many white people who willingly enter into conversations on race have great intentions for doing so: They want to become more informed about the issues, they want to help fight for racial justice, and/or they want to learn how to be a better ally, friend, or feminist.

However, they don’t realize that their feelings get in the way of accomplishing these good intentions.  When white people have feelings that contradict the evidence that people of color bring to a conversation about oppression, they hold themselves back from becoming a better-informed ally. Rather than allowing these bothersome feelings to interfere, why not learn how to manage them and use them to further your goals?

First, you’ll need to address and process these emotions. Here are a few tips on how to do that without disrupting a conversation.

Once you’ve gotten your own feelings in check, it’s time to use them to your advantage in your goals for racial justice. Your feelings and your whiteness make you relatable to other white people. So you can help other white people manage their feelings.

Next time you see a white person derailing a conversation on race, you can say something like, “You know, I used to feel that way, too,” and you can explain to them why you no longer feel this way.

You can also add, “Honestly, this really isn’t the time to address your feelings. We should really let so-and-so speak, as they have personal encounters with racial oppression. Why don’t the two of us talk about it later so this important conversation can continue?”

When you add to a conversation in this way, the conversation can carry on, and the people involved can learn something new.  Additionally, if you talk to other white people about their feelings, you can help educate others who also want to be better allies.

Yes Magazine: Dear White People, Stop Making Racism All About You

Here are 10 ways to talk about white privilege on social media without annoying people of color.

In regards to White folks and their anti-Blackness, here is a list of 10 ways they can stop annoying people of color on social media.

1. When we post about racism—like being called racist names, racial harassment, feelings about being called racist things, or being racially harassed—stop saying you’re shocked. Don’t say, “I can’t believe this still happens.” Don’t tell us all the ways you’re surprised, because you’re either lying or haven’t been paying attention. Don’t show us how much you don’t listen when we talk by carelessly stating “shock.” Think about what it says to us about how you see us before you say something.

2. When we share whatever flavor of racial pain we’re in, don’t proclaim what a good White person you personally are and then go on to tell a story about that time you rescued a poor Black child from the ghetto. We don’t want to hear about that time you bought some jammy pants that gave 5 cents to an elephant in India or whatever. Just don’t do it because it’s not about you personally unless you personally caused the problem. If you want to tell your story about what a wonderful White person you are, take it to your own space because we’re not here for it.

3. Related to number 2, say you come across a post on Facebook and there is a lengthy thread where people of color are going off about how terrible White people are: Don’t be the White person to #notallwhitepeople the thing. If you are personally offended by the “stereotyping” and “generalizations” of a group of people either sharing their pain or cracking jokes about Whitey, calm the hell down. There is not a comment thread long enough. You, singular Good White Person, cannot be the savior of Whiteness.

4. Not all conversations need your stories about something tangentially related. For example, a group of Black folks on social media are talking about hair issues. Maybe we’re talking about things like little Black girls being threatened with suspension from school for wearing their hair natural or wearing braids. Maybe we’re talking about living in majority-White cities and not being able to find certain products, whatever. Mind. Your. Own. Business. The time someone told a Blonde joke that hurt your feelings or the glossy lady-rag article you read that says curly hair isn’t serious—please do not insert yourself. Stay in your lane.

5. If you don’t understand a Black colloquialism, African American Vernacular English, or other brown people slang, do not start yammering about the demise of the English language and how terrible slang is. AAVE is among the most vibrant and ever-changing dialects of the English language. So don’t. If you don’t understand, Google before you ask or just deal with the fact that it isn’t for you.

6. Related to number 5, think about how you use AAVE. Do you use it when you want to feel sassy? If the only use for Blackness you have is to consume it and regurgitate it, skip it. Quote Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry or somebody until Blackness means more to you than two seconds of cachet or sass.

7. Stop letting your white friends act like a-holes on your friends’ posts. You don’t have to be confrontational, you don’t have to ride to the rescue. You can say to your friend, This is not appropriate, here, I am sending you a message so that we can talk. Handle your own people.

8. If ignorance suddenly turns you into the sort of person who leaves 4 inches worth of a comment on a Facebook thread where you police tone, demand emotional labor, and refuse to do your own research—just stop. Your anti-Black biases are making you perceive our responses as aggressive thanks to racist tropes like the Angry Black Woman. There is nothing gentle about racism, and our responses to it don’t warrant subtlety or kindness in return.

9. Don’t ask us why we hate White people. Just don’t. Please stop. Don’t commend us if we decide to say not all white people, don’t demand to a light on you for being The One Truly Good White Person.

10. If reading this list has you furiously writing up a long comment to explain to me how you’re not the problem, how racism is bad, how I don’t really know the struggle, if you are earnestly going to #notallwhitewomen and/or #notallwhitepeople me—you ain’t ready. If you believe this is directed at you personally—it definitely is.

A few days ago, my Facebook timeline was abuzz with an Op-ed from the NY Times by Loretta Ross entitled; I’m a Black Feminist. I Think Call-Out Culture Is Toxic.” I scrolled passed it on several occasions, knowing that I had to be in a darn near saintly frame of mind to handle that kind of Uncle Tom foolery. I saw clearly what the NY Times was trying to do with that title. They were purposely masquerading the errant Black voice to help assuage the ruffled feathers of well-intentioned white liberals. I wanted no part of that dog and pony shit show. But everywhere I looked, so-called white-allies were sharing this piece and I finally bit the bullet and allowed myself to subsume the emotionally caustic irritant. Within record speed, it managed to exceed my tolerance for white folk pandering.

I vehemently reject the idea that call-out culture is toxic; it is one tool, in the tool box aiding in the fight of all forms of oppression. It is not only necessary, but extremely beneficial to the masses when executed skillfully. The fact that Ms. Ross is focused almost primarily on the impact of the call-out to the person making the transgression is the crack that undermines her entire argument but yet, it is so basely American in its pattern of thought. When a cop shoots an unarmed Black Man, the majority of the news cast that day, will focus on the cop’s previously pristine record, or the fact that he is a family man or the awards he has been given for his many years of service; anything to stop us from focusing on the dead Black man. Unless of course, they are compelled to mention that he had a joint in his pocket or a prior arrest record. We need to cease this culture of protecting white feelings and reputations even when they are the clear antagonists.

It is false to assume that the Call-out Cavalier’s, (I just coined the term,) primary focus is reforming the aggressor. We have all seen how this plays out as if they are reading a script from Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility”. No amount of hiding that “Your actions were racist” pill, in a spoon full of sugar, ever works to make that medicine go down, if the person is not truly ready to listen. The assailant is often way too caught up in their emotions, defensiveness and myopic definition of racism, so regardless of the approach, you are not able to get them to admit any level of wrong doing.

The most critical reason for a call-out is actually centered on the victim. Interrupting racially offensive behavior, (or any other –ism,) in the same forum or elevated forum and at the same volume as the aggression was made, is paramount to ensuring that anyone from the oppressed group in ear or eye shot knows that those transgressions were seen and will not go unaddressed. When you wait to “call someone in” privately, the people who were impacted by the statement or action have no real way of knowing that there were others in the room that found it problematic and who were willing to stand up against such behavior. Letting the offended party know that someone has their back is of utmost importance, otherwise the secondary hurt of thinking no one cares sets in shortly after the blow of the initial offense.

Education is also a key goal of a call-out, but it is not necessarily about enlightening the offender. The offense is now primarily a chalk board for the call-out champion to write on. Any third party watching whose emotions are not immediately embroiled in the issue, stands an excellent chance of learning from the missteps of another if the call-out champion clearly outlines not only how the action or statement was racist, but the racist impact and the unjust systems and policies that produce the racist stereotype just exclaimed.

Again, not focusing on the white aggressor, I’m just going to go ahead and admit that venting is cathartic, PERIOD. As a Black, immigrant, lesbian, I refuse to internalize and swallow all the dog whistle transgressions I encounter on a weekly basis. I will not pocket those jabs to my soul in the hopes that I get the opportunity to hug it out with the offender at a more opportune moment. Nope, that is not my way or the way of my people. Bottling up feelings or only communicating them when it’s convenient, polite and socially acceptable is a norm to white culture and some Asian cultures. I invite you to consider for a moment that white culture is not the gold standard.

In my home country of Trinidad or in an number of Black and Brown communities, if someone steps out of line, most people are likely to handle it immediately, on the spot and with little regard to who is watching and what opinions they may form. Carrying that hurt around and waiting to address it, further oppresses the victim.

Addressing the issue immediately allows me to lay the burden of the incident back at the feet of the aggressor and walk away freely, knowing that I have said my piece. I release the negative energy created by the offender, and move on. I am free.

Ms. Ross over-simplifies so much in her diatribe as if she does not she think the reader capable of grasping nuanced situations. The example for her not telling off the women of the Ku Klux Klan after they called her a “well-spoken colored girl” and asked her to sing a negro spiritual is most certainly not because she “wouldn’t let her hurt feeling sabotage her larger agenda.” Rather, it is because she wanted to get off that darn mountain top alive! It’s about politics of location, literally and figuratively! If there is one thing Black folks figure out really quickly on this earth, it is how to survive in a world not exactly built to accommodate them. I’m pretty sure “don’t piss off the KKK in the middle of a deserted forest” is lesson #1 in “how to not to be the Black person that dies in the first scene of a horror movie.” It’s not exactly like she tried to “call in” the KKK ladies in, right?

There are a few things that Ms. Ross gets right. She points out that, “we’re a polarized country, divided by white supremacy, patriarchy, racism against immigrants and increasingly vitriolic ways to disrespect one another.” But I’m sorry, (not Sorry), when a person’s “disrespect” takes the form of devaluing the life, freedom and human decency to already marginalized groups, that person loses the right to a call-in. That person, simply doesn’t get any of my energy caring about their hurt feelings and defensiveness. That is in effect saying that there are “very fine people on both sides” and we just need to find a way to play in the sand box nicely. NOPE! Someone is going to have sand in their proverbial eye and my momma is not even going to spank me for it. You cannot ask the oppressed to play nicely with their oppressors. It’s like asking a slave to try not to escape to freedom because his master will be inconvenienced financially. HELL TO THE NO!

And while I fully agree that we can “work together to ascertain harm and achieve justice without seeing anyone as disposable,” I have to stop way short of the point where she goes on to equate a social media call out of the BBQ Becky’s of the world for example, to “violating their human rights or right to due process.” I thought I must have misread that line as it was such an offensive exaggeration, especially in a conversation where Black and Brown human rights and lives are violated consistently and systemically.

Ms. Ross goes on to argue that, “call-outs make people fearful of being targeted. People avoid meaningful conversations when hyper vigilant perfectionists point out apparent mistakes.” Again this centers the hurt white feelings and ignores the reality that white America has been systematically avoiding conversations of race for centuries. America jumped from slavery, to Black Codes, to Jim Crow, to the War on Black Men (aka The War on Drugs) and mass incarceration over a near 380-year period. Then suddenly in a 20-year span, they want to decree colorblindness as good and declared that we are in a “Post Racial America,” let bygones be bygones, let’s not talk about it too much, the past is the past, THE END. It is critical here to realize, that when an aggressor makes a transgression then is called out, and the rebuttal is, “well you could have told me in a nicer manner” or “it’s rude to call someone racist,” there is a clear and purposeful choice to avoid the message that points out their racism and to focus on the messenger. That is avoiding the key issue at hand. That is tone policing. That is gas lighting oneself to believe that the fault lies elsewhere. That trick is as old as the day, and in that op-ed, they even celebrated a sister for towing the crooked party line for them.

In the spirit of the phrase, “calling-in is simply a call-out done with love,” I would lovingly like to call everyone to the fight against all forms of oppression and not quibble about how the fight is approached. The task at hand is colossal, there is room for multiple approaches.

Let’s welcome everyone to show up as they are in this fight; with their rage, with their humor, with a well-timed meme, with their academic facts laid succinctly at the feet of the offending party, with their tears and with their frustration. And yes, if the spirit so moves them, on any given day, with grace and love, but that is not owed to an oppressor, so don’t expect it as the standard, because that is not a realistic or fair request.

When we choose this path we stop centering whiteness and stop putting the onus on marginalized communities to play the respectability politics charade, hence recognizing the validity of every culture at the table.


White Comfort

“White comfort matters more than black lives.” Wyatt Donigan, Medium

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  • Dismissing POC experiences to maintain white comfort
    • Saying we just need more positivity, kindness, love
      • While ignoring justice, current systems of oppression
      • Dismissing or tone policing righteous anger
    • Feeling left out during acts of POC empowerment
      • Black Lives Matter? What about white lives?
      • Black history month? What about white history?
    • Need for white people to be good/not part of problem
      • By ignoring the realities and perspectives of people of color
        • Gaslighting, white tears, white fragility, white savior complex, etc.
      • Not by actively dismantling systemic racism

“What you are saying is ‘my discomfort with you right now is worth more than the potential that your life could be snuffed in 10 minutes.’ Until that stops, nothing is going to change.” Tim Wise, Everyday Racism in America

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Discomfort with Using the word “White”

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“This is something I see all the time, white people going out of their way to not use the word White, as if it was something degrading. The words caucasian, humans, Homo-sapiens are used instead. I even saw someone say clear people…?? The best one is when they say “white”. You need to stop. Accept your whiteness and everything that comes with it.” the.mirror

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Everday Feminism: To White Feminists Who Don’t Want to Discuss Racism: Here Are 7 Things You Need to Know

2. Black (And Brown) Lives > White Feelings

Have you ever read something written by a person of color and immediately gotten upset because it made you feel really bad? I have.

Have you ever commented then about how hurtful the initial comments were? Maybe said something to the effect of, “Just because some Muslims are being profiled as terrorists and being unfairly targeted because of it doesn’t mean you have to attack white people.” If this feels familiar to you, I’d highly suggest that you refrain from jumping onto a thread about people of color being victims of fatal violence to talk about your feelings.

Because at the end of the day, Black and brown people are literally losing their lives at the hands of our state, simply because of the color of their skin. Their lives are way more important than our feelings. Always. We might feel a little uncomfortable with some commentary. They risk death every day of their lives, whether they’re in their home or outside of it. These two things cannot be compared in any way.

What Can You Do Instead?

Sit with your discomfort. It’s okay to be uncomfortable, and it’s okay to not understand why you can’t talk about those feelings publicly. But friends of color shouldn’t have to witness you working out your white guilt on their timelines.  That’s something you should do privately, with another white person. Talk to someone else who is an ally in racial justice about how you’re feeling and work it out with them.

Get involved with organizing other white people for racial justice. Showing Up For Racial Justice is a great organization of white folks with chapters all over the United States.

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Everyday Feminism: Why White People Shouldn’t Impose Their Feelings Into Conversations on Race

3. White Feelings Don’t Compare to the Reality of Racial Oppression

When you enter a conversation on race, you may feel uncomfortable, guilty, or upset. In comparison, people of color feel unsafe in their environments, fearful for their lives, worried about their status in the country, or heartbroken from the loss of their loved ones due to a hate crime.

Your whiteness means you don’t experience this to the same extent – or at all, in many cases.   If you think talking about police brutality is uncomfortable, imagine the fear that comes over many black people when we are pulled over. Many of us are thinking, “Am I next?” and wondering if we’ll receive the same fate as Sandra Bland or Freddie Gray.

You may feel uncomfortable talking about microaggressions in the few minutes that you spend discussing it, but you have to understand that microaggressions are a daily discomfort (to say the least) for many people of color.

Additionally, I often see white people derail a conversation by bringing up how they “feel the same way” or they’ve been oppressed like people of color because they are also marginalized. But there are holes in this argument. Even if you’re marginalized in another way and you want to talk about your oppression as a working-class person, as a queer person, as a woman, and so on, this isn’t always appropriate either.

At the end of the day, you’re forgetting three important things:

First, you still have white privilege.

Second, the conversation isn’t about how you are marginalized.

Third, people of color can also be working class, queer, women, and more, and their race intersects with other marginalized identities.

Because of how our various identities intersect, your feelings about how you “feel the same way” because you’re also marginalized aren’t exactly as similar as you think they are.  If you do want to find parallels and ways to relate your experience to that of a person of color, maybe you can find time to talk to them about it in another conversation.

Just be careful about dismissing their oppression or saying it’s the exact same thing. There may be parallels, but every person brings their unique experiences of privilege and oppression. In the future, you could also use these parallels to help other white people who are marginalized understand racial oppression.

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Dismantling Racism: Analysis Tools

Distancing Behaviors

Our identity and relation to power: we may feel guilt or anxiety for being a member of the dominant group (a man when sexism is the issue; a white person when racism is the issue). We may be afraid to speak out because we’ll be seen as a troublemaker and become isolated when we belong to the target group.

Our discomfort with the content and perspective: the implications of what we’re learning may be very threatening to us if we belong to the dominant group or may not be critical or threatening enough if we belong to the target group.

Our discomfort with the process: those of us used to doing things a certain way may get impatient or frustrated when the process is unfamiliar, slow, or too ‘touchy feely.’ We may assume that the way we respond to the process is the way everyone responds to the process, whether or not that is true. Some of us feel we have a ‘right’ to be included, while others never expect to be fully included.

Our fear about losing: taking in and/or acting on the information presented may mean loss – of family, of friends, of a job. A white person who opens up to how racism is playing out in their family or community may risk losing important relationships if they decide to speak or act. A person of color who decides to work in coalition with white people may risk losing important relationships as a result.

Our fear of critical thinking: many of us tend to hear critical thinking as criticism. For example, the suggestion that we could do better on race issues in our organization is heard as criticism that we’re doing a bad job. This can be particularly difficult when we have a lot of personal investment in the organization or community.

: Confronting racism is not about the needs and feelings of white people

Too often whites at discussions on race decide for themselves what will be discussed, what they will hear, what they will learn. And it is their space. All spaces are

I was leaving a corporate office building after a full day of leading workshops on how to talk about race thoughtfully and deliberately. The audience for each session had been similar to the dozens I had faced before. There was an overrepresentation of employees of color, an underrepresentation of white employees. The participants of color tended to make eye contact with me and nod – I even heard a few “Amens” – but were never the first to raise their hands with questions or comments. Meanwhile, there was always a white man eager to share his thoughts on race. In these sessions I typically rely on silent feedback from participants of color to make sure I am on the right track, while trying to moderate the loud centering of whiteness.

In the hallway an Asian American woman locked eyes with me and mouthed: “Thank you.” A black man squeezed my shoulder and muttered: “Girl, if you only knew.” A black woman stopped me, looked around cautiously to make sure no one was within earshot, and then said: “You spoke the truth. I wish I could have shared my story so you’d know how true. But this was not the place.”

This was not the place. Despite the care I take in these sessions to center people of color, to keep them safe, this still was not the place. Once again, what might have been a discussion about the real, quantifiable harm being done to people of color had been subsumed by a discussion about the feelings of white people, the expectations of white people, the needs of white people.

As I stood there, gazing off into the memory of hundreds of stifled conversations about race, I was brought to attention by a white woman. She was not nervously looking around to see who might be listening. She didn’t ask if I had time to talk, though I was standing at the door.

“Your session was really nice,” she started. “You said a lot of good things that will be useful to a lot of people.”

She paused briefly: “But the thing is, nothing you talked about today is going to help me make more black friends.”

I was reminded of one of the very first panels on race I had participated in. A black man in Seattle had been pepper-sprayed by a security guard for doing nothing more than walking through a shopping center. It had been caught on camera. A group of black writers and activists, myself included, were onstage in front of a majority-white Seattle audience, talking about the incident. Fellow panelist Charles Mudede, a brilliant writer, film-maker and economic theorist, addressed the economic mechanisms at work: this security guard had been told that his job was to protect his employers’ ability to make a profit. He had been told that his job was to keep customers who had money to spend happy and safe. And every day he was fed cultural messages about who had money and who didn’t. Who was violent and who wasn’t. Charles argued that the security guard had been doing his job. In a white supremacist capitalist system, this is what doing your job looked like.

Well, at least he was trying to argue that point. Because halfway through, a white woman stood up and interrupted him.

“Look, I’m sure you know a lot about all this stuff,” she said, hands on hips. “But I didn’t come here for an economics lesson. I came here because I feel bad about what happened to this man and I want to know what to do.”

That room, apparently, wasn’t the place either. According to this woman, this talk was not, or should not have been, about the feelings of the man who was pepper-sprayed, or those of the broader black community, which had just been delivered even more evidence of how unsafe we are in our own city. She felt bad and wanted to stop feeling bad. And she expected us to provide that to her.

At a university last month, where I was discussing the whitewashing of publishing and the need for more unfiltered narratives by people of color, a white man insisted that there was no way we were going to be understood by white people if we couldn’t make ourselves more accessible. When I asked him if all of the elements of white culture that people of color have to familiarize themselves with just to get through the day are ever modified to suit us, he shrugged and looked down at his notebook. At a workshop I led last week a white woman wondered if perhaps people of color in America are too sensitive about race. How was she going to be able to learn if we were always getting so upset at her questions?

I’ve experienced similar interruptions and dismissals more times than I can count. Even when my name is on the poster, none of these places seem like the right places in which to talk about what I and so many people of color need to talk about. So often the white attendees have decided for themselves what will be discussed, what they will hear, what they will learn. And it is their space. All spaces are.

One day, in frustration, I posted this social media status:

“If your anti-racism work prioritizes the ‘growth’ and ‘enlightenment’ of white America over the safety, dignity and humanity of people of color – it’s not anti-racism work. It’s white supremacy.”

One of the very first responses I received from a white commenter was: “OK, but isn’t it better than nothing?”

Is it? Is a little erasure better than a lot of erasure? Is a little white supremacy leaked into our anti-racism work better than no anti-racism work at all? Every time I stand in front of an audience to address racial oppression in America, I know that I am facing a lot of white people who are in the room to feel less bad about racial discrimination and violence in the news, to score points, to let everyone know that they are not like the others, to make black friends. I know that I am speaking to a lot of white people who are certain they are not the problem because they are there.

Just once I want to speak to a room of white people who know they are there because they are the problem. Who know they are there to begin the work of seeing where they have been complicit and harmful so that they can start doing better. Because white supremacy is their construct, a construct they have benefited from, and deconstructing white supremacy is their duty.

Myself and many of the attendees of color often leave these talks feeling tired and disheartened, but I still show up and speak. I show up in the hopes that maybe, possibly, this talk will be the one that finally breaks through, or will bring me a step closer to the one that will. I show up and speak for people of color who can’t speak freely, so that they might feel seen and heard. I speak because there are people of color in the room who need to hear that they shouldn’t have to carry the burden of racial oppression, while those who benefit from that same oppression expect anti-racism efforts to meet their needs first. After my most recent talk, a black woman slipped me a note in which she had written that she would never be able to speak openly about the ways that racism was impacting her life, not without risking reprisals from white peers. “I will heal at home in silence,” she concluded.

Is it better than nothing? Or is the fact that in 2019 I still have to ask myself that question every day most harmful of all?

: When White People Are Uncomfortable, Black People Are Silenced

Social media makes it easy for those who don’t want to hear the truth.

In 1962, Fannie Lou Hamer was fired from her job after she campaigned to encourage African Americans to vote. Two years later, when Hamer testified at the DNC in support of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party—specifically its efforts to further black voter registration—President Lyndon B Johnson called an impromptu news conference to make it impossible for national television networks to cover her testimony live.

This type of silencing, used generation after generation against marginalized voices, is nothing new. For decades, it has ensured America never had to face a hard truth: that its foundations, its very roots, are racist. And today, threats like doxing, reporting of work, and white gatekeeping are common tactics used to silence those who speak that truth.

“Silencing happens when, for white people, hearing the truth is too much.”

It happened to the black men who took a knee at their NFL games to protest the killing of black bodies at the hands of the police force. It happens to Black Lives Matter activists who are censored by social media algorithms that protect white men. It happens to women of color representatives in our own government. Last year during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with Jeff Sessions, Senator Kamala Harris was the only senator to be reprimanded by her male colleagues for asking pertinent questions—like whether Sessions had any communication with Russians.

Silencing happens when, for white people, hearing the truth is too much; when the truth hangs so painfully heavy on their shoulders that they’d rather get rid of the weight, than actually face the issue head on.

But why would something as virtuous as truth be a burden for some? Because when the truth is held up, it reflects the false securities that our society rests on: the elitism, the capitalism, the racism, the ableism, the sexism, the homo/transphobia, the xenophobia, the anti-blackness. And the people who benefit from those systems have a hard time letting go of their privilege within those realms. To escape these truths, silencing has very often been the answer.

In my own work, I’ve seen it show up again and again when I put out the type of content that agitates—the type of content that is meant make people think deeply about the roles they may play in the problematic dynamic of this country. And when I show up in these ways, silencing is something I’ve come to expect. I’ve had my university contacted to “report” me by those seeking to sabotage my academic career. I’ve been accused of lying about how white supremacy has shown up in my life as a way to discredit my work. I’ve had social media posts dedicated to the mental health of black communities reported, and then taken down. Time and time again my voice has been muffled by those who would rather not be bothered by the conversations around racism—both its gnarled roots, and its modern manifestations.

Those in power—or often, simply those with money—do whatever it takes to maintain the power that keeps them comfortable at the expense of marginalizing so many.

As exhausting as this work is, there are many of us—black women I’m speaking of here—who won’t stop this work. We won’t simply fold to the silencing and the threats, because there is too much on the line for us.

“When the truth is held up, it reflects the false securities our society rests on.”

Poet Audre Lorde reminds me of this with her quote: “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

When people try to silence me, I can’t help but think of how dogs pulled at the skin of my ancestors as they raced to their freedom; how babies were pulled from the arms of mothers who knew they’d never lay eyes on them again; how water hoses painfully blasted at the chests of women and men demanding justice in the streets; how little brown girls defied laws of segregation walking through angry mobs who considered them unworthy.

The efforts to silence my own work will never not be terrifying. But when have black bodies, black livelihoods, black existences ever been safe in pursuit of truth and justice in this country?

Author Alice Walker says, “We will be ourselves and free, or die in the attempt. Harriet Tubman was not our great-grandmother for nothing.” There is still so much more work to do. I am committed to continue doing what I can, with what I have, from where I’m at. We can’t back down. We can’t be silent. We must all stand, committed to #DoTheWork.

In the words of fellow writer and black feminist Layla Saad:

“I am tired of being censored.

I am tired of being attacked.

I’m tired of not feeling safe.

I’m tired of not knowing who to trust.

I’m tired of defending my humanity.

I’m tired of debating the truth of my lived experiences.

I’m tired of not being able to speak my mind without fear of retribution.

I’m tired of injustice and discrimination.

I’m tired of having to be twice as good and two steps ahead just to fxcking live.

I’m tired of having my words wiped clean from existence without reason or justification.

I’m tired of the emotional labour of being in this melanated body in these white-centred spaces.

I’m tired of having to be the strong one, the resilient one, the one who acts better than she’s being treated.

I’m tired of screaming that I’m being hurt and being punished for it, while my abusers are protected and enabled.

I’m tired of being tired.

So damn tired.”

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This past year I not only stood unapologetically in the full and complete truth of my identity but also voiced that truth, my truth, aloud to all those closest to me. Including a lot of White people. People who think we’re quite close when in reality they neither see nor support me as my whole, loud and proud Black female-identifying self.

So this is my ode to them and to all the other seemingly liberal White folx out there. My ode to you. The ones who think you’re doing enough. Who wholeheartedly believe you support Black womxn. Who have a Black womxn friend or two (and whether you admit or not many of you believe you’re woke simply for befriending us). Whether you think you’re colour blind or an ally. This is for every White hue-man in my life — past, present or future. Major newsflash ahead so buckle the fuck up.

Before I Begin

This is a good time to point out that you’re not going to like what I have to say. Not one bit. Your ego and White privilege will seethe. You’ll be inclined to label me angry — classic! — and wonder who the fuck I think I am to speak to you this way (I am my ancestors wildest dream, for the record). You may feel I’m ruthless for spelling this out so publicly, that I should speak to each of you in private. It’s all standard White violence, as to be expected, so if you feel you need to stay there by all means — do you boo.

But for those of you who truly give a shit, I hope this will give you pause and help you become empowered to show up for myself and other Black womxn in an authentic, nourishing, sustainable way. Lord knows it’s long overdue.

Giving Up White Comfort

In 2018 I had the nerve, as many of you would believe, to affirm my own Black womxnhood and demand that the mostly White people around me, do the same. In other words, I stopped prioritizing whiteness and White comfort and rather centered myself and Black and Indigenous womxnhood. The audacity!

Now, make no mistake I’ve been fighting racist heteropatriarchy most of my life in various ways, from college campuses to government agencies, but like many Black womxn, I had yet to truly bring it home to roost. To make my needs and boundaries clear to the White and wealthy community that I was raised in. One that has caused me decades, if not a lifetime, of emotionally violent racialized harm. And I had failed to do so for damn good reason — it was not and is not safe.

It wasn’t safe at 4 years old when the White “caregivers” at daycare would lock me outside alone in the rain. It wasn’t safe at 8 years old when my White BFF told me I looked like I had been dipped in poo. It surely wasn’t safe at 16 when my White high school sweetheart’s friends asked him how kinky I was in bed. Nor at 31 when my mom died and my closest friend didn’t support me “because I’m so strong” (read: strong Black woman trope). Still not safe at 33 when a White friend of 20 years admitted she had never thought of me as Black because, unbeknownst to her, White privilege allowed her to barely see me at all.

Nope. The community within which I was raised is a battlefield of White supremacy and I, as the only Black person, let alone Black womxn, in the mix did the best I could simply to survive. This is not an experience unique to me. But here’s a hard hit of realness White folx have the privilege of ignoring: as a Black woman, the majority of the time being your “friend”, hell even acquaintance, has meant my playing small. It meant biting my tongue and keeping quiet for your benefit and comfort at the detriment of my own.

Growing up in an incredibly White space, this means I’ve accrued a bunch of White folx who became my “friend” on the condition that I did’t challenge you or the system of oppression you perpetuate in and benefit from. And for a long time, I didn’t — constantly (albeit subconsciously) ensuring that the White folx surrounding me weren’t made to acknowledge race or racism in any way because it would almost surely result in violence. White fragility, microaggressions, White entitlement, gaslighting, triangulation, spiritual bypassing, White exceptionalism — you name it, I’ve endured it a million times over. Yes, even from you. Did you do so intentionally? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But impact trumps intention. Every. Damn. Time. And let me be real fucking clear: I’ve had enough.

If I talk a little louder
If I speak up when you’re wrong
If I walk a little taller
I’d be known to you too long
If you noticed that I’m different
Don’t take it personally
Don’t be mad, it’s just the brand new kind of me
And it ain’t bad, I found a brand new kind of free

– Alicia Keys

The Shift

In that enoughness lies my biggest shift of 2018, and undoubtedly one of the biggest transitions of my life. In re-awakening to my work as a racial justice advocate, in once again aligning with my calling to speak up and out on the injustices of this world and witnessing the brilliant work of my fellow Black and Indigenous activists, I became unfuckwithable. At 34 years old I fully embraced my mission, morals and values and got clear that the racialized violence I endured at the hands of whiteness, at the hands of you, was no longer acceptable. I became willing to speak my truth, despite the pain I knew would ensue, and cut all ties with White folx, or any folx, unable or unwilling to stop causing harm and centering whiteness.

The result? Well, needless to say whiteness, aka you, didn’t like this at all and every fear a Black person has about calling White folx out became manifest. You’ve shamed me for naming racism while the people saying or doing racist things are absolved. After being attacked by a group of White women for calling out racism on a stagette, I was removed as the MC of your wedding. Some of you, whom I’ve known for decades, tell me you don’t know where you fit in as my friend anymore (i.e. — you can’t understand how to be friends with me if I’m not prioritizing your comfort). Many of you have and still harshly dismiss my lived experience of racism if and when I attempt to share. Some of you have distanced yourselves entirely, others are palpably awkward in my presence and more of you have taken to protecting your precious egos by talking shit behind my back (surely I must be the problem, not you).

I’ve had White “friends” reach out to test the waters because you don’t like what it says about you if I no longer want to be friends, but you have zero desire or willingness to look at your shit or change in any way; let alone give a fuck about what this experience is like for me or any other person of colour.

I get that redefining any relationship is hard, especially when it involves a complete overhaul of a power dynamic that you feel utterly entitled to. After all, you live in a world where, whether you like or not, everything panders to your supremacy. From beauty standards and healthcare to education and the judicial system — whiteness reigns supreme. And my colonial role as a Black woman is to avoid naming or rocking that boat, or suffer immense emotional, spiritual, mental and/or physical harm by your hand dare I step out of line. It’s a fucked up but entirely intentional scheme and your subjugation of my humanity renders any possibility of being able to relate to, respect or connect with me or my fellow Black bbs impossible. Well, I have no time for it.

Which leads me to the ultimate point of this here sermon — all White folx, friends of Black womxn or otherwise, you gotta do better. Like, way better. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: y’all are causing Black womxn, myself included, mad harm. ALL of you. Every day. Even and perhaps especially the Black womxn you call friends or family.

For those thinking “not me”. YES, absolutely you. Overtly or otherwise and in many ways unbeknownst to you. I know a lot of it is unintentional and I know it’s 2019 — not knowing about racial harm is intentional and entirely unacceptable. Your ignorance is violent. So, what the fuck to do?

How White Folx Can Be Better Friends to Black Womxn

There’s no one-size fits all and — reminder — Black womxn are people just like anyone else. Meaning we all have various life experiences, privileges, worldviews, triggers etc. and our needs and wants for friendship will differ.

What I will share are 5 suggestions for how White folx wishing to be my friend (or continue to be my friend) can begin to authentically engage with and support me personally. Key stress on begin. These actions aren’t a surefire way to friendship, because nothing is. But given the grave amount of harm myself and so many Black womxn have + continue to endure at the hands of White people (of ALL people but I’m starting with the most harmful), these are my current precursors to rules of engagement with any fairer skin friends moving forward. Take it or (as many of you will) leave it…

1. Admit You’re Racist — Whether you like it or not, intend it or not, racism is the status quo of whiteness. If you are committed to minimizing harm to myself and/or other Black womxn, then you will acknowledge and address your learned White supremacy and its consequences. If you can’t acknowledge that you belong to a group that as a whole has oppressed Black people to build + maintain your privilege and understand the power dynamics at play in our relationship as a result, you’re not someone I can feel safe with nor trust. This means education yourself and engaging in conversations about race, racism + White privilege (and not in a manner that requires unpaid time, energy and emotional labour of Black womxn), learning and using proper terminology (Google is your friend!), committing to doing better, owning and apologizing when you fuck up and cause harm — because you still will — and continuing to dismantle your White privilege for the rest of your days.

2. Do Your Inner Work — In addition to admitting your participation in White supremacist systems and all the ways it (and you) have caused Black womxn harm, there’s the deep, inner work of actually addressing your personal racism so you can not only identify the harm you cause us, but minimize it. I suggest the best way to begin is to engage in ongoing active education led by BIWOC, for example Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy Workbook, my Spiritual Activism workshops and Catrice Jackson’s 30 Day Crash Course for White Women.

Reading books is great but passive education is insufficient, especially in the absence of critical analysis from BIWOC. And sidenote — doing it solely through or with other white folx ain’t it either, nor is liking a post or two on my Instagram. On that note, if you follow me + my work but believe you’re somehow excluded from actually doing anti-racism work of your own — your privilege is showing! There’s no silver bullet and your work will never be finished, but it’s on you to do it every single day for the rest of your life. Or not, but that means you and I can’t be homies #sorrynotsorry.

3. See Me — This sounds incredibly simple doesn’t it? Yet I’ve found it unbelievably challenging for White people to do. If you want to authentically engage with me then you need to see and acknowledge me, as in allpartsof me. Not just the parts you like or want to co-opt. Not just the bits that you understand. Certainly not just the parts that make you comfortable. ALL of me. Including my Blackness. I am human, just like you. But the majority of White Americans don’t have any meaningful relationship with POC, so y’all be tripping and treating us like aliens. Listen up — I am a whole, dynamic, complex, multifaceted person. Shit ain’t hard (especially if you’re addressing your own racism). Listen to me. Acknowledge me and my experiences. Sit with me in my anger and do your best to appreciate how and why centuries of oppression would leave me so damn pissed off. Believe me. Even and especially when my experiences make you uncomfortable. SEE me.

4. Stop Centering Yourself — Not everything is about you. This may come across as facetious but it’s a simple truth pill many White folx have a tough time swallowing. If you expect me to educate you (unpaid / outside of my role as an educator) on race, comfort you as you process your racism, send you love + light supremacy after you’ve caused me harm or engage in personalized discussions about your hurt feelings re race (or my resulting boundaries), you’re making this entire thing about you. It’s not. If I no longer want to associate with you, maybe take a tick and ask yourself why that is and what that experience may be like for me.Conduct an honest review of our relationship, racial harms you’ve caused me and figure out if you can honestly and earnestly attempt to fix that harm — for my benefit. Not just yours. I’m tired and I don’t owe whiteness a dang thing, including an explanation.

Ceasing to center yourself also means you understand that you cannot and will never understand my experiences as a Black womxn because you have never endured oppression or discrimination on the basis of both race and sex (and if you disagree then we can call this whole “let’s try and be friends” thing quits right now). If there are things I’ve shared or tried to explain, or behaviors I’ve exhibited, that you simply don’t understand — have some fucking compassion. I am enduring a daily onslaught of hate and discrimination that you could not begin to fathom. If I say it’s about race — it is. Your attempts to tell me otherwise are violent and about your need for comfort over mine. Stop it.

Lastly, prioritize and fight for the needs, wants and comfort of myself and other Black womxn even and especially when you don’t feel you directly benefit — not just the times you feel it impacts you personally (like seeing Dr. Ford take the stand).

5. Support Me — There’s no such thing as “being” an ally, but you can choose to act in allyship with myself and other Black womxn as much as possible. That doesn’t mean hitting up a protest and posting it all over IG to ensure everyone knows you were there. Nor does it look like wielding your greater economic power (which you have as a result of White privilege) to try and absolve yourself of your racism or rectify harms you’ve caused. Financial reparations and acts of service can certainly be supportive, but they do not replace doing your inner work to address your racism. Salvation cannot be bought, and neither can I.

Support means nurturing and uplifting me emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. Checking in on me regularly. Having to constantly navigate White supremacist heteropatriarchy is painful and exhausting on a good day nevermind in the wake of, say, Jazmine Barne’s murder or the backlash from every single non-Black womxn re #muterkelly. Support my work to dismantle racist patriarchy, either by partaking in it yourself or helping me spread the word to other White folx. Support my humanity by, as a start, calling out other White folx who partake in racist acts towards myself or others, paying Black womxn, using any platform you may have to speak on or in some way address racial justice, withdrawing financial support of racist institutions and ceasing to associate with folks who refuse to do the work. If you believe you’re “doing the work” but your BFFs/hubby/clients/closest circle aren’t — you’re lying to yourself.

Still with me?

Good! I just spilled some majah tea, but there are some hard but incredibly important truths you needed to hear. I’m not asking you to become an activist (and when it comes to racial justice I don’t believe White people are worthy of the term) but you do need a willingness and capacity to face your discomfort and unpack your privilege. To unplug from the matrix of White supremacy and help us all, yourself included, get free. You will fuck this up. You will feel guilt, grief, anger and shame. Keep at it anyways.

Understand that the most unprotected person in this world is the Black womxn and to authentically engage with us means you must acknowledge the harms inflicted by White supremacist heteropatriarchy, including the personal harms inflicted by you.

Do more. Do better. And do it now. You’re already centuries behind. And always remember, if you’re anti-racism is not about centering and supporting Black and Indigenous womxn, whether you know us personally or otherwise, then its bullshit.

As for us, if you’re a friend then you’ll want to get know me again. This new me. The one who makes my comfort, not yours, the priority.

A note to my fellow Black womxn

We have no choice but to navigate White folx, whiteness and constant misogynoir, so we have a lot of healing to do from it all. It goes without saying that I in no way judge Black womxn who cannot or do not call out your White friends/bosses/whoever. It is a deeply disturbing process on many levels and is the source of much pain, loss and grief.

I am also acutely aware that my privilege has granted me the ability to cut ties with whiteness in a way many Black womxn cannot. Still, I would like to encourage us to prioritize our peace above that of White folx wherever and whenever possible. I get so many DMs from my fellow Black bbs asking me how. Stay tuned for my follow-up where I’ll share my suggestions for you to commence your journey to unfuckwithableness. And let me tell you — giving up White comfort feels damn good!

Racially Charged vs Racism

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Screen Shot 2019-08-02 at 10.27.54 PM.pngYou wanna be a good person or you wanna just look like a good person? You wanna listen, learn, and be “not racist” or you wanna protect your fragile ego and just look “not racist”? You wanna grow and be a part of the real movements toward justice and equality or you wanna maintain your privilege and have the world tell you you’re perfect and don’t need to reflect on how you may be complicit in upholding inequality? Ask yourself the tough questions, let your feelings be hurt about it”  Elwing Sương Gonzalez

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White Guilt

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“White guilt is the individual or collective guilt felt by some white people for harm resulting from racist treatment of ethnic minorities by other white people both historically and currently in the United States” Wikipedia

  • Problems with White Guilt
    1. Causes whites to focus on getting acceptance and forgiveness rather than changing their own actions/ beliefs
    2. Can invoke discomfort that causes white people to
      • avoid discussing racism
      • focus on defense mechanisms, including denial, projection, intellectualization, and rationalization.
    3. Waste of time

“I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication’ it becomes a devices to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness. “ Audre Lord

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Wikipedia: White Guilt

White guilt is the individual or collective guilt felt by some white people for harm resulting from racist treatment of ethnic minorities by other white people both historically and currently in the United States and to a lesser extent in Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom.  White guilt has been described as one of the psychosocial costs of racism for white individuals along with empathy (sadness and anger) for victims of racism and fear of non-whites.

Judith Katz, the author of the 1978 publication White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training, is critical of what she calls self-indulgent white guilt fixations. Her concerns about white guilt led her to move from black-white group encounters to all-white groups in her anti-racism training. She also avoided using non-white people to re-educate whites, she said, because she found that this led whites to focus on getting acceptance and forgiveness rather than changing their own actions or beliefs…

George F. Will, a conservative American political columnist, wrote: “[White guilt is] a form of self-congratulation, where whites initiate “compassionate policies” toward people of color, to showcase their innocence to racism.”

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Alternative to Guilt

  • Ideal emotions to feel when confronted:
    • Humility
    • Gratitude
    • Motivation
    • Compassion
    • Interest
    • Less paralyzing discomfort
  • Ideal actions taken after confronted:
    • Reflection
    • Seeking more understanding
    • Listening
    • Engaging
    • Processing
    • Apology
    • Believing
    • Move to action

“I know that because I was socialized as white in a racism-based society, I have a racist worldview, deep racial bias, racist patterns, and investments in the racist system that has elevated me. Still, I don’t feel guilty about racism. I didn’t chose this socialization, and it could not be avoided. But I am responsible for my role in it.

To the degree that I have done my best in each moment to interrupt my participation, I can rest with a clearer conscience.   But that clear conscience is not achieved by complacency or a sense that I have arrived.. Unlike heavy feelings such as guilt, the continuous work of identifying my internalized superiority and how it may be manifesting itself is incredibly liberating.” Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

The Humanist:  Want To Help End Systemic Racism? First Step: Drop the White Guilt

“…As a consequence of the more recent advent of smartphone technology, hyper-surveillance, and growing treatment of cultural issues within the sociopolitical intelligentsia, societal recognition of racial inequalities has improved. Yet, with this appreciation—which is overall sluggish, sometimes tepid, and also rebuffed—comes the onset of another impediment to progress aside from the insidious nature of privilege itself: white guilt.

The point of identifying and exposing inconsistencies within the social systems and cultural norms of the United States isn’t to make whites feel guilty, but to garner greater empathy that will inspire change. The main problem with white guilt is that it attempts to diminish the spotlight aimed at issues germane to marginalized groups and redirects the focus to a wasteful plane of apologetics and ineffective assessment.

This is why some don’t like discussing racism, as those more sensitive to these matters sometimes allow guilt to creep into their thought processes, effectively evoking pangs of discomfort. This can lead to avoidance of the primary issues altogether, as well as the manifestation of defense mechanisms, including denial, projection, intellectualization, and rationalization.

Many are acquainted with the concept of Catholic guilt. Catholic doctrine emphasizes the inherent sinfulness of all people. These accentuated notions of fault lead to varied degrees of enhanced self-loathing. I liken white guilt to Catholic guilt: both relate to a sense of inadequacy emanating from misguided notions. Though the latter is anchored in an imagined source, they both speak to feelings of remorse and internal conflict that does the individual having them no good.

Keep in mind that the call to “recognize your privilege” does not translate to “bear the blame.” Privilege refers to the myriad of social advantages and benefits associated with being part of an in-group. Said benefits exist whether or not one’s earned them or consciously vied for them. In fact, almost universally, privilege is something conferred without the recipient having any say in the matter. Thus, when announcing the existence of privilege, it isn’t about shaming someone or pointing an accusatory finger. It’s about deflating inequality—not imposing guilt.

What we as individuals, groups, and societies need is active opposition to racialized discrepancies, not idle, unproductive self-reproach. From awareness grows motivation to make a difference. White guilt tends to warp or subvert the very sympathies that spurred a yearning for change to begin with.

White supremacy is ideologically and institutionally passed down from generation to generation. It will not just magically disappear. It’s an old, well established system that won’t fold without a fight.

What can those who identify as humanists, or even those who simply consider themselves decent people do to combat systemic racism? Make a concerted effort to humanize and identify with all individuals.

It’s easy to assent to this principle in word, but it’s quite another to be continuously mindful of it and endeavor to extend egalitarianism without constraint. None of this requires a belief in a god, of course, but it does entail dedication to values central to the humanist cause. Impartiality is actually a challenge when one considers the current, severely biased state of affairs. That said, it’s a goal that is certainly achievable.

If you’re carrying guilt for being privileged, quit wasting your time. Devote your mental energy towards something worthwhile, like transmitting heightened awareness within your sphere of influence (however marginal) and seeking to destabilize the inequitable power structure that allows and excuses the bias and cruelty involved with cases like Eric Harris. Focus less on your guilt and more on being a catalyst for change.”

Everyday Feminism: 4 Reasons People of Color Can’t Cater to White People’s Guilt – Or Their Tears

Years ago, in college, I participated in a “diversity training” simulation for student leaders. We were assigned an identity and treated accordingly in the “game.”

The point was for us to experience discrimination – problematic in and of itself.

The game is clearly designed to benefit folks who are most privileged, not those of us who suffer various forms of oppression on a daily basis.

In an oversight, one of the facilitators gave me the badge of the identities I already have – a Black, queer person. And as I moved through the two-hour segment hearing every racial microaggression imaginable, being “arrested” and thrown in “jail” when I expressed very real frustration, there was no “learning” for me.

And none of the facilitators – all but one of them white – stopped the game or interfered. They continued their “act” of anti-Blackness until I sat in the corner, waiting for the game to be over.

Weeks after this training, when I finally got the opportunity to provide feedback about the experience, it was the white woman who’d given me the badge that was upset.

While I sat there watching the room fall silent, watching her burst into tears as she choked through her apology to me, watching as the compassion on the faces in the room shifted towards her, listening to the cooing and comforting “It’s okay” and “You didn’t mean it,” I couldn’t hold space for it.

I got up and left the room.

I could understand why she was upset. Making mistakes and being asked to apologize for those mistakes is upsetting. But it wasn’t only the crying that bothered me – it was how and where.

I was eighteen and trying to make sense of my Black identity in a place where there were so few Black faces. I was just starting to have conversations about power and privilege, but even then, the crying didn’t sit right with me.

The harm had been done to me. The racist shit had been said to me.

But all it took to erase her contributions to legacies of systemic oppression and racialized trauma was a sobbing heap of white womens tears.

When I returned to the room of thirty folks, most of them white, very few of them checked in with me. Instead, they shared how inspired and surprised they were at the woman’s vulnerability and strength.

I learned, in this moment, that my experiences and feelings were no match for the pain of white folks being called out on their racism.

I learned, again, that I’m expected to hold not only my hurt and frustration and anger from daily encounters of racism and other oppressions, but also leave room for – and even prioritize – white anger and guilt.

I learned, in this moment and countless others since then, that I can’t and won’t prioritize white tears, anger, and guilt. Here are a few reasons why.

1. Having Emotions Validated Is a Direct Example of Privilege

As I watched the woman who was, at the time, my mentor, break into tears, I did feel compassion. I’m a deeply empathetic person, so the entire situation was painful for multiple reasons.

For me, the conversation about “white tears” isn’t about denying white folks humanity or their own personal hardships – it’s about the power dynamics, deflection, and even gaslighting that can happen.

It’s about asking the question, “What would the response be if I had shared my perspective and broken down?”

Too often, people of color who emotionally share about the realities of our lives and our experiences of racism are told that we are the problem, or probably misunderstood what happened, or any other excuse that lets racism and white privilege off the hook.

In this example and countless others since, I’ve learned that white folks usually receive affirmation or comfort when their problematic behavior has been called out, especially in mostly white spaces.

When this white woman cried, it was the end of any public discussion around accountability. She was immediately forgiven by those in the room; meanwhile, my trust of her was further damaged.

The simple ability to publicly display emotions and have those emotions validated – is a direct example of white privilege.

2. It’s About Deflection – And Everything But Accepting Accountability

After the incident, I began to blame myself and even felt bad that I’d “made” the woman cry.

Why didn’t I say anything during the game? Why did it take so long to say anything about it? It was clearly a mistake, so why do I feel so bad about it?

And white folks around me echoed these thoughts and continually came to her defense, explaining her intentions, when I expressed discomfort.

I was “making a bigger deal out of it than needed to be made.”

I recognize this now as gaslighting – I was being made to doubt my own feelings and experience because they were inconvenient and uncomfortable to those with the power in this situation.

I also came to realize that I didn’t actually care what the intentions were. Because whether it’s done intentionally or not, there are several emotionally abusive tactics that white folks use to deny the existence and impact of racism – and especially any responsibility in it:

There’s the crying and outrage and insistence that “I’m one of the good ones!”

There’s the immediate need to equate being called out with being oppressed: “You’re racist for calling me racist!”

There’s the apology complete with a few “I didn’t mean its” and other statements that try to lessen impact.

Each of these are about deflection and not wanting to be viewed as a “bad person.” Each of these are emotionally manipulative and result in people of color feeling further silenced and victimized – even by those who’d claim to support our liberation.

White folks who are interested in being truly accountable need to be open to first listening, and not immediately making the situation about them or how inclusive they are.


3. Guilt Doesn’t Change Anything

When I work with groups of college students and introduce the topic of white privilege – anger, guilt, and frustration often result. Without a doubt, at some point, a white student will leave the discussion in tears, feeling that it is no longer a “safe space” for them.

I’d asked them to think about their part in perpetuating systems of racism and oppression. And when I brought up white privilege, it felt like I was blaming them for something they “didn’t do,” something they weren’t even aware of. Their family didn’t even own slaves; they were good white people who celebrated diversity.

For most of us, the idea of causing harm or contributing to oppression – whether intentionally or not, feels terrible. We may feel guilty and angry and attacked. But the ability to navigate “safety” or what is “comfortable” for us is privilege, plain and simple.

And when white folks cry, become defensive, or express anger in response to even discussing racism, they are (often unknowingly) reasserting dominance and privilege.

While guilt is an understandable response, it also puts a stopper on personal responsibility. I can feel bad about my able-bodied privilege all I want to, but guilt isn’t going to change my ableist behavior. Only directly taking responsibility for and beginning to change those behaviors will do that.

Only by accepting accountability for our privilege can we change anything. Being more upset about being called out on racism than the oppression of people of color doesn’t actually allow anything to change.

Guilt doesn’t build solidarity. Guilt isn’t going to evoke sympathy from groups of oppressed people. Guilt shouldn’t get to put the important work and conversations about power and racism on hold. And it shouldn’t be expected that people of color hold that guilt – we are often holding enough already.

4. People of Color Are Already Carrying A Lot

The morning after the Baltimore uprisings, I was in an emotional hangover. I’d spent the previous sleepless night crying and altogether enraged. When I walked into a team meeting at work, I couldn’t shake the feeling.

I felt numb, distant from the surface-level conversations around me, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

A white colleague approached me with caring concern, asked me if I was alright, and gave me her personal cell phone number. She said something along the lines of “I don’t understand exactly how you’re feeling, but I’m here if you need to talk.”

And she was right – she didn’t know how I was feeling, and that acknowledgment made me breathe just a little bit easier. She didn’t cry in sympathy when I mentioned Freddie Gray’s name – she knew that, in this moment, I was carrying a lot that she could not understand, but made herself available to listen and learn.

This simple but profound act still sticks in my mind because it is so rare to my experience.

Our pleas for our lives to matter have often been met with an eyeroll and the insistence that All lives matter!” from white folks.

When we share our experiences at the hands of white supremacy we are told to “take responsibility” and stop “blaming racism for all of our problems.”

The mass media seems fixed on dismissing the violence against us the Charleston massacre was an “attack on religion, not on race.”

We not only carry all of this, we also carry the pain of being dismissed and being repeatedly told to get over it. And I say this not to suggest that white folks are also not carrying pain and trauma from other areas of their lives, I’m saying that racism is not one of those experiences.

So when people of color dismiss white tears and white guilt – it isn’t necessarily a lack of compassion it is about survival and emotional capacity.

The Conversation Must Continue

In difficult conversations about race and racism, where emotions run high and ugliness is brought to the forefront, it’s understandable for us to have emotional reactions.

The realities and pains of racism and other forms of oppression should be upsetting. The concept of “white tears” isn’t discouraging white folks from processing emotions – it’s more about how.

When a white person cries or becomes angry, it’s often the end of whatever discussion was happening – particularly around race. But even through discomfort and guilt and shame, the conversation must continue.

White folks should process feelings and defensiveness with other white folks – not with people of color who are expressing that they’ve been harmed.

Accountability often begins by simply accepting that none of us are perfect, and are going to mess up. It doesn’t mean we’re terrible people. It means that the work of dismantling oppression is never over.

I hope for communities where there is space for all feelings and where no experience is invalidated, but that requires acknowledgement of privilege and accountability when harm has been done.

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White Victimhood/White Tears

White Victimhood

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  • Playing the white victim
    • Belief of being unfairly labeled racist because of disagreement with a black person
      • and not because an argument or belief, which consciously or unconsciously, supports/denies systemic racism
    • Falsely equating anger to hate
      • Feeling attacked when “called out”
    • Examples
      • “Can’t say anything these days”
      • “I can disagree with a person of color and not be racist”
      • “If everyone stop trying to make it about race things would work out”,
      • “Black people already have equal rights! Why do they keep arguing”

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Cultural Bridges to Justice:  Training and Resource for Building Just Communities

8)            BWAME

But What About Me. Look how I’ve been hurt, oppressed, exploited…?”

            Reality Check and Consequence

This diminishes the experience of people of color by telling our own story of hardship. We lose an opportunity to learn more about the experience of racism from a person of color, while we minimize their experience by trying to make it comparable or less painful than ours.

: Dynamics of Denial and Resistance

COMPETING VICTIMIZATION | claiming that targets of oppression have so much power that we are threatened | Women really have all the power. We just want our rights too. They’re taking away our jobs. White people are under attack.

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Source: vedic_science_geek

White Tears

“Imagine first responders at the scene of an accident rushing to comfort the person whose car struck a pedestrian, while the pedestrian lies bleeding on the street” Kimberle Crenshaw, Critical Race Scholar

  • Tactic white women employ to muster sympathy and avoid accountability
    • By turning the tables and accusing their accuser
    • Doesn’t have to involve “actual” tears
  • Involves:
    • White fragility
    • Victim blaming
    • Discrediting a marginalized person’s experience
    • Trauma
    • Often mild to serious consequences for the person of color
    • Not limited to white women

“Picture it: a white woman feels challenged or uncomfortable about something a Black person said or did. Instead of using her words, she cries. Instantly, no matter what the initial catalyst of the situation is, she ends up being appeased, pacified and pampered. Lawd knows we’ve all seen virtual white woman tears shut down conversation, even if she was the instigator of conflict. The other person? Ends up being scolded. Or fired. Or arrested. Or killed…White women tears are especially potent … because they are attached to the symbol of femininity” Awesomely Luvvie

“Whether intended or not, when a white woman cries over some aspect of racism, all the attention immediately goes to her, demanding time, energy, and attention from everyone in the room when they should be focused on ameliorating racism. While she is given attention, the people of color are yet again abandoned and/or blamed. …In a common but particularly subversive move, racism becomes about white distress, white suffering, and white victimization.“ Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

The Guardian: How white women use strategic tears to silence women of colour

“That the voices of “women of colour” are getting louder and more influential is a testament less to the accommodations made by the dominant white culture and more to their own grit in a society that implicitly – and sometimes explicitly – wants them to fail.

At the Sydney writers’ festival on Sunday, editor of Djed Press, Hella Ibrahim, relayed the final minutes of a panel on diversity featuring writers from the western Sydney Sweatshop collective. One of the panellists, Winnie Dunn, in answering a question about the harm caused by good intentions, had used the words “white people” and “shit” in the same sentence. This raised the ire of a self-identified white woman in the audience who interrogated the panellists as to “what they think they have to gain” by insulting people who “want to read their stories.”

In other words, the woman saw a personal attack where there wasn’t one and decided to remind the panellists that as a member of the white majority she ultimately has their fate in her hands.

“I walked out of that panel frustrated,” Ibrahim wrote. “Because yet again, a good convo was derailed, white people centred themselves, and a POC panel was told to police it’s [sic] tone to make their message palatable to a white audience.”

Trauma assails brown and black women from all directions. There is the initial pain of being subjected to gendered racism and discrimination, there is the additional distress of not being believed or supported, and of having your words and your bravery seemingly credited to others.

And then there is a type of trauma inflicted on women of colour that many of us find among the hardest to disclose, the one that few seem willing to admit really happens because it is so thoroughly normalised most people refuse to see it.

It is what that writers’ festival audience member was demonstrating, and what blogger and author Luvvie Ajayi called the “weary weaponising of white women’s tears”.

To put it less poetically, it is the trauma caused by the tactic many white women employ to muster sympathy and avoid accountability, by turning the tables and accusing their accuser.

Almost every BW (black woman) I know has a story about a time in a professional setting in which she attempted to have a talk with a WW about her behavior & it has ended with the WW (white woman) crying,” one black woman wrote on Twitter. “The WW wasn’t crying because she felt sorry and was deeply remorseful. The WW was crying because she felt “bullied” and/or that the BW was being too harsh with her.”

When I shared these tweets on my Facebook page asking brown and black women if this had ever happened to them, I was taken by how deeply this resonated, prompting one Arab woman to share this story:

A WW kept touching my hair. Pulling my curls to watch them bounce back. Rubbing the top. Smelling it. So when I told her to stop and complained to HR and my supervisor, she complained that I wasn’t a people person or team member and I had to leave that position for being ‘threatening’ to a coworker.”

For the doubters, here is a mild version of this sleight-of-hand in action:

Notice it is the white woman – Jeanne Beker – who first interrupts the black woman – Jully Black – who takes the interruption in her stride. Black continues to speak passionately and confidently, which Beker interprets as a personal attack on her even though Black is clearly talking in general terms (just as Winnie Dunn was). Beker then attempts to shut Black down by essentially branding her a bully.

Had Jully Black not stopped and repeated Jeanne Beker’s words back at her – “Why are you attacking me?” – they would have passed largely unnoticed, just another woman of colour smeared as an aggressor for daring to continue speaking when a white woman wanted her to stop.

It doesn’t usually end this way. “White women tears are especially potent … because they are attached to the symbol of femininity,” Ajayi explains. “These tears are pouring out from the eyes of the one chosen to be the prototype of womanhood; the woman who has been painted as helpless against the whims of the world. The one who gets the most protection in a world that does a shitty job overall of cherishing women.”

As I look back over my adult life a pattern emerges. Often, when I have attempted to speak to or confront a white woman about something she has said or done that has impacted me adversely, I am met with tearful denials and indignant accusations that I am hurting her. My confidence diminished and second-guessing myself, I either flare up in frustration at not being heard (which only seems to prove her point) or I back down immediately, apologising and consoling the very person causing me harm.

It is not weakness or guilt that compels me to capitulate. Rather, as I recently wrote, it is the manufactured reputation Arabs have for being threatening and aggressive that follows us everywhere. In a society that routinely places imaginary “wide-eyed, angry and Middle Eastern” people at the scenes of violent crimes they did not commit, having a legitimate grievance is no match for the strategic tears of a white damsel in distress whose innocence is taken for granted.

“We talk about toxic masculinity,” Ajayi warns, “but there is (also) toxicity in wielding femininity in this way.” Brown and black women know we are, as musician Miss Blanks writes, “imperfect victims”. That doesn’t mean we are always in the right but it does mean we know that against a white woman’s accusations, our perspectives will almost always go unheard either way.

Whether angry or calm, shouting or pleading, we are still perceived as the aggressors.

Likewise, white women are equally aware their race privileges them as surely as ours condemns us. In this context, their tearful displays are a form of emotional and psychological violence that reinforce the very system of white dominance that many white women claim to oppose.”

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The Myth of “Cancel Culture”

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“The fact of the matter is that cancel culture doesn’t exist. The same people who lamented the surge of political correctness have moved their target to so-called cancel culture. This group wants free reign to mock or harm LGBTQ+ people, Muslims, indigenous folks, sexual assault survivors, and everyone else without consequence. That’s why they take aim at any perceived loss of freedom of expression, no matter how evident it is that that freedom was never lost in the first place. Marginalized people on Twitter expressing pain caused by powerful—often famous— folks are not depriving problematic people of opportunities, fame, or money. Social media has just given historically silenced people a platform on which to discuss the abuse we’ve suffered at the hands of powerful people.

Even with the ability to rapidly and widely share a person’s wrongdoing, it is immensely rare for anyone with real power or resources to face consequences more damaging than embarrassment. Often, they don’t even have to acknowledge causing harm.” Reina Sultan, If Cancel Culture Was Real, We Would Have Canceled Bill Maher By Now

Rachel Leishman: Racism and Comedy Are Not the Same. This Isn’t Hard.

It’s 2019, and I guess the discussion we have to have is if racism is something that (typically) white comedians can use to their advantage. The short answer is no. The long answer is also no. With the firing of Shane Gillis from Saturday Night Live and many taking to Twitter to criticize Dave Chapelle’s new stand-up special, some comedians are coming out of the woodwork to talk about the level of “political correctness” that comedians are now supposedly beholden to.

That “political correctness” is just that we want our comedians not to be racist/sexist/homophobic assholes, but you know, you can, instead, compare it to a “mutated McCarthy era” mentality, as Sarah Silverman has.

Silverman drawing that comparison with the simple act of holding these comedians accountable for things they actually said and did is interesting because, according to Wikipedia, McCarthyism is defined as “the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence.”

I’m pretty sure we’re just judging the words that are literally coming out of their mouths and just … not finding them funny, so how is that not “proper regard for evidence”? Anyway, I think that these comedians just have a fear of being called out for their own past jokes, and their way of fighting back is to yell and scream about the current world trying to change how we would mock racism/sexism/homophobia and more….

…Comedy that uses slurs to target a group different from yourself isn’t comedy. It’s a cheap shot and shows your lack of ingenuity with that specific joke. Sure, you might be a great stand-up in other aspects, but using racism, homophobia, sexism, or anything in that vein to try to be “funny” is not pushing boundaries. It’s just being an asshole.

Sarah Aswell: “Un-PC” Comedy Lovers: George Carlin And Eddie Murphy Aren’t On Your Team

As the “comedy wars” rage between comics who think that “punching down” and harmful stereotyping isn’t great and comics who think PC culture is killing the art form, two of the most common names invoked by the latter group are stand-ups George Carlin and Eddie Murphy.

Both are legends known for saying it straight and being honest, even when the results could be shocking. Both were wildly popular in the 80s, at a peak of stand-up’s popularity–and often a time that many conservative-minded modern-day comics now look back at longingly. Both are go-to examples for edgelord comics who say that stand-up is all about shocking the crowd, being offensive, and shrugging off responsibility for their audience’s feelings, all in the name of “free speech” and telling it like it is.

But here’s the thing: both Carlin or Murphy would likely disagree with the people who hold them up as examples.

Carlin died in 2008, but a video of his 1990 interview with Larry King makes it crystal clear that when it comes to punching down, he absolutely didn’t think it was funny. In fact, even though it was solidly 20 years ago, he makes some of the major points put forth by comics today who are all about inclusivity and punching up.

The video made its rounds on Twitter on Saturday morning, thanks to Blacklist writer Aiah Samba.

In the clip, Carlin criticizes fellow stand-up Andrew Dice Clay for his bits that punch down.

Today In: Business

“Comedy has traditionally picked on people in power, people who abuse their power,” he says. “Women and gays and immigrants, to my way of thinking, are underdogs.”

“I think [Clay’s] core audience is young white males who are threatened by these groups,” he continues. “I think a lot of these guys aren’t sure of their manhood, I think that’s often a problem when you’re going through adolescence… and the women who assert themselves and that are competent are a threat to these men, and so are immigrants in terms of jobs.”

“I think that’s what is at the core of that experience that takes place in those arenas. A sharing of anger and rage at these targets.”

You can watch the full interview below:

And anyone who has studied Carlin knows that he walked the walk. Sure, he could be shocking and offensive, especially for the times. But he was also consistently thoughtful and more often than not was making a larger point. Yes, he thought Clay could say whatever he wanted on stage, but as he says in the interview, it doesn’t mean that Carlin was laughing at it. At all.

Just a few days before the Carlin clip made its rounds on the internet, Eddie Murphy confessed in an interview with New York Times journalist Jason Zinoman that the stand-up specials most revered by comedians who want to go back to a simpler time of offense make him cringe when he stumbles upon them on television.

“I was a young guy processing a broken heart, you know, kind of an asshole,” Murphy says in the interview of his 1987 special, Raw.

In the interview, he shifts into an impression of himself watching the special these days. “That’s a bit much, my goodness,” he says, cracking himself up. “My word.”

He also clarifies that the good old days of comedy that straight male comedians long for today never really existed: even back then he was picketed for some of his jokes, and that he not only apologized (sincerely) for some of his jokes about the AIDS epidemic and his use of homophobic slurs, but that he showed it with a significant donation to the AIDS Foundation.

The apology, which happened 15 years after the special, acknowledges that times and attitudes change, as well as that his comedy spread misinformation that was actually harmful to society as a whole. (Shane Gillis, please take note of an actual heartfelt apology).

In other words, two things are clear: comedy was never a place where you could say whatever you wanted without consequences to your career, and that with age and experience, Murphy is more than ready, with his coming return to comedy, to make us all laugh without punching down.

As for comedians who you can gather behind if you want to continue to argue that comedy should be hateful and hurtful, or that it should target and marginalize the weakest among us: you’ve still got Andrew Dice Clay.

The Nib

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White Silence

“Racism exists, and it is a white problem” Corrine Fletcher, Counter Punch

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  • White silence
    • Silence, staying out of politics, ability to ignore, indifference
      • All forms of white privilege
        • POC can’t just log off Facebook to stop experiencing racism
  • To not be complicit white people must
    • Openly acknowledge white supremacy in US
    • Use their white privilege to talk to others about white privilege and white supremacy
    • Get uncomfortable

“By visibly hovering near us, they are ‘proving’ that they are ‘with us.’ But the hard truth is this isn’t helping to solve America’s racist problem. The Negroes aren’t the racists. Where the really sincere white people have got to do their ‘proving’ of themselves is not among the black victims, but out on the battle lines of where America’s racism really is — and that’s in their home communities; America’s racism is among their own fellow whites. That’s where sincere whites who really mean to accomplish something have got to work.” Malcolm X, when asked in 1964 how white people could be allies

Screen Shot 2019-08-03 at 10.37.32 PM.png“Whiteness is not divorced from race, whiteness is not neutral, whiteness is loaded and always ready to fire, yet whiteness moves through the world claiming the exclusive right to wear the cloak labeled, “humanity” ••• We have all been conditioned within Anglo-normativity, white-normativity – in our education, in mainstream media and cultural production •• we have been miseducated as to who owns the voice of authority, the voice of logic, the voice of universal human experience, the voice of unbiased facts ••• we have associated “race” with non-whiteness, and a sense of racelessness with whiteness •• whiteness has been bestowed the whole universe of options unhampered by racial constraints ••• we were taught of whiteness as humanity, as simply a blank canvas, when in reality it has created and wielded the racial paintbrush against all ••• we must destroy and rebuild” lafreewaves artwork by Elwing Sương Gonzalez @elwingbling

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Cultural Bridges to Justice:  Training and Resource for Building Just Communities

27)            Silence

We stay silent.

Reality Check and Consequence

Our silence may be a product our guilt or fear of making people of color or white people angry with us or disappointed in us. We may be silent because our guilt stops us from disagreeing with people of color. We may be afraid that speaking out could result in losing some of our privilege. We may be silenced by fear of violence. The reasons for our silence are many, but each time we are silent we miss an opportunity to interrupt racism, or to act as an ally or to interact genuinely with people of color or other white people. And no anti-racist action is taken as long as we are silent.

[A note about silence: Silence is a complicated matter. There are times when faced with a potential intervention situation that we may choose not to interrupt – for reasons of good sense or strategy. Anti-racists need courage, but taking foolish risks makes little sense. When the choice is between intervening in this moment, alone, or gathering allies to speak out later in a more strategic way, the latter may prove more effective. Though the fact remains: the racist incident in that moment was not interrupted.]

Everday Feminism: To White Feminists Who Don’t Want to Discuss Racism: Here Are 7 Things You Need to Know

6. It’s a Privilege to Be Able to Disengage from Conversations or Thoughts About Racism

I want to ask you a question: Who gets to look away, close the browser, and move on with their day and who doesn’t? Hint: It’s not people of color who have the option of not thinking about racism anymore if they don’t want to. As white people, we have the privilege of deciding that we don’t want to think about this difficult, uncomfortable topic if we don’t want to. But for people of color, who live in a racist world every day and bear the brunt of that racism, they don’t have that option.

What Can You Do Instead?

The fact that we have the ability to stop thinking about racism is exactly why we shouldn’t. Challenge yourself to not look away. Engage with the reality of our racist society, the racism that permeates every aspect of our world. Engage other white people in conversations about it, whether it’s by posting about it on your social media accounts or talking about it at your family dinners.

My social media feed may talk about racism and white supremacy too much. But what I’m doing is forcing my white friends from high school, who still live in an all-white bubble, to think about something outside of their lived reality. And every month or so, a white friend of mine reaches out privately to tell me that the things I post have changed the way they think about the world. And, for me, that’s enough for me to keep doing it.

Another way to be an ally to your friends of color (and this is one I learned the hard way, after someone I cared very deeply about told me that he couldn’t talk to me at that time when I checked in with him after Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted for killing Mike Brown. “It’s not personal,” he said. “It’s your whiteness”): Try not to vent about racism to your friends of color.

Even if you think you want to commiserate over this awful thing that happened or can you believe how messed up cops are, don’t. Your friends are tired, and hearing about this shit over and over is triggering (and something they already know).  Not only that, discussing race with white people can be exhausting, or even violent, for people of color. It’s talking to your oppressor about your oppression. Instead, talk to other white people about it.

The Ability to Ignore is a Privilege

“If privilege is defined as legitimization of one’s entitlement to resources, it can also be defined as permission to escape or avoid any challenges to this entitlement” Rich Vodde, Valdosta State Professor of Social Work

“Here’s the thing. To walk past a Confederate flag and feel nothing, to cheer for the Redskins and not feel inferior, to watch how the media discusses Muslims as a monolithic group of violent people and not think twice, is a privilege. If you’re tired of people talking about these issues, let’s get rid of all the passive-aggressive institutional reminders of inferiority. It’s unfair to say “stop talking about being black,” when I drive down roads named after Confederate soldiers who fought to keep me as a slave. The ability to ignore is a privilege. Closing my eyes to these issues is to deny the core of who I am” Kiara Imani Williams – HuffPost

“racial caste systems do not require racial hostility or overt bigotry to thrive. They need racial indifference” MLK jr

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Bustle: You’re Not “Not Political,” You’re Complicit

“Make no mistake: Choosing not to “be political” is a privileged position. If you’re not affected by the minimum wage, or the tax bill, or the raging threat of deportation — if you can afford the medical attention you and your family need, if you’ve benefited from a fair wage, if the color of your skin doesn’t dictate how people treat you — then you can afford to ignore politics entirely.

Good for you.

You’ve benefited from the socioeconomic structures that are in place in the United States, and you don’t necessarily have to worry about the people that those same structures systematically hold back.

Except, you should. And not just because those people could have easily been you, under different circumstances — because, to quote the headline of HuffPost editor Kayla Chadwick’s piece: “I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People.”

Obviously, I don’t mean that you have to be protesting injustices every hour of every day, or that you shouldn’t take a break for self-care whenever you need to. Being “political” simply means becoming aware of what’s happening in your town, your state, your country, and taking the time to learn what you can do to create change.

Sometimes, this is going to mean a time commitment — when you show up to a protest, sign a petition, or call your senator, for example. Not doing those things, however, or not being able to do those things, for any reason, does not mean you are not political. There is no checklist; there is no criteria. Either you choose to be aware of the political landscape and as active as your circumstances will allow, or you choose not to be.

What I’d like to make clearest here is that there is a choice. It’s a highly personal one — maybe not even one you ever speak about to another person. Only you can judge what your being “political” means, assuming it’s safe for you to do so. You can be quietly political, or shout your politics for the rooftops, or engage only in certain issues. (Hell, for all the flak Ivanka Trump and Taylor Swift have caught for not being more openly political, there’s some evidence that each of them are quietly fighting for equality behind the scenes.)

Don’t forget: You do have a choice. You do not have an excuse. What’ll it be?”

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I’m Not Political (Because I Assume I Will Retain All of My Privileges Forever)

(satire)

“I just don’t like to get into that sort of thing. I’d rather abstain from all the petty name-calling and meme-swapping because I believe that life is about more than just politics. (Also, because I’m pretty sure that whatever happens will not affect my day-to-day life in any way because I’m not a member of a historically oppressed group.)…

I guess politics has never appealed to me because I just don’t enjoy arguing (things I do enjoy: massages, sriracha, extreme privilege as the result of a class system rigged in my favor, NOT ARGUING). I don’t need to spend hours debating what led to the Iraq War—it feels like it went by super fast anyways (since no one in my social circle had to join the military to pay for college). It’s not important to me that I understand the best solution to economic inequality—my great-grandfather invented steel. While some people need to always be right, I would rather always be kind. Maybe if everyone were always kind, we wouldn’t even need politics (I don’t know what poverty is because my father invested in soybean futures).

Honestly, if more people were like me (low-key rich, able-bodied), we wouldn’t have to have these fights about things that don’t affect me and never will.

Another thing I don’t like about politics is how it divides people. I believe that we are all the same (almost all my friends went to the same college). So I think we should be able to find common ground when it comes to the major issues affecting our lives, whatever those may be. My best friend is actually a socially conservative libertarian and I have never once let that come between us because I have never asked her what that means and she always has weed.

If you’ve been on social media lately, you know that it can seem like politics is impossible to avoid. But imagine for a second what would happen if we replaced all the angry rants about healthcare and immigration with pictures of kittens and puppies. I, for one, would definitely feel better. I already have healthcare and don’t know why anyone would want to change countries—it sounds like it would be really difficult!

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On becoming aware of his own white privilege

By John Hodgman

“I cannot lay claim to consciousness of my white privilege until two summers ago. I mean, the point of privilege is you don’t realize it. We had bought a house in Maine. There are diverse places in Maine, but where we were is not one of them. Maine is the whitest state in the union, as of the last census, beating out Vermont by about 0.4 percent.

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed, shot by police, in quick succession [that summer]. And although Black Lives Matter had already emerged as a movement, it led to very big protests and then a very unseemly counter-protest on the Internet, the All Lives Matter movement.

And I was reading all of this from a very comfortable place in my second summer home, in the whitest state in the union, on my computer. And I realized in one of these moments of clarity that if I closed my computer it could all go away, and I could go out into the world and not think about race at all, because there was only one race to see in this part of Maine, for the most part. Obviously there are exceptions, but statistically speaking. And that was a real moment where I was like, “Why did it take me till my 40s to understand that the biggest privilege of white privilege is the ability to turn off race and pretend that it is not an issue?”

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Further Readings

Adam Russell Taylor: The Corrosive and Malignant Danger of Remaining Silent About Racism

Back to Top


De-Centering Whiteness

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Tips to De-centering Whiteness

  • Believe people of color’s experience as is
    • Don’t whitesplain

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  • Amply people of color’s voices
    • Instead of co-opting or blocking them
  • Explore not avoid white discomfort around racism and white privilege
    • Spend time recognizing and understanding your reactions

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  • Pause before responding, reacting
    • Ask yourself if you centering this issue or experience around your comfort
  • Find white only anti-racism spaces to process white internalizations
    • Don’t force people of color to process these emotions with you
      • White guilt, white tears, white fragility, etc.
  • Educate other white people on white centering
    • White people, stuck in white centering, listen best from other centered white people
  • Spend time reseraching and understanding the experiences of people of color
    • Follow on social (while not responding) to activists of color on social media
    • Google social justice concepts
    • Decolonize your history
    • Desegregate and diversify your world

“I’m not going to trust you until you’re as willing to be changed, and affected, by my experience and transformed by my experience as I am every day by yours.” Victor Lewis, Color of Fear

James Baldwin on Segregation

Best Way to Learn about The Struggles of People of Color Without Burdening Them

Be a Better Ally

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Allies aren’t passive or neutral!!!

Being an ally isn’t a status but an ongoing action

  • Listen and Educate
    • Listen more than speaking
    • Don’t overpower marginalized voices when organizing
  • Believe marginalized people’s experiences
    • Research online before asking to be educated
      • Its not anybody’s responsibility to tutor you on social issues
    • Listening and educating should be an on-going experience
  • When Confronted
    • Don’t make things about you
    • Don’t take things personal
      • Its about your impact, not your intent
    • Take feedback with humility not ego
  • Challenge
    • Use your privilege to confront/educate about racism and white privilege everywhere
    • Speak up! Confront other white people about their racism andwhite privilege
      • White people with racial issues often listen better to other white people
    • Uplift marginalized voices
      • Retweet, repost, feature, hire them
  • Support
    • Volunteer with social justice organizations
    • Financially support social justice efforts and community programs
    • Advocate all levels of government
    • ll disobedience

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How to Be a Good Ally – Identity, Privilege, Resistance | Ahsante the Artist

Franchesca Ramsey: 5 Tips For Being An Ally

Further Readings

Learn how to Apologize and Take Feedback

Brooke Anderson: 10 Tips on Receiving Critical Feedback: A Guide for Activists

Are you an activist or organizer working against systems of oppression in your community? Have you ever received feedback — gentle or not — that you were bringing the same behaviors into social movement spaces that you thought you were there to fight? Did you react with disbelief or defensiveness? Spiral into shame or self-doubt? Disengage and disappear from the work? Or were you able to learn from the feedback, repair harm, and recommit to a lifetime of shifting your practices to better align your values and actions?

The late revolutionary Grace Lee Boggs asked us to consider “What time is it on the clock of the world?” Today we find ourselves in a moment of devastating ecological collapse, unprecedented and racialized concentration of wealth and power, staggering state violence against communities of color, a rapid resurgence of fascist formations, and incisive attacks on our most basic rights and democratic institutions. We also see a groundswell of powerful popular resistance. People are filling the streets by the millions and, for some, asking for the first time in their lives: “What is my role in all this?”

We know mobilizations alone are not enough. We must build mass movements led by frontline communities, but also united fronts that align our struggles across race, class, gender, homeland, and more. What that practically means is that we’ll spend thousands of hours organizing tenant associations, unions, land trusts, cooperatives, and coalitions with people whose lived experiences may be very different than our own.

While we may be working to unlearn the toxic behaviors of dominant culture (e.g. ableism or transphobia), we may still unintentionally bring old patterns to bear on our efforts to build the new, causing harm and hurting. When this happens, giving and receiving critical feedback can be difficult. Few of us have been taught to do it well. However, creating a movement culture in which feedback is expected, encouraged, and well-taken helps us build the deep trust and accountability essential to effective movement building.

I originally wrote this guide as a white woman who was preparing to join women of color to give feedback to some of our dearest male comrades about how patriarchy was showing up in our shared political project. I was nervous about it. Multiple times per day I thought: “Never mind, it’s not worth the awkwardness.” Having been socialized to put men’s needs above my own, I default to conflict avoidance. But then I remember that every ounce of respect I now enjoy as woman was hard-won by women and gender non-conforming folks before me, and that I owe the next generation that same struggle.

I’ve also made mistakes. Lots of them. As a white person in multiracial movements, I’ve brought racism into organizations I’ve loved in ways that I’m not proud of and which have had real impact on people I cared deeply for. I’m grateful for mentors who stepped to me with honest observations that helped me align my actions with my values. They invested in my development toward the person I yearned to be but was (and am) not yet.

It is from these experiences — both giving and receiving feedback — that I offer these 10 tips on receiving feedback well. To the extent to which this is useful, credit goes to others — mostly women of color — who took time to help me come correct when I was not. Thank you. Any shortcomings are my own.

10 Tips on Receiving Critical Feedback:

1. Take a deep breath. When we hear critique, we often believe our self-worth is at stake, triggering feelings of powerlessness. We spin out, making it harder to take in and learn from feedback. Re-connecting to our breath and feeling into our body helps us regulate ourselves and remain rooted in who we are as we absorb painful information. As you breathe, feel your feet on the ground and your history and loved ones at your back.

2. Trust that feedback is an offering, not an attack. Though your body may at first respond as if it were being attacked (flushed, heart palpitations, sweat), feedback is not an attack. Feedback is an offering and a gift. The person we’ve hurt could have stopped working with us without explanation or talked behind our back. Instead they’re investing their time in giving us important information to help us better align the person we want to be with how we’re actually showing up in the world.

3. Remember that your self-worth is not on trial. We’re born into a culture poisoned by racism, capitalism, patriarchy, etc. When we live on the privileged side of any of those systems, we internalize superiority so deeply it can be hard for us to see. We will make mistakes. When we do, we don’t fall out of worthiness or belonging. We do, however, get good data on how to be the person we want to be more of the time. For example, as a white person, I can never fully unlearn white supremacy. All I can do is to get up every day and fight it harder, smarter, and with more loving fierceness than I did the day before. Some days I show up in that fight better than others. When I make mistakes, I’m responsible for repairing harm, but my self-worth is not on trial.

4. Let go of your attachment to being one of the “good ones.” The world is not divided into “good” and “bad” men (or white people). The myth of “good ones” perpetuates the false idea that some of us have achieved a mythical “ally” status, to be certified by our friends on the frontlines of systemic oppressions. When we get hard feedback, we often default to either (a) Defensiveness: “But I’m one of the ‘good ones.’ I can’t have done anything wrong!” or (b) Fear: “I’ll lose my reputation as an ally.” We worry we’ll jeopardize relationships and communities we care about. That anxiety is real, especially in today’s online call out culture. However, if we’re able to let go of being “one of the good ones,” we open ourselves to understanding how we’ve impacted others and in doing so we actually strengthen our relationships.

5. Listen, ask questions, and take notes.

Listen: We often listen with a filter for defending, rebutting, critiquing, offering counter examples, or fixing. Instead, listen for understanding. When your mind wanders, re-focus your attention. Don’t interrupt. Hold eye contact. Notice what your body language may be communicating.

● Ask clarifying questions: ie. “Are you open to telling me more about the impact that had on you?” or “Would you be willing to share some examples to help me better understand?”

Take notes: Strong emotions hinder our ability to remember details. Take notes if appropriate (if you’re not sure, ask!) during or after the conversation.

6. Ask yourself “If this were true, what would it mean?” You may not agree that your behavior was problematic. Since disbelief is a common way our brain tries to protect our egos, try to momentarily suspend disbelief. Ask yourself, “If any part of this were true, what would it mean? What harm might I have caused? What apologies or repair might be in order?” You still may not agree with the feedback, but search for truth and lessons within it.

7. Save your critiques of how the feedback was brought. We often criticize how feedback was communicated — i.e. wrong time, place, volume, or tone. We say: “They should have _____!” Instead, I ask myself: “What is this reaction preventing me from feeling?” See if you can put these critiques aside and listen for what the feedback actually is. For instance, as women we are taught to ignore our own needs, such that by the time things have gotten so bad that we finally speak up, we’ve been holding back weeks or years of hurt, anger, and resentment. We are also socialized to feel responsible for care-taking people who’ve hurt us. If you’re a cis man receiving feedback from a woman or gender-nonconforming person, ask yourself, “Why do I believe she/they should be responsible for bringing feedback to me in a way that protects me from experiencing negative emotions?” Days later, once you’ve had a chance to process the feedback, acknowledge the harm, and take responsibility, then ask yourself whether you still need to critique the way in which the feedback was brought to you. Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t.

8. Process elsewhere first. The person giving you feedback has likely already done a lot of emotional (and other) labor to prepare for this conversation. Though you may want to immediately discuss it with them, they’re likely already exhausted. When I feel anxious to process with someone who has shared feedback with me, I ask myself what is behind that urgency: “Am I hoping to convince them that I am not at fault? Or that they’ll reassure me I’m still a good person?” Wait until you can come motivated more by curiosity than a need to convince. Practice sitting in discomfort. For men who were socialized to disproportionately rely on women for emotional support, now is a good time to switch that up and lean on other men. If you need to talk, start with people other than the most impacted. You can return later to the person you’ve hurt to ask if they’d be willing to talk and under what circumstances.

9. Offer a clear apology. It’s hard to process feedback immediately. It’s ok to say “Wow, I’m grateful for, but also overwhelmed by this feedback. Thank you for bringing it to me. I’m sad to think that I’ve done something to hurt you. I need some time to process what you’ve shared. I’d like to check back in with you tomorrow / next week to see if you’d be open to talking. Would that be ok?” When you are ready to offer an apology, here are a few do’s and don’ts:

DO

● Re-state in unequivocal terms what was problematic about your behavior.

● Name the impact you understand that it had on the other person.

● Share what work you plan to do to shift your behavior in the future.

DO NOT:

● Apologize for how someone feels. Saying “I’m sorry you’re upset” does not take accountability for your actions. Instead say: “I’m sorry I did X that had Y impact on you.”

● Beat yourself up (i.e. “I can’t do anything right”). We often use self-flagellating language to indirectly ask for reassurance that we’re not a bad person. In doing so, we ask the person we’ve harmed to do more emotional labor. Doing this also re-centers the conversation on your needs, not theirs.

10. Commit to a lifelong of shifting behaviors. We may feel like disappearing from the work entirely (“Fine, I’ll just do my own thing!”). This evades accountability. Instead, we must re-dedicate ourselves to doing the work in authentic relationship with, and accountability to, frontline communities. Doing so will involve giving up some of the power, recognition, and shine we’ve become accustomed to. It may also mean moving slower (as Adrienne Maree Brown says, “at the speed of trust”). This is our test. Can we shed our shame and grow our sense of belonging by building authentic relationships? Can we replace our ego with humility and patience? We may also hunger to be seen for our efforts to change. That recognition is neither our right nor our real objective. Instead, we should ask ourselves:

● What is at the root of my patterns? What is my work to shift those patterns?

● How can I seek more feedback? Can I ask five trusted people: “I’ve gotten feedback that I ____. I’m curious if you’ve witnessed that from me? Please be honest. If you experience me doing this, I’d be grateful if you’d tell me.”

● How can I dedicate time to learning about power, privilege, and oppression without placing the burden of that education on oppressed peoples?

● How am I cultivating authentic relationships across difference that are grounded in honesty, consent, and accountability?

● What is my personal stake in dismantling oppression, including those systems meant to benefit me? How does this understanding strengthen my work toward our collective liberation?

● What systems do I need to hold me accountable to the changes I want to make? Daily reflections? Therapy? Check-ins with accountability buddy?

A few final thoughts:

You may still disagree with the feedback offered to you. That’s ok. We sometimes get feedback that is just plain wrong, or motivated by something other than genuine interest in our personal growth or collective liberation. That happens. However, we strengthen our practice by first looking for the truth and lessons in it and then building authentic relationships with people who share our values, are invested in our growth, and who themselves have cultivated a practice of soliciting and integrating direct feedback.

Shifting our individual behaviors and how we show up with integrity in movement spaces is necessary work, but it must be in service — not instead — of the hard, messy, imperfect work of dismantling systems of oppression.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide. I wrote this for internal use over a year ago, but was recently asked to share it more publicly to support collective conversations on how we can up our capacity for growing from feedback.


“Here’s some hard facts and this is for the white ladies particularly. If you do not fall above or around the poverty line and you continue to regularly consume the work of marginalized people particularly women of color without payment, you are continuing to aid in #oppression. @sonyareneetaylor brought up the case of Zora Neal Hurston who died penniless despite having her work regularly consumed and cited today. Henrietta Lacks family never received a penny from her cells which have benefitted the entire world including you and me. Billie Holiday also died penniless despite her work also being consumed far and wide today. I’m sure if you give it some thought you can think of ten other examples of black women and non binary folks who’s work is consumed by everyone (especially higher education) but did not live to see the profits which educational systems within #whitesupremacy are enjoying.

Here’s some hard facts. 2.4% of my Instagram following are Patrons of my work. And I also notice that when I talk about tipping it’s the same Patrons who also tip. The same people pay while the vast majority of you don’t and it is NOT okay when I receive 10+ messages a day asking me for time and resources and telling me how valuable and important my work is to them and how they need the authenticity my page brings (while knowing full well that my page is unsponsored and that’s something many of you enjoy). Another hard fact, the times when my Patreon has grown the fastest is when I have experienced white inflicted trauma in a very public ways. The two times I have made my page private folks have popped out of the woodwork to suddenly pay for resources they were enjoying for free all along. It made me feel like I had to be publicly harmed by whiteness in order for folks to pay for my work. So if you only pay when you see a black person experiencing trauma you also need to think hard about that as well.” Aja Barber

Unfriending Racist

  • Unfriending racists friends:
    • Doesn’t change systems or complicity that support racism
    • Won’t help your friends see how their thinking is harmful
    • Won’t allow your friends to see other white people disagree
    • Renders you silent from their dialogues

“Unfriending racists in your friend list is the online equivalent to turning a blind eye to suffering of Brown and Black people. You can’t afford to do that any longer.” Just Jasmine

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Further Readings


Respectability Politics

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“If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you’d better have an established record of critique of our oppression.” Jesse Williams 2016 BET Humanitarian Award Acceptance Speech

The Root: The Definition, Danger and Disease of Respectability Politics, Explained

Although the concept of respectability politics has existed for a very long time, the term itself is relatively new. Author and professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham is credited with first articulating it; it appears in her 1993 book Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920. It’s generally defined as what happens when minority and/or marginalized groups are told (or teach themselves) that in order to receive better treatment from the group in power, they must behave better.

As alluded to earlier, it’s a concept that has existed within black America since black people have been in America—the idea that if we walk a little straighter and write a little neater and speak a little clearer, then white people will treat us better. This belief has resulted in some of the most forgettable parts of black history. The Black History Month lessons we really, really, really, really don’t want to be taught.

Like what?

The history of the conk, which happened to be the single worst hairstyle in the history of black male hair. (Yes, even worse than the Coolio and the shag Kanye had a few years ago.) The need to assimilate in order to possibly receive favor resulted in an entire generation of black men walking around with what looked like microwaved lettuce on their heads. Single-handedly, the conk probably did more damage to the black community than the Bush family.

Ah, I see. Do you have any recent examples of it?

Of the conk? Heavens no. We took the conk out back, shot it in the face and killed it with fire in the ’70s. If you see a black man walking around with a conk today, call up Rick and Michonne from The Walking Dead. Because that black man must be a zombie, and a shot to the gut won’t stop him.

No. I meant do you have any recent examples of respectability politics?

Oh, OK. Well, the best one I can cite is Bill Cosby’s infamous pound cake speech. It was given during an NAACP awards ceremony in 2004, and he spent much of his speech admonishing black people for everything from (lack of) parental skills to how giving a child a “black” name assured that he’d (or she’d) be in prison one day.

He actually said that?

Yes. He actually did.

An actual quote: “We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don’t know a damned thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Shaligua, Mohammed and all that crap, and all of them are in jail.”

And this is the same guy facing multiple allegations of sexual assault, right?

If you looked up “irony” in the dictionary, you’d find … the definition of irony. But if you looked up “ironic motherf—ker emeritus”—which, to be fair, isn’t in Webster’s—you’d find a picture of Bill Cosby.

So, I have to admit something: I actually don’t see the problem with respectability politics. More specifically, I don’t see the problem with telling black people that better behavior usually results in better treatment. Am I missing something here?

That’s a good question. And it’s one many people have. As you said, “better behavior equals better treatment” seems like a simple, common sense and intuitive solution to many of the problems facing black America. Some “Fisher Price: How I Solved Racism”-type s—t.

But it’s a fallacy—logically, emotionally and spiritually—for three reasons:

1. It shifts responsibility away from perpetrators (which in this context would be America) and places it on the victims (which in this context would be blacks in America). Instead of requiring the people and the institutions committing and propagating racist acts to change, it asks the people harmed by the racism to change in order to stop being harmed by the racism. Which is like getting shot and then getting blamed for standing in front of the bullet.

2. It provides a false sense of security for those who believe in it. As we’ve seen time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time again, nothing—not a master’s degree, not a Maserati, not a white wife named Molly—can prevent a black person from being treated like a black person when his or her number is called. But believing that acting a certain way can and will prevent it—as if respectability were an Off! spray you douse your body in so hungry cops won’t bite you—is dangerous. And could end your life.

Which brings us to the most important point …

3. It doesn’t work. If it did work—if it actually had a tangible effect on saving lives—I’d be all for respectability politics. I’d throw respectability politics potlucks and game nights, where we’d play games like “Pin the Belt on the Sagging Hoodrat” and “Unslurred ‘R’s’ Taboo.”

Really? You’d do all of that?

Actually, no, I wouldn’t. Which brings me to a fourth point. I love being black too much to be less me to gain some safety. If changing my name or my hair or the way I dress is what allows me to be more fully “American”—more fully a person in the eyes of people who doubt my citizenship and my humanity—then that is not something I aspire to be.

“To believe that the negative ways of Black people were responsibility for racist ideas was to believe that there was some truth in notions of Black inferiority. “Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning

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Dissent: The Rise of Respectability Politics

What started as a philosophy promulgated by black elites to “uplift the race” by correcting the “bad” traits of the black poor has evolved into one of the hallmarks of black politics in the age of Obama. In an era marked by rising inequality and declining economic mobility for most Americans—but particularly for black Americans—the politics of respectability works to accommodate neoliberalism.

This past September, during the first week of school, seven-year-old Tiana Parker wore dreadlocks tied in a bright pink bow to her school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Deborah Brown Community School, a charter school sponsored by the historically black college Langston University, sent Tiana home and told her parents that their child was in violation of a school policy prohibiting students from wearing “unusual hairstyles” that distract from the school’s “respectful” learning environment. Not only were “dreadlocks, Afros, Mohawks,” and other so-called faddish styles banned from the school, the school’s handbook also instructed that girls’ “weaved hair should be no longer than shoulder length” and that boys’ hairstyles are “to be short and neatly trimmed.”

Tiana’s parents withdrew her from the school, leading to public outrage across the nation. The school eventually modified (but did not end) its policy, but its rules regulating the personal conduct of parents and guardians have escaped public scrutiny. According to the handbook, female parents are banned from entering the school or going on field trips braless; male parents are prohibited from wearing pants that sag; vulgarity or cursing by parents is subject to prosecution under the state’s criminal penal codes; and the display of “inappropriate behavior” during school programs—such as holding a crying baby or using a cell phone—can get parents escorted from the school’s premises by security guards. These sorts of rules—devised by black elites, with the backing of the state and the support of ordinary blacks who believe in their efficacy—have their origins in the turn-of-the-twentieth-century black middle-class ideology: the politics of respectability.

What started as a philosophy promulgated by black elites to “uplift the race” by correcting the “bad” traits of the black poor has now evolved into one of the hallmarks of black politics in the age of Obama, a governing philosophy that centers on managing the behavior of black people left behind in a society touted as being full of opportunity. In an era marked by rising inequality and declining economic mobility for most Americans—but particularly for black Americans—the twenty-first-century version of the politics of respectability works to accommodate neoliberalism. The virtues of self-care and self-correction are framed as strategies to lift the black poor out of their condition by preparing them for the market economy.

For more than half of the twentieth century, the concept of the “Talented Tenth” commanded black elites to “lift as we climb,” or to prove to white America that blacks were worthy of full citizenship rights by getting the untalented nine-tenths to rid themselves of bad customs and habits. Today’s politics of respectability, however, commands blacks left behind in post–civil rights America to “lift up thyself.” Moreover, the ideology of respectability, like most other strategies for black progress articulated within the spaces where blacks discussed the best courses of action for black freedom, once lurked for the most part beneath the gaze of white America. But now that black elites are part of the mainstream elite in media, entertainment, politics, and the academy, respectability talk operates within the official sphere, shaping the opinions, debates, and policy perspectives on what should—and should not—be done on the behalf of the black poor.


The late Howard University professor Rayford W. Logan identified the turn of the twentieth century as the “nadir” of the civil rights of black Americans since the abolition of slavery in 1865. This era saw adverse Supreme Court decisions, the Republican Party’s abandonment of the cause of civil rights, neglectful presidents, and a hostile Congress lead to the collapse of Reconstruction and erode the progress that black Americans had gained in the years after emancipation.

Even though respectability evolved as an elite ideology, it operates as common sense in most quarters of black America.

Similar patterns in the nation’s body politic could lead us to consider the current moment a nadir since the heyday of the civil rights movement, even if the parallels are not exactly the same. Supreme Court decisions against affirmative action have been taking place for at least the past two decades, and the decision this past summer on the Voting Rights Act has severely weakened one of the most successful pieces of legislation to evolve from the civil rights movement. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives is controlled by a small faction connected to the Tea Party, which is hostile to any agenda that is proposed by civil rights organizations, the Congressional Black Caucus, and particularly the president. The Republican Party’s attempt to nullify Obama’s presidency and his prized social policy accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, are acts of political sabotage that are unprecedented in recent memory.

But Obama’s general silence on issues of race and poverty has also contributed to the current malaise in black politics. The president seems to be committed only to social policies “that help everyone,” rather than also considering targeted policies that address the conditions of poor black and Latino communities. As president he has spoken less in his first term (particularly during his first two years in office) on issues of race and poverty than any Democratic president in a generation or more.

In 1895, as the economic, social, and political progress that black Americans had made under Reconstruction was being chipped away, Booker T. Washington chastised black America in his “Atlanta Compromise” speech for being “ignorant and inexperienced,” seeking political representation in Congress rather than acquiring “real estate or industrial skill,” and attending political conventions and speeches rather than “starting a dairy farm or truck garden.” He declared that, as blacks, “we should not permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities.”

In the age of Obama, such sentiments are once again on the rise. Indeed, the current incarnation of the politics of respectability—where uplift entails transforming individuals rather than transforming communities—is one of the most undetected developments in black politics since the freedom movement. On the eve of the 2008 election, a poll by ABC News/Columbia University Center on African-American Politics and Society asked whether blacks thought that they should spend more time gaining political power or building economic power. Sixty-two percent reported that building economic power was more important, while 24 percent believed that political power was, even though another question in the survey documented that blacks felt that they had less political power than whites.

These findings highlight the yearning for economic uplift in black communities, which suggests why the politics of respectability has such mass appeal across social classes. Even though respectability evolved as an elite ideology, it operates as common sense in most quarters of black America. Indeed, it even has its own lexicon. The word “ghetto,” for instance, which a generation ago was used to describe poor, segregated neighborhoods, is now used to characterize the “unacceptable” behavior of black people who live anywhere from a housing project to an affluent suburb. Economic power is a needed development, of course, and one that can be used to leverage political power. But the politics of respectability has been portrayed as an emancipatory strategy to the neglect of discussions about structural forces that hinder the mobility of the black poor and working class.

One recent example of respectability standing in for policy to address social ills could be heard in a speech given by Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter on August 7, 2011 at Mount Carmel Baptist Church. The speech was delivered in the aftermath of a violent flash mob, which numbered several hundred black youths, that destroyed property and physically assaulted innocent bystanders in the city’s business and commercial center. Nutter rightly addressed the issue of public safety and responded to the violence by declaring a curfew for teens. He also promised to criminalize parents whose children break the law.

In the timeworn tradition, the mayor then began to browbeat black youth by proclaiming to the black churchgoers that the mob had “made shame on our race.”

If you want all of us—black, white, or any other color—if you want us to respect you, if you want us to look at you in a different way, if you want us not to be afraid to walk down the same side of the street with you, if you want folks not to jump out of the elevator when you get on, if you want folks to stop following you around in stores when you’re out shopping, if you want somebody to offer you a job or an internship somewhere, if you don’t want folks to be looking in or trying to go in a different direction when they see two or twenty of you coming down the street, then stop acting like idiots and fools, out in the streets of the city of Philadelphia.

“And another thing,” the mayor thundered, “take those doggone hoodies down, especially in the summer.” “Pull your pants up,” he said as members of the congregation chimed in to help finish his thoughts, “and buy a belt, because no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt.” Members of the church stood and chanted, “Buy a belt, buy a belt!”

Nutter’s thirty-minute talk neglected to mention the lack of opportunities for black youth in his city; the national unemployment rate for black sixteen-to-nineteen-year-olds now hovers around 30 percent, and in cities like Philadelphia and New York it is closer to 40 percent. Nor did Nutter speak to the severe budget cuts to public services that have occurred under his administration, particularly in the city’s division of parks and recreation. Nor did he consider the difficulties that children faced in Philadelphia’s public school system, which is rated among the worst in the nation and is so fiscally stressed that in September the city threatened to keep schools closed when the school year began


Though respectability talk has been employed by many black mayors over the past decades to address declining black educational achievement and criminality, its use by nationally recognized black entertainers, journalists, community leaders, and politicians—a diverse group that includes comedians Bill Cosby and Chris Rock, CNN anchor Don Lemon, and President Obama, among others—is gaining greater currency in a moment of stalled economic progress for black America.

This shift was evident during “Advancing the Dream,” a live show on the cable news network MSNBC that commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Hosted by the Reverend Al Sharpton at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, the program did not focus its viewers on political agendas or strategies, or on the need for black America to continue to press for change. Instead, it highlighted up-from-the-ghetto stories told mostly by black celebrities and business people. Former NBA player and entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson, filmmaker Tyler Perry, entertainer Stevie Wonder, and Sharpton, among others, offered homilies. Sharpton asked Perry, who grew up in poverty, what prevented him from “going down the wrong road” and why he chose “to be something rather than nothing.” Perry attributed his success to his praying mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother; the community of elders who kept watch over him; and the inspiration of billionaire Oprah Winfrey. Given the sacrifices and personal struggles of the previous generations, Perry inserted, “I would be a fool to walk around with my pants around my ankles and chains” around his neck, behaviors that do no more than “slap” the previous generations of black people in the face by “talking about ‘Yo, Yo, Yo I’m a thug.’”

Magic Johnson talked about his dreams of becoming an entrepreneur growing up in Lansing, Michigan and the lessons his father gave him on how to manage racial slights. When Sharpton asked how he overcame his discovery that he was infected with HIV/AIDS, Johnson’s answer fit nicely into the theme of self-correction as liberation. “Just because you get knocked down does not mean you have to lay [sic] there,” he said. Like Perry, he acknowledged the “village” that helped raise him, and his responsibility to help lift those who are left behind by forming businesses that employ black people. What is written out of this success story is how his father’s unionized job at an auto plant and his mother’s public-sector job (as a cafeteria worker) helped to provide the stable employment that accorded him a better life.

Uplifting stories that leave out structural barriers, let alone the need for political struggle to correct those barriers, can gloss over the enormous challenges the poor face in an era marked by downward mobility.

The only speaker to disrupt the rags-to-riches narratives was the public intellectual Michael Eric Dyson, who told the story of his brother, a prison inmate serving time for murder. Though Dyson acknowledged that his brother, by his own admission, had made some “self-destructive choices,” Dyson also mentioned how social barriers and structural forces placed greater disadvantages on his brother than on him. Noting how his light-skin privilege allowed him to receive more support than his darker-skin sibling, Dyson said he was encouraged by many for his intellect while his brother, who was equally bright, was seen as someone who may not live up to his potential.

Dyson, like Perry and Johnson, emphasized the importance of religion in his life. But he also acknowledged the importance of government-sponsored youth programs—like the Comprehensive Employment Training Act—that allowed him to get a job and learn valuable skills early in life. He also acknowledged the political struggle of the previous generations of activists—people like Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, and Ella Baker—that had transformed the United States into a more just society. “I don’t damn young people for having low-slung drawers,” Dyson quipped; “raise up their dreams and their drawers will follow.” But Dyson’s insights were lost in a chorus of triumphalism. Stevie Wonder ended the program with a rousing rendition of the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” replacing the verb “shall” in the lyrics with “have,” as in, “We Have Overcome.”

The problem is not that the stories told by black elites are a source of inspiration, but the political handiwork these narratives do for neoliberalism. Uplifting stories that leave out structural barriers, let alone the need for political struggle to correct those barriers, can gloss over the enormous challenges the poor face in an era marked by downward mobility. Respectability politics can have the effect of steering “unrespectables” away from making demands on the state to intervene on their behalf and toward self-correction and the false belief that the market economy alone will lift them out of their plight.


When Rayford W. Logan used the term “nadir,” he recognized that reuniting the nation after the Civil War and Reconstruction came at the price of abandoning its commitment to protecting black citizens, pushing them even further to the margins of American life. A new song had to be sung to reorient the nation’s understanding of why Reconstruction failed, and why black progress had to be curtailed. Reunion required binding, or rather covering, the wounds of the nation. Obama’s desire over a hundred years later for racial reconciliation is an attempt to unify not two regions torn by civil war but two peoples whose history has been marked by discord since the nation’s founding. The price of reconciliation for black America is another new song, a retelling—if not a distortion—of the nation’s history to rid it of the stain of slavery and Jim Crow, its twin sins.

During his August 2013 speech commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, the president recognized black America’s political successes since the movement while lamenting its stalled economic progress, particularly the lingering disparity between black and white unemployment and the wealth gap that has grown even wider since the Great Recession. Arresting growing economic inequality in America in general is a way out for black Americans left behind, the president reasoned; as he has said on similar occasions, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” He criticized (conservative white) elected officials for practicing “the old politics of division,” which has hoodwinked (white) middle-class Americans into believing that government was responsible for the rise of economic insecurity and that their hard-earned dollars were going “to benefit the welfare cheat or the illegal immigrant.”

But on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where King once stood, Obama excoriated blacks for their part in stalling their own progress—a move that has become custom, if not ritual, for the president. He turned his ire toward black America, as if confessing to past sins against the nation. “If we are honest with ourselves,” the president’s confession begins, “we’ll admit, during the course of fifty years, there were times when some of us, claiming to push for change, lost our way.” The urban unrest that erupted across the nation following King’s assassination in 1968 and in the years after was composed not of acts of rebellion but “self-defeating riots.” Constant concerns regarding police brutality—though legitimate—had become over the years “excuse-making for criminal behavior.” The belief in brotherhood and unity, a cornerstone of the nonviolent wing of the movement, had too often been “drowned out by the language of recrimination.” And the advocacy of “equality of opportunity” was too often framed as a “desire for government support,” allegedly eroding the virtues of self-sufficiency, “as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child, and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself.”

On this day of all days, Obama’s was a strange song for those familiar with the history of black political struggle, and perhaps for many of those who had gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to reflect on how far black America—and the nation—had come. Black Americans have always had to negotiate a shifting political environment in their efforts to push for social and political change. Like the tempo of black progress over the centuries—one step forward usually accompanies two steps back—white supremacist and conservative opposition to black progress also ebbs and flows. It never goes away, but merely heats up or cools off.

In his Atlanta Compromise speech, Booker T. Washington glossed over the legalized racial segregation that was sweeping the South to make his case for a rising tide lifting all boats: “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” In the current nadir, the response offered to “two steps backward” echoes the pragmatic accommodation of the past. Public mentions of the enduring legacies of racial inequality are given with caution. And the virtues of race-neutrality in most things particular to black America are seen to be as separate as the fingers on the hand yet as one in mutual progress for a people and a nation still seeking to overcome the legacies of the nation’s original sins.

The Root: Respectability Politics Are No Solution; They Are A Surrender

At times like these, when the uncomfortable behavior of (mostly) Black people is broadcast to a (mostly) White audience and becomes a national discussion point, a particular type of Black person tends to emerge. Actually, “emerge” might not even be the best word, because it implies that this person rose from somewhere, when in reality they’ve always been there. They’re just louder now.

You know who they are. They exist in your family. They’re found at your office, in your Facebook timelines, and on your TVs. And since you know them — you know them better than you wish to know them — you know what they’re going to say before they even say it, because when they’re talking about uncomfortable things Black people are doing, it usually revolves around the same theme: What Will The White People Think?

These are the people whose primary concern with Baltimore’s unrest isn’t the injustice that precipitated these protests and riots or the conditions that cultivated today’s tensions, but the optics. How badly things look on TV, how uncomfortable these uncomfortable Black people are making White people, and how difficult it will be to convince the White people unconvinced of our humanity that we’re humans if we continue making them uncomfortable. They’re the same people infuriated with boys sagging their pants. But not because it looks stupid. (Because it does look stupid as hell.) But because a White person might see them. And if that White person sees that one Black boy with his ass hanging out of his pants, that will give that one White person all the justification he needs to continue to believe all Black boys have a natural predisposition to abhor belts. Which will then lead him to continue to believe that Black people will not be worthy of full citizenship until we buy our boys some belts. You can even find this Black person railing against shows like Love and Hip-Hop and Empire because if we only behaved better, if we only projected more positive images of ourselves, if we only stopped saying “nigger” so damn much, Black people would thrive, and White people would be nicer to us.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that this way of thinking can be seductive. Because if things were that easy — if all we needed to do to right injustice was smile and shop at Jos. A. Banks — well, who wouldn’t want to sign up for that? Who wouldn’t want to believe that all it takes to convince the type of White person unconvinced of our humanity that we are, in fact, human, is a family sitcom? Or a collective community rejection of a fucking word? But do not be seduced by this subterfuge. Their respectability politics may seem like viable solutions, but they are not. They are, however, proof of surrender. They have given up. They are no longer fighting. They have been defeated, and they are attempting to survive within a world that has defeated them.

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Further Readings

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Tone Policing

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“Tone policing, simply put, is the dismissal of a person’s argument (generally a less-privileged person in social justice discourse) because of their tone, which may be perceived by the bigoted more-privileged person as ‘too personal,’ ‘too emotional’ or ‘too angry.’ Meanwhile, the oversensitivity argument basically amounts to the bigoted more-privileged person telling the less-privileged person to suck it up and deal with the abuse the hierarchy deals out. Put together, these things add up to a massive display of double standards. ‘I shouldn’t have to deal with your [justified] anger/pain, but you should just sit back and take my [unjustified] bigotry.” Anger is Justified

Reasons why Tone Policing is Bad

  • Being emotional does not make one’s points any less valid
  • Anger is valid, anger is important, anger brings social change
    • Anger is NOT counterproductive; anger is NOT hate
  • Politeness is often behavioral expectations enforced upon marginalized people
  • What it really communicates,
    • “I don’t care about your experience with oppression or how it makes you feel. I only care about how it is discomfiting for me to hear about it.”

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Too Young for the Living Dead:  This is a post about tone policing

“I’ve been seeing an awful lot of tone policing on my dash lately. It seems a lot of people don’t really understand why someone would respond aggressively or angrily, or otherwise emotionally, to having something really fucked up/hurtful/oppressive said to them. Or, they think it’s counterproductive to respond in that way.

First off, the reason that people may respond in a “harsh” manner to oppression: Living in a world that reminds you daily of your lesser worth as a human being can make a person very tired and emotional. When someone says something oppressive — that can be a racist slur, an ableist stereotype, a misogynist dismissal, an invalidation of identity/experiences, being asked invasive and entitled questions, and so on – it feels like being slapped in the face, to the person on the receiving end. The automatic response is emotion and pain. It’s quite exhausting and difficult to restrain the resulting anger. And, frankly, it’s cruel and ridiculous to expect a person to be calm and polite in response to an act of oppression. Marginalized people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences. 

Second, tone policing is the ultimate derailing tactic. When you tone police, you automatically shift the focus of the conversation away from what you or someone else did that was wrong, and onto the other person and their reaction. Tone policing is a way of not taking responsibility for fucking up, and it dismisses the other person’s position by framing it as being emotional and therefore irrational. The conflation of emotionality with irrationality is often used to silence women and people who are read as women, when they are trying to speak about anything at all. It’s also used against all marginalized people when they attempt to speak about their very personal experiences with oppression. But being emotional does not make one’s points any less valid. It’s also important to note that, by tone policing, you not only refuse to examine your own oppressive behavior, but you also can blame that on the other person, because they were not “nice enough” to be listened to or taken seriously.

Third, the implications: Tone policing assumes that the oppressive act is not an act of aggression, when it very much is. The person who was oppressed by the action, suddenly is no longer a victim, but is “victimizing” the other person by calling them out. Now, I’m not saying it’s okay to be abusive, or oppressive in response to a person who fucks up. But anger is valid. Anger is valid, anger is important, anger brings social change, anger makes people listen, anger is threatening, and anger is passion. Anger is NOT counterproductive; being “nice” is counterproductive. Nobody was ever given rights by politely asking for them. Politeness is nothing but a set of behavioral expectations that is enforced upon marginalized people.

If you see someone who is angry and upset about something that was said or done to them, don’t tell them they should be nicer. Instead: Recognize their emotions as valid. Recognize that their emotional state is an indication that something extremely harmful was done to them, whether it was by you, or someone else. Work to understand why the action was oppressive. Take all that energy that you’re wasting being so concerned with how people are responding to their own oppression, and channel it into fighting oppression.”

Medium: What’s the Harm in Tone Policing?

Tone policing is a dangerous habit that has real psychosocial consequences. By telling people not to express their anger at oppression, tone police are not only promoting their own personal comfort over that of someone who is in pain, but they are also asking the angry people to suffer in silence, which has very serious psychological consequences. In addition, the current academic obsession with “civility” (a fancy proxy for tone) seems to have only placed (uncooperative) scholars of color in its crosshairs.

People engaging in tone policing are often having a difficult time distinguishing between discomfort due to a potentially emotional person communicating about their experiences of oppression versus discomfort due to someone’s malicious behavior. When someone communicates the factual and emotional truth of their experiences with oppression to you, it is not a malicious attack on you or your existence. Your discomfort is not their fault either; it is the fault of the oppressive structure they are responding to, one which you may be benefiting from.

Moreover, tone policing is mean, as I explain elsewhere. When tone police tell people that they can’t or won’t listen because of tone, what they are really communicating is, “I don’t care about your experience with oppression or how it makes you feel. I only care about how it is discomfiting for me to hear about it.”

The following quotes all come from essays that you should read, and hopefully they will help create more understanding about why tone policing is bad.

My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also. — Audre Lorde

First, let me say — tone policing is boring. If somebody is delivering points in a way you don’t like, it doesn’t make their points invalid. It just means you do not like the delivery. Big deal. Get over it and deal with it. — Sara Luckey

“No one gives a shit about how it makes me feel when I am told that things would get better if I just “asked nicely”. You don’t think I’ve tried that? The reason I’m angry is that I tried playing by your rules of niceness, and you ignored me.” — NinjaCate


Tone policing, simply put, is the dismissal of a person’s argument (generally a less-privileged person in social justice discourse) because of their tone, which may be perceived by the bigoted more-privileged person as ‘too personal,’ ‘too emotional’ or ‘too angry.’ Meanwhile, the oversensitivity argument basically amounts to the bigoted more-privileged person telling the less-privileged person to suck it up and deal with the abuse the kyriarchy deals out. Put together, these things add up to a massive display of double standards. ‘I shouldn’t have to deal with your [justified] anger/pain, but you should just sit back and take my [unjustified] bigotry.’ — Anger is Justified

Firstly, it’s wrong. Being calm and nice does not help me get more allies. It might get me “allies.” “Allies” meaning men who want to look good to feminists but are really misogynists who expect their every need to be catered to and will hold their allyship hostage any time someone says something they don’t like. — Lindsey Weedston

The purpose of polite behavior is never virtuous. Deceit, surrender, and concealment: these are not virtues. The goal of the mannerly is comfort, per se…. Most often, the people who can least afford to further efface and deny the truth of what they experience, the people whose very existence is most endangered and, therefore, most in need of vigilantly truthful affirmation, these are the people — the poor and the children — who are punished most severely for departures from the civilities that grease oppression. If you make and keep my life horrible then, when I can tell the truth, it will be a horrible truth; it will not sound good or look good or, God willing, feel good for you either. — June Jordan

Now, who gets to determine what “civil” behavior and speech is, and what is not? Even as administrators espouse the value of “community” it is clear that the final arbiters of civility are they themselves. And this is what makes signing on to civility something one should think twice about — civility is in the eye of the powerful. And if one believes that it will protect one against homophobic, racist, sexist, and emphatic political speech of all stripes in an even and “democratic” manner, one should first look at the case history of civility, and its relation to free speech. — David Palumbo-Liu

We do not pretend to know what Native Hawaiians should do to transform the lives of our people, but we do know that none of us can figure that out alone. Disagreements should be expected and honored, as should a whole range of emotions from anger to sorrow. None of us can afford to lose each other, and certainly not because some of us do not appear “respectable,” as defined by OHA and as amplified by the mainstream media.

We know that Colonialism in all of its manifestations (loss of land, health, genealogy, culture, unity; all of which Native Hawaiians on both sides of the question of federal recognition continue to testify to again and again) will not go away if we simply “be good.” Colonialism will not go away if we just refrain from yelling, crying, or talking for more than two minutes. — Lani Teves

If I sound angry and pissed-off to you, it’s because I am. Stop taking it so fucking personally and start trying to figure out more about how systemic inequality functions in the university to produce death by a thousand paper cuts for women faculty . . . — Thus Spake Zuska

If you see someone who is angry and upset about something that was said or done to them, don’t tell them they should be nicer. Instead: Recognize their emotions as valid. Recognize that their emotional state is an indication that something extremely harmful was done to them, whether it was by you, or someone else. Work to understand why the action was oppressive. Take all that energy that you’re wasting being so concerned with how people are responding to their own oppression, and channel it into fighting oppression. — Do or Die

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Everyday Feminism: No, We Won’t Calm Down – Tone Policing Is Just Another Way to Protect Privilege

“Calm down so we can discuss this like adults.”

Have you ever tone policed someone in a conversation on oppression? Tone policing focuses on the emotion behind a message rather than the message itself – and you might think you’re helping by making the conversation more “comfortable.”

But in this comic, Robot Hugs makes a great point about how tone policing protects privilege – and silences people who are hurting. This is no way to get justice, and this breakdown will help you understand exactly why.

With Love,
The Editors at Everyday Feminism

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Getting Called Out: How to Apologize

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Source: the.mirror

healingfromwhiteness: Audre Lorde on The Anger of Women of Colour

The following are quotes gathered from Audre Lorde’s book Sister Outsider that speak to the anger often held by women of colour – an anger that most white people will never understand but her words are, I trust, a faithful testimony to how it is to be a black woman in the USA. I think more white people could do well to read her words and take them in.

I see so many white people treading carelessly on the topic of racism, dropping snide, sarcastic, careless and ill-considered comments on conversations about this issue as if there was no real pain in it for anyone anymore. Perhaps they imagine that racism is over and no doubt they can’t imagine what it might be like to be on the receiving end of hatred every day of your life simply for the colour of their skin and, heartbreakingly, most of them wouldn’t even try to consider what it might be like. I see so many white people making jocular comments having no idea of the immense pain they are triggering in people of colour who might even just be observing the conversation. They white people think it’s a friendly back slap but the one they’re slapping is profoundly sunburned from decades of racism.

And, of course, anger is not the full story for women of colour and not all experience it in the same way. But as white people we must know that, living in a society as racist as the one we live in now, there is likely pain present so that we can proceed with care and empathy and not like most white people do in these conversations, like a bull in a china shop.

It is a blessing, though tragic that it requires saying, that some people of colour have been willing to open up a vein to their emotional world and express to white people what it is like for them. Might we believe them and be guided by their words in our actions every day.

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“Women of Color in america have grown up within a symphony of anger, at being silenced, at being unchosen, at knowing that when we survive, it is in spite of a world that takes for granted our lack of humanness, and which hates our very existence outside of its service. And I say symphony rather than cacophony because we have had to learn to orchestrate those furies so that they do not tear us apart. We have had to learn to move through them and use them for strength and force and insight within our daily lives. Those of us who did not learn this difficult lesson did not survive. And part of my anger is always libation for my fallen sisters.” p, 129

“Anger is an appropriate reaction to racist attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change.” p, 129

“One woman wrote, “Because you are Black and Lesbian, you seem to speak with the moral authority of suffering.” Yes, I am Black and Lesbian, and what you hear in my voice is fury, not suffering. Anger, not moral authority. There is a difference.” p, 132

“Decisions to cut aid for the terminally ill, for the elderly, for dependent children, for food stamps, even school lunches, are being made by men with full stomachs who live in comfortable houses with two cars and umpteen tax shelters. None of them go hungry to bed at night. Recently, it was suggested that senior citizens be hired to work in atomic plants because they are close to the end of their lives anyway.” p, 140

“For while we wait for another Malcolm, another Martin, another charismatic Black leader to validate our struggles, old Black people are freezing to death in tenements, Black children are being brutalized and slaughtered in the streets, or lobotomized by television, and the percentage of Black families living below the poverty line is higher today than in 1963.” p, 141

“Where does the pain go when it goes away?” p, 144

“Every Black woman in America lives her life somewhere along a wide curve of ancient and unexpressed angers.” p, 144

“My Black woman’s anger is a molten pond at the core of me, my most fiercely guarded secret. I know how much of my life as a powerful feeling woman is laced through with this net of rage. It is an electric thread woven into every emotional tapestry upon which I set the essentials of my life — a boiling hot spring likely to erupt at any point, leaping out of my consciousness like a fire on the landscape. How to train that anger with accuracy rather than deny it has been one of the major tasks of my life.” p, 144

“When I started to write about the intensity of the angers between Black women, I found I had only begun to touch one tip of a three-pronged iceberg, the deepest understructure of which was Hatred, that societal deathwish directed against us from the moment we were born Black and female in America. From that moment on we have been steeped in hatred – for our color, for our sex, for our effrontery in daring to presume we had any right to live. As children we absorbed that hatred, passed it through ourselves, and for the most part, we still live our lives outside of the recognition of what that hatred really is and how it functions. Echoes of it return as cruelty and anger in our dealings with each other. For each of us bears the face that hatred seeks, and we have each learned to be at home with cruelty because we have survived so much of it within our own lives.” p, 145

“What other creature in the world besides the Black woman has had to build the knowledge of so much hatred into her survival and keep going?” p, 150

“What other human being absorbs so much virulent hostility and still functions?” p, 151

“We are Black women born into a society of entrenched loathing and contempt for whatever is Black and female.” p, 151

“I am writing about an anger so huge and implacable, so corrosive, it must destroy what it most needs for its own solution, dissolution, resolution.” p, 157

“As Black women, we have wasted our angers too often, buried them, called them someone else’s, cast them wildly into oceans of racism and sexism from which no vibration resounded, hurled them into each other’s teeth and then ducked to avoid the impact. But by and large, we avoid open expression of them, or cordon them off in a rigid and unapproachable politeness. The rage that feels illicit or unjustified is kept secret, unnamed, and preserved forever. We are stuffed with furies, against ourselves, against each other, terrified to examine them lest we find ourselves in bold print fingered and named what we have always felt and even sometimes preferred ourselves to be —  alone.” p, 166

“Sometimes it feels as if I were to experience all the collective hatred that I have had directed at me as a Black woman, admit its implications into my consciousness, I might die of the bleak and horrible weight.” p, 171

Out: Stop Demanding People of Color to Show ‘Gratitude’

I was born in the United States. My mother, a Mexican-American woman, taught high school English. When I was a kid, she’d correct me over little grammatical errors — ”It’s my friend and I,” “It’s brought not brang” — and we as a family existed on a steady diet of deeply American fast food. My abuelos, who’d struggled with English, engineered these cultural shifts and did their best to be good US citizens. These things don’t really matter when nativism comes knocking, as illustrated by recent events. Because fo r marginalized people, there’s no level of assimilation that will negate our “other” status.

Recently, President Trump took to Twitter and hurled racist digs at “the squad,” four women of color in Congress who collectively represent his worst nightmare: they aren’t white, and they aren’t afraid of him. In his tweets, Trump said the Congresswomen “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” and suggested they “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Of “the squad,” which is comprised of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), Rashia Tlaib (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), only Omar is an immigrant. But, again, this doesn’t really matter because none of them are white and all of them have committed the sin of criticizing America. “Ungrateful” is how a significant chunk of people in the US would describe that sin. For those of us navigating marginalized identities, “ungrateful” is a word we’ve likely encountered before, reminding us of our place, as members of the underclass.

This is evident in public response to Trump’s tweets. Matthew Parris, of The Times in the UK, said of the four Congresswomen, “there is such a thing as courtesy to a host country” and that even second-generation immigrants “will be seen, for a generation or two, as neither better nor worse but different.” The dog whistles have become more like foghorns lately, but it’s worth unpacking what people like Parris and Trump mean when they reference gratitude in the context of people of color who dare criticize the United States while living within its borders.

In healthier societies, gratitude is a virtue that builds community. It expresses thanks for something given, yes, but it also affirms mutual humanity: thank you for valuing me as a person, for valuing me as you value yourself. Gratitude says we are in this together and we ought to help each other out. What is being asked of marginalized people is not gratitude. It is debt. We are being asked to feel indebted, because debt is what maintains racial and social hierarchies in the US. How are we ever to thrive when we start so deep in the well?

My abuelo was in debt of both the monetary and spiritual kind. He took out many loans to keep afloat. He gambled a lot of his savings away. But he also believed, despite everything, in the notion that he was lucky to be here. He hadn’t been allowed to eat with his white teammates on his high school baseball team in the restaurant, and he’d barely had enough money to go to college, but he nonetheless carried himself, head down and shoulders slumped, with gratitude, a smothering gratitude that is something of a cultural trademark among Chicanos.

We are to work hard and not complain. My abuelos, for example, retold stories of working in a field and living in poverty in the US with a degree of pride. Humility, sweat, a job well done — these are values that saturate the Chicano world and many other immigrant communities. To me, it also gave me the impression that we were to tiptoe around this country, making as little noise as possible, because we were fortunate enough to be American citizens.

But this kind of gratitude is the enemy of self-assertion, the confidence it takes to make demands and empower oneself in their environment. That is by design. If we are made to feel like perpetual foreigners in our own homes, we will be less likely to advocate for ourselves and to ask for better treatment. I’ve seen this sentiment pervade among Mexican-Americans as well as LGBTQ people. For some, there is stigma and shame in asking for too much, for being loud, for the audacity of voicing our discontent. Marginalized people are often taught to police ourselves, even against our own interests.

Trump’s comments and the ensuing battle over them remind me that my US passport doesn’t otherize me any less. I am reminded that there is no degree of gratitude or “good behavior” we can express that will ever disrupt white supremacy in a meaningful way or stop the imagining of nonwhite people as “the other.”

If being “ungrateful” is shorthand for being a person who is asking too much, who is not content with the way marginalized communities are being treated in our society, then consider me an ingrate.

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Civility and Divisiveness

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106985795_10157623919516275_8752325815851014183_nSource: Being Liberal

“Now, who gets to determine what “civil” behavior and speech is, and what is not? Even as administrators espouse the value of “community” it is clear that the final arbiters of civility are they themselves. And this is what makes signing on to civility something one should think twice about — civility is in the eye of the powerful. And if one believes that it will protect one against homophobic, racist, sexist, and emphatic political speech of all stripes in an even and “democratic” manner, one should first look at the case history of civility, and its relation to free speech.”  David Palumbo-Liu

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The “Divided” Myth

  • Myth
    • The US is more divided than ever before
  • Reality
    • People of color have always been divided from white people since the creation of white supremacy
    • The new divide is among segregated white people who when confronted about injustices either:
      • Down double on the belief that everyone experiences what they experience
      • Believe experiences different than their experiences
  • White segregated people use this myth
    • To steer discussion from the injustices
      • To lack of unity, civility, white vicitmhood, etc

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Source: the.mirror

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The Atlantic: America’s Problem Isn’t Tribalism—It’s Racism

Only one of America’s major political parties relies on stoking hatred and fear against those outside its coalition

It’s fashionable in the Donald Trump era to decry political “tribalism,” especially if you’re a conservative attempting to criticize Trump without incurring the wrath of his supporters. House Speaker Paul Ryan has lamented the “tribalism” of American politics. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has said that “tribalism is ruining us.” Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has written a book warning that “partisan tribalism is statistically higher than at any point since the Civil War.”

In the fallout from Tuesday’s midterm elections, many political analysts have concluded that blue America and red America are ever more divided, ever more at each other’s throats. But calling this “tribalism” is misleading, because only one side of this divide remotely resembles a coalition based on ethnic and religious lines, and only one side has committed itself to a political strategy that relies on stoking hatred and fear of the other. By diagnosing America’s problem as tribalism, chin-stroking pundits and their sorrowful semi-Trumpist counterparts in Congress have hidden the actual problem in American politics behind a weird euphemism.

Take Tuesday’s midterm elections. In New York’s Nineteenth Congressional District, the Democrat Antonio Delgado, a Harvard-educated, African American Rhodes scholar, defeated the incumbent Republican John Faso in a district that is 84 percent white, despite Faso caricaturing Delgado as a “big-city rapper.” In Georgia, the Republican Brian Kemp appears to have defeated the Democrat Stacey Abrams after using his position as secretary of state to weaken the power of the black vote in the state and tying his opponent to the New Black Panther Party. In Florida, the Republican Ron DeSantis defeated the Democrat Andrew Gillum after a campaign in which DeSantis’s supporters made racist remarks about Gillum. The Republican Duncan Hunter, who is under indictment, won after running a campaign falsely tying his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is of Latino and Arab descent, to terrorism. In North Dakota, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp lost reelection after Republicans adopted a voter-ID law designed to disenfranchise the Native American voters who powered her upset win in 2012. President Trump spent weeks claiming that a caravan of migrants in Latin America headed for the United States poses a grave threat to national security, an assessment the Pentagon disagrees with. In Illinois on Tuesday, thousands of Republicans voted for a longtime Nazi who now prefers to describe himself as a “white racialist”; in Virginia, more than a million cast ballots for a neo-Confederate running for Senate.

A large number of Republican candidates, led by the president, ran racist or bigoted campaigns against their opponents. But those opponents cannot be said to belong to a “tribe.” No common ethnic or religious ties bind Heitkamp, Campa-Najjar, Delgado, or the constituencies that elected them. It was their Republican opponents who turned to “tribalism,” painting them as scary or dangerous, and working to disenfranchise their supporters.

The urgency of the Republican strategy stems in part from the recognition that the core of the GOP agenda—slashing the social safety net and reducing taxes on the wealthy—is deeply unpopular. Progressive ballot initiatives, including the expansion of Medicaid, anti-gerrymandering measures, and the restoration of voting rights for formerly incarcerated people, succeeded even in red states. If Republicans ran on their policy agenda alone, they would be at a disadvantage. So they have turned to a destructive politics of white identity, one that seeks a path to power by deliberately dividing the country along racial and sectarian lines. They portray the nation as the birthright of white, heterosexual Christians, and label the growing population of those who don’t fit that mold or reject that moral framework as dangerous usurpers.

The Democratic Party, reliant as it is on a diverse coalition of voters, cannot afford to engage in this kind of politics. There are no blue states where Democrats have sought to make it harder for white men without a college education to vote, even though that demographic typically votes Republican. Democratic candidates did not attack their white male opponents as dangerous because four white men carried out deadly acts of right-wing terrorism in the two weeks prior to the election. Democratic candidates for statewide office did not appeal to voters in blue states by trashing other parts of the country considered to be conservative. Democratic candidates who ran for office did not advertise their willingness to use state violence against groups associated with Republican constituencies.

I am not arguing that the Democratic Party or its members are particularly virtuous. A little more than a century ago, it was the Republican Party that was reliant on a diverse coalition of voters, and the Democratic Party that rode white rage to power. Rather, I am saying that when a party’s viability is dependent on a diverse coalition of voters, that party will necessarily stand for pluralism and equal rights, because its survival depends on it. And when a party is not diverse, it will rely on demonizing those who are different, because no constituency exists within that party to prevent it from doing so, or to show its members that they have nothing to fear.

In the Trump era, America finds itself with two political parties: one that’s growing more reliant on the nation’s diversity, and one that sees its path to power in stoking fear and rage toward those who are different. America doesn’t have a “tribalism” problem. It has a racism problem. And the parties are not equally responsible.

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Angela Davis 1972, Violence and Prison. California State Prison and Embassy Auditorium

The Guardian: Nancy Pelosi’s renewed attacks on AOC aren’t just disrespectful, they’re dangerous

Can progressives please shut up and listen to Nancy Pelosi? The speaker of the House, I would like to remind everyone, is a master strategist, a savvy tactician, and an experienced politician. She knows what’s best for America. And what’s best for America, apparently, isn’t standing up to Donald Trump; no, it’s ensuring four freshman congresswomen don’t get ideas above their station. It’s ensuring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in particular, knows her place.

There have been long-running tensions between Pelosi and the so-called “Squad” of new progressive congresswomen, which consists of Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. Things escalated sharply over the weekend, when Pelosi decided it would be a good idea to demean her colleagues in the New York Times. “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world, but they didn’t have any following,” Pelosi told the Times, referring to a border funding bill the Squad opposed. “They’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got.”

To begin with, Pelosi’s disparaging remarks about the Squad seemed like they were probably strategic. Now, however, the sustained attacks feel increasingly personal. “When these comments first started, I kind of thought that she was keeping the progressive flank at more of an arm’s distance in order to protect more moderate members, which I understood,” Ocasio-Cortez told the Washington Post on Wednesday. “But the persistent singling out … it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful … the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.”

AOC expanded on her comments on Thursday, telling CNN she “absolutely” doesn’t think Pelosi is racist. “It’s really just pointing out the pattern, right? We’re not talking about just progressives, it’s signaling out four individuals. And knowing the media environment that we’re operating in, knowing the amount of death threats that we get … I think it’s just worth asking why.”

As Ocasio-Cortez notes, Pelosi’s attacks aren’t taking place in a bubble; they’re taking place in a media environment where the rightwing have put a target on the Squad’s back. On Tuesday night, for example, Fox host Tucker Carlson launched a racist attack against Omar that could arguably be seen as an incitement to violence against the congresswoman. “[Omar] has undisguised contempt for the United States and for its people,” Carlson told his 3 million viewers. “That should worry you, and not just because Omar is now a sitting member of Congress. Ilhan Omar is living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country. A system designed to strengthen America is instead undermining it.”

America is becoming an increasingly hostile place for women and for people of color. Pelosi’s constant public attacks against the four newly elected women of color aren’t just disrespectful, they’re dangerous. Whether she means to or not, her repeated insinuations that the Squad are rabble-rousing upstarts who are undermining the Democratic party helps bolster the right’s vitriolic narratives about the congresswomen. As America grows increasingly brazen in its bigotry, Pelosi should be aggressively standing up for her freshman colleagues, not trying to tear them down. So why isn’t she?

Well, to put it bluntly, I think it’s because she’s terrified of what her progressive colleagues represent. The Squad doesn’t just consist of four people, as Pelosi condescendingly told the Times; it represents the face of a new America. It represents a challenge to the traditional power structure. That doesn’t just scare bigots like Tucker Carlson, it scares the neoliberal establishment. It scares people who would never call themselves racist (they’d have voted for Obama for a third time if they could have!) but who clearly have a problem with young women of color speaking their mind. It scares people who champion more “diversity” – as long as that diversity keeps its mouth shut or sticks to the party line.

Proud racism advocates for walls to keep brown people out of America. Polite racism builds different sorts of walls; it leverage concepts like “civility” and “unity” to make sure certain voices are kept out of power, or are dismissed as trouble-making and divisive when they try and critique power. What “civility” really means, in all of these discussions, of course, is servility. What unity really means is uniform acceptance of the status quo. Progressives keep being told we shouldn’t criticize centrist Democrats if we want any chance at beating Trump in 2020; and yet establishment figures like Pelosi seem to have no problem criticizing progressive Democrats and the millions of people they represent.

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Karen Grigsby Bates: When Civility Is Used As A Cudgel Against People Of Color

The value of civility is one of the few things Americans can all agree on — right? That’s the common assumption. And yet it’s an assumption that depends on everyone thinking they’re a full member of the community.

But what about when they aren’t?

For many people of color in the United States, civility isn’t so much social lubricant as it is a vehicle for containing them, preventing social mobility and preserving the status quo. The furious white pushback at integrating lunch counters in the 1960s wasn’t about the grilled cheese sandwiches that sit-in protesters weren’t going to be served — it was about their presumption that they could sit at the counter at all. As equals.

That fury is why Alabama Gov. George Wallace could proclaim, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever!”

Even after passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, some white people were still pushing back against demands for equality from black and brown communities. James Forman, a principal organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, had famously promised the people who wanted to go slow on integration that if blacks didn’t have a seat at democracy’s table soon, the entire table would be tossed.

A few years later, as the Black Power movement gathered steam, activist H. Rap Brown told black Americans that they could ignore laws that were never meant to include them. “We did not make the laws in this country,” he insisted. “We are neither morally or legally confined to those laws. Those laws that keep them up keep us down!”

A “God-ordained” right to civilize others

Such laws and ordinances were designed to contain communities of color, says Gaye Theresa Johnson, who studies the intersection of civility and race at the University of California, Los Angeles. They allowed white citizens to, in effect, civilize people they considered less than.

And many assumed that this civilizing mission came from a higher authority. “It’s always been a situation where people assume that civility is something that’s sort of God ordained,” Johnson says.

That belief would indicate that some people are innately civil, while others need to have civility taught to — or imposed upon — them. Johnson says this is part of the underlying rationale for the enslavement of Africans imported into America and the genocide of Native peoples.

“People of color don’t get to orchestrate the terms of civility,” she explains. “Instead, we’re always responding to what civility is supposed to be.”

So the relationship between alleged civilizers and the people they’re “gifting” with civility, Johnson points out, is “inherently undemocratic, unequal and racist.” (Think of Native American children being forcibly removed from their homes and placed in so-called Indian boarding schools or Mexican children being punished for speaking Spanish in schools or African-Americans being forced to listen to sermons that preached that servants should obey their masters, etc.)

And so, pushing back against the status quo will be seen as inherently uncivil by the people who want to maintain it. And there are always higher standards expected of those people pushing back.

Rutgers professor Brittney Cooper writes about white reaction to black anger in her book Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. Since the Black Lives Matter movement blossomed, Cooper says, the mere fact that blacks are protesting affects how white society sees those protests.

“Black anger, black rage, black distress over injustice is seen as, one, unreasonable and outsized; and, two, as a thing that must be neutralized and contained quickly.” Cooper says this often takes the form of whites “preaching at black people about how they’re bad and how they’re ungrateful for being angry.”

Opening eyes and ears

Former President Bill Clinton illustrated this during a Philadelphia campaign event for his wife, Hillary, in 2016.

As he talked about the ways in which the criminal justice system has evolved in recent years, his recitation was challenged by Black Lives Matter activists. “I listened to them,” he told the Hillary Clinton supporters, “and they don’t wanna listen to me.”

He turned to his challengers and shook his finger at them: “You will never learn anything when you’re talking.” He was, in effect, telling them they were being uncivil.

But sometimes being uncivil is what gets the job done. Back in the late 1980s, many AIDS activists decided that the only way the country was going to become concerned about the growing human toll that HIV was claiming was to cause disruption.

Steven Petrow writes a column for The Washington Post on LGBT issues called Civilities. Back then, he says, most of the country had to be shocked into caring about AIDS — and trying to find a treatment for it.

A group of AIDS activists called ACT UP, which was dedicated to aggressively pressing for more research and services, infuriated a lot of people whose lives were disrupted by their demonstrations. But, Petrow says, something had to happen: “People were dying. The FDA was doing nothing. The Reagan White House had said nothing about AIDS well into the president’s second term. So, yes, that urgency justified that type of action.”

Students who are in the country illegally have used the same tactics to press for extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. In the past few years, marches and protests have raised awareness about the students often referred to as Dreamers.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick‘s decision to kneel during the national anthem enraged many people — including President Trump. The upward spiral of unarmed black people (mostly men) who have been killed by (mostly) white policemen was unacceptable to the NFL star. He chose to kneel to bring attention to it, and that, says Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy, made a lot of the white public furious.

Daring to challenge society

“The idea that these athletes were addressing themselves to a burning political issue — that in and of itself made people mad,” Kennedy says.

Kaepernick and other athletes who have chosen to protest social issues are angering people who believe they have strayed from their appointed place as athletes, Kennedy argues. These people want a ballgame, not a lecture — even a silent one.

But, Kennedy adds, by kneeling silently, Kaepernick was acting in the same dignified way civil rights demonstrators did in the 1960s: Students sitting quietly at lunchroom counters until they were dragged away, matrons shoved into police wagons, children being fire-hosed: All were quietly resisting what they believed was a societal wrong.

Kaepernick, Kennedy says, “was very vulnerable, and despite his vulnerability, he stood up in kneeling down. And I think in history he will go down as a hero.”

As with so much, time changes things. Those students who had to be pulled away from lunch counters throughout the South were vilified back then. Today, many are considered heroes for their civil disobedience.

Further Readings

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Spiritual Bypassing

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  • To use of spiritual beliefs/ideas to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs
  • To use “love” to bypass the real anti-racism work that needs to happen

“The easiest way for white women to skirt around the realities of racism is to just “love and light it away”. When confronted with ways they have offended a marginalized group with their words or actions, they immediately start to demand unity and peace; painting those they harmed as aggressive, mean, or divisive” Rachel Cargle, Harpers Bazaar, When Feminism Is White Supremacy in Heels

the.mirror on Spiritual Bypassing

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“Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many ways, often without being acknowledged as such. Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow elements, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.” —Robert Augustus Masters, PhD

“This should be share with all the people that tries to weaponize “ positivity and love “ as a means to limit and deviate the conversation. When people talk about an issue and people tell you that you should be more loving, or not to spread hate but love they are gaslighting you and tone policing what you have to say.” the.mirror

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“If peace means that I have talk in a way to makes my oppressor feel comfortable i don’t want that peace.” MLK

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For more White Supremacy Responses by SURJ and illustrative designer Rachel Ashley-Lovelace

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After a person of color posted this quote a white women argued against it.

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To learn more about racist bypassing and sign up for this unique learning experience join @wherechangestarted ’s online membership community: Unpacking Racist Bypassing

: White people assume niceness is the answer to racial inequality. It’s not

While most of us see ourselves as ‘not racist’, we continue to reproduce racist outcomes and live segregated lives

I am white. As an academic, consultant and writer on white racial identity and race relations, I speak daily with other white people about the meaning of race in our lives. These conversations are critical because, by virtually every measure, racial inequality persists, and institutions continue to be overwhelmingly controlled by white people. While most of us see ourselves as “not racist”, we continue to reproduce racist outcomes and live segregated lives.

In the racial equity workshops I lead for American companies, I give participants one minute, uninterrupted, to answer the question: “How has your life been shaped by your race?” This is rarely a difficult question for people of color, but most white participants are unable to answer. I watch as they flail, some giving up altogether and waiting out the time, unable to sustain 60 seconds of this kind of reflection. This inability is not benign, and it certainly is not innocent. Suggesting that whiteness has no meaning creates an alienating – even hostile – climate for people of color working and living in predominantly white environments, and it does so in several ways.

If I cannot tell you what it means to be white, I cannot understand what it means not to be white. I will be unable to bear witness to, much less affirm, an alternate racial experience. I will lack the critical thinking and skills to navigate racial tensions in constructive ways. This creates a culture in which white people assume that niceness is the answer to racial inequality and people of color are required to maintain white comfort in order to survive.

An inability to grapple with racial dynamics with any nuance or complexity is ubiquitous in younger white people who have been raised according to an ideology of colorblindness. I have been working with large tech companies whose average employees are under 30 years old. White employees are typically dumbfounded when their colleagues of color testify powerfully in these sessions to the daily slights and indignities they endure and the isolation they feel in overwhelmingly white workplaces. This pain is especially acute for African Americans, who tend to be the least represented.

While the thin veneer of a post-racial society that descended during the Obama years has been ripped away by our current political reality, most white people continue to conceptualize racism as isolated and individual acts of intentional meanness. This definition is convenient and comforting, in that it exempts so many white people from the system of white supremacy we live in and are shaped by. It is at the root of the most common kind of white defensiveness. If racists are intentionally and openly mean, then it follows that nice people cannot be racist. How often will a white person accused of racism gather as evidence to the contrary friends and colleagues to testify to their niceness; the charge cannot be true, the friend cannot be racist, because “he’s a really nice guy” or “she volunteers on the board of a non-profit serving under-privileged youth”. Not meaning to be racist also allows for absolution. If they didn’t mean it, it cannot and should not count.

Thus, it becomes essential for white people to quickly and eagerly telegraph their niceness to people of color. Niceness in these instances is conveyed through tone of voice (light), eye contact accompanied by smiling and the conjuring of affinities (shared enjoyment of a music genre, compliments on hair or style, statements about having traveled to the country the “other” is perceived to have come from or knowing people from the other’s community). Kindness is compassionate and often implicates actions to support or intervene. For example, I am having car trouble and you stop and see if you can help. I appear upset after a work meeting and you check in and listen with the intent of supporting me. Niceness, by contrast, is fleeting, hollow and performative.

In addition to niceness, proximity is seen as evidence of a lack of racism. Consider the claims many white people give to establish that they aren’t racist: “I work in a diverse environment.” “I know and/or love people of color.” “I was in the Peace Corps.” “I live in a large urban city.” These are significant because they reveal what we think it means to be racist. If I can tolerate (and especially if I enjoy and value) proximity, claims of proximity maintain, I must not be racist; a “real” racist cannot stand to be near people of color, let alone smile or otherwise convey friendliness.

In a 1986 article about black students and school success, Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu describe a “fictive kinship” between African Americans, a kinship that is not consanguineal (by blood) or affinal but derived from the assumption of shared experience. The racial kinship white people attempt to draw from niceness might be seen as a false or fabricated affinity. Most white people live segregated lives and in fact have no lasting cross-racial relationships. We are in the position to choose segregation and often do. The claims of non-racism that we make are therefore based on the most superficial of shared experiences: passing people of color on the street of large cities and going to lunch on occasion with a co-worker.

Note that our cursory friendliness does not come without strings. Consider the case of a white California woman who called the police this past May when a group of black Airbnb guests did not return her smile. The expectation is that the “nod of approval”, the white smile, will be reciprocated. This woman, like all the other white people who have called the police on people of color for non-existent offenses, vigorously denied she was racist. After all, she did smile and wave before reporting them.

I have heard many black Americans talk about the awkwardness of white people “over-smiling”. The act is meant to convey acceptance and approval while maintaining moral integrity, but actually conveys white racial anxiety. Over-smiling allows us to mask an anti-blackness that is foundational to our very existence as white. A fleeting benevolence, of course, has no relation to how black people are actually undermined in white spaces. Black friends have often told me that they prefer open hostility to niceness. They understand open hostility and can protect themselves as needed. But the deception of niceness adds a confusing layer that makes it difficult for people of color to decipher trustworthy allyship from disingenuous white liberalism. Gaslighting ensues.

The default of the current system is the reproduction of racial inequality. To continue reproducing racial inequality, the system only needs for white people to be really nice and carry on – to smile at people of color, to go to lunch with them on occasion. To be clear, being nice is generally a better policy than being mean. But niceness does not bring racism to the table and will not keep it on the table when so many of us who are white want it off. Niceness does not break with white solidarity and white silence. In fact, naming racism is often seen as not nice, triggering white fragility.

We can begin by acknowledging ourselves as racial beings with a particular and limited perspective on race. We can attempt to understand the racial realities of people of color through authentic interaction rather than through the media or through unequal relationships. We can insist that racism be discussed in our workplaces and a professed commitment to racial equity be demonstrated by actual outcomes. We can get involved in organizations working for racial justice. These efforts require that we continually challenge our own socialization and investments in racism and put what we profess to value into the actual practice of our lives. This takes courage, and niceness without strategic and intentional anti-racist action is not courageous.

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Non-Physical Racial Violence

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“Violence is far more than physical or even verbal, it is a deep seeded societal belief that ignores, invalidates, and denies the basic human rights of anyone or group of people. “anonymous

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“White violence doesn’t have to be a lynching on a tree or a direct racist comment. It can be the dismissal of black pain in order to maintain white comfort by white women who “just want to love”” Rachel Cargle, activist

“Defining outcomes solely in terms of injury or death thus limits the understanding of the full impact of violence” World Health Organization

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Examples of Non-Physical Racial Violence

  • The disproportionate brutality people of color experience in the US every day
    1. Robs people of color of the right to feel safe
    2. Promotes internalized racism, trauma, weathering
      • “It’s impossible to feel safe…when you’re simultaneously feared and criminalized” Vanessa Rochelle Lewis, Everyday Feminism
    3. Is tone policed, devalued, ignored, dismissed
      • By the people who are, consciously or unconsciously, preserving the system that brutalized people of color
      • “it’s not simply opposing views. For black people the ideology of ignorant white people is LITERALLY life and death. This isn’t casual debate. Our lives are on the line.” Rachel Cargle, activist

White People Arguing Against the Humity of People of Color

“IF your opinion is erasing or minimizing the realities, dignities of others, its not an opinion – its. violence, its oppression”the.mirror

“Sometimes people claim to have an “ opinion “ and don’t realize how harmful they are being. Also people to claim to be devil advocates, people whole tell you “I see things differently” there isn’t two ways of seeing oppression. Unless of course you’re the oppressor, you will always find a way to defend your privilege without even knowing.” the.mirror

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