White People: Quit Being So Sensitive and So Defensive. It’s Not About You.
Watching people’s reactions to coronavirus restrictions was rough, but seeing this self-serving white nonsense is so much worse.
I thought it would be people’s response to coronavirus restrictions that would test my patience to its limits.
After all, I’ve spent months watching people disregard science, posting photos of themselves having a great time with their friends because they were over it, or felt the measures were overblown, or just didn’t see the fuss, or had been “so careful” up to a certain point and really just needed things to get back to normal.
The last few weeks have been particularly fun as states have begun to reopen, welcoming those people who have been lamenting their lack of haircuts while still finding it within themselves to find something to bitch about, e.g. why hair shops but not nail salons? Why can we get groceries but not gather in the thousands to tithe for our mega churches?
I had truly been having enough of these people, truly thinking out loud whether the world was just full of more dummies today or more selfishness today or maybe it was just made more obvious because of social media.
Then we bore witness to another murder of an unresisting black man by a police officer with a complete disregard for human life, let alone a black life.
And the world completely erupted.
I’m not talking about the looting, or the riots. I’m not going to go into that, because it wouldn’t be appropriate for me.
I’m a white woman living in San Diego with so much privilege that it’s hard for me to even acknowledge it all at one time. I have to spread it out, like today I’m accepting that my skin allows me to go places without a set of eyes following me. I’ll explore something else tomorrow, because seriously, it’s so much.
I’m talking about white people predictably focusing their outrage on the response to this epidemic, because yes, the killing of black people at the hands of police officers is an epidemic.
My news feeds — mostly Facebook — are full of this white nonsense.
The other day I saw someone I know post that because they know black people and have black friends, they know how black people would feel about reactions to the murder of George Floyd.
No. You do not know. You are white.
And frankly, even if you had a conversation with your black friend, you do not get to speak for that friend. That’s some irresponsible territory you’re entering, to say the least.
If you persist in doing so, you don’t get to shut people down for warning you that what you’re saying is irresponsible. White people love to pull the “not looking for a debate here” card when things get a little too spicy, sometimes even putting that disclaimer on the original post.
They’re a mild bunch, or at least they’d like to keep it that way.
White privilege at its worst is a white person getting defensive about being called out for using words that may distract from the message of a movement.
I’ve found that defensiveness in general is a go-to for many when they’re asked to consider how others in a different skin color may feel, or at even the slight suggestion that their white skin is in and of itself a privilege.
How lucky are you to be able to feel so defensive over lacking an obstacle in your life?
I’ve been trying to tread lightly here, as sometimes being an ally means shutting your mouth for a minute and listening, instead.
But I don’t want that to come across as complacent, either, watching white people post one Martin Luther King, Jr., quote after the next as if we should all gather in a peace circle right now, white hand in black, and brown and whatever.
So before you speak out of turn, consider whether your words here are really necessary, whether you’re adding something to the conversation, and whether you’ve been listening.
Because here’s the thing.
You can be anti-racism without being anti-police. Generally, I’m thinking we’re all for police officers who don’t brutalize and murder in their custody, whether they’re being filmed or not. That doesn’t mean you’re anti-police.
You can be for the rights of other minorities, while still supporting Black Lives Matter. I won’t go into why “All Lives Matter” is an absurd thing to say in this moment, because others have already done so more eloquently.
You can feel angry about the looting, while still acknowledging that racial justice is lacking in this country. While you’re at it, sit with that for a minute. Why does that make you so angry? It’s not even your stuff.
When you’ve been silent all this time and only now speaking up because you’re worried about what property damage means for this country, or feel like people should vaguely come together, or were posting lame “respect the flag” memes when you viewed national anthem protests as inappropriate, you really should sit down.
It’s not about you.
So what can you do?
What can you do, if you’re not so fragile that you’ve come this far?
I’m not saying everyone should hit the streets. That’s just not possible for everyone, particularly if you have concerns about immunocompromised family members, or concerns about whether you could become a super-spreader yourself around a population that’s already identified as more vulnerable than your own.
If you can, consider donating to organizations supporting the racial justice initiatives. You’ve seen the lists, and the outpouring of support for those big national organizations has been impressive. But if you need more ideas, don’t forget to look locally, too.
A friend of mine introduced me to My Block, My Hood, My City, an initiative in Chicago that promotes underserved neighborhoods in the city, my hometown. Currently, they’re raising money for small businesses in black communities affected by the looting, alongside support for seniors struggling to access resources to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Yes, that’s still a thing.
To take it a step further, consider signing petitions that look to demand change. Educate yourself about initiatives you could support locally, and reach out to elected officials who are dragging their feet on real change.
I’ll take it as a good sign that Ibram Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist is temporarily out of stock. Here are a few more to kill some time while you wait for that one along with me.
Hell, if you don’t have the attention span, seek out black media on Twitter. It’s been a fantastic resource for me as far as getting out of my bubble for real-time reactions to what’s happening around the country. They could have urged you to find more actionable ways to support the movement than a black box on Instagram, for example.
Call people out on their white nonsense, even if it’s a relative. White people, you’ve been way too polite with your racist uncles. Stop excusing racism as a “generational thing.” I’ve heard that one quite a bit. It’s not a thing, no matter how you believe it to be true.
And if you do go out to join protests, take your cue from the movement. There are plenty of stories, supported by video, of white people taking it upon themselves to instigate property damage, tag buildings, and generally start chaos, whether they feel as if they’re helping the movement in some bizarre way or for reasons more nefarious.
Don’t do that. Be careful, but also be mindful of what you say and do, so that you’re not making this about yourself.
Because again, it’s not about you.