I have seen some terrible hot takes from white people this week, following two more racist incidents that made national news. But one in particular struck me. On one black woman’s thread on twitter, a thread in which she spilled her heart out to white people, begging them to stand up and do something about their fellow whites treating black humans like garbage; a white woman is in the comments.
She began her comment naming some kind of credential, as if that gave her permission for what she as about to say. And then proceeded to tell this black woman in so many words to WATCH HER TONE because white people like her try so hard but you shouldn’t be so mean to them.
My shock and dismay (don’t worry, the other whites in the thread came to collect her post haste) quickly vanished when it struck me that this is what black men and women deal with day in day out. White fragility. Is our whiteness really so fragile that we have the audacity to complain when our feelings are hurt (I’m looking at you Amy Cooper), or better yet the audacity to even have hurt feelings at all??
There are many white people who make dumb arguments in defense of themselves when these things happen and they make headlines (btw they happen way more often than the news covers them). White people say things like “I don’t see color, everyones equal in my eyes” (as if your eyes are the special kind), “I have black friends, they know I’m not racist” (they probably don’t feel comfortable talking to you about race, its a lot of emotional labor for them), “Racism is just over exaggerated in the media, its not as rampant as you think” (NO, NO ITS NOT JUST STOP). Oh and my personal favorite “Race is used for politics and I don’t pay attention to politics, its all corrupt, its always negative, I have more important things in my life” (Hi, thanks for describing white privilege in one sentence, so glad you HAVE THE EXACT DEFINITION. Nailed it.)
First of all, anyone who dismisses “the media” entirely ie: journalists, has clearly never been failed by a justice system because they have black or brown skin. And this is the very root of the problem, since day one in this country white people have been treating people with brown and black skin as less than human. And then they have continued to teach other white people the same. Until now, that we’re in a generation where the assimilation is so subtle, that most white people don’t even think there’s a race problem in this country. They honestly think, that if they aren’t burning a cross out on a black man’s front lawn, that makes them “not a racist.”
That’s how low the bar is for white people. When really, their racism is as simple as “I don’t have to think about it because I don’t live near any black people, and the brown people live on the other side of town.” Discards. Out of sight, out of mind. Their humanity is reduced to the color of their skin and if the people around you every day look just like you, you’re off the hook.
You’re not off the hook. None of us is off the hook. So then, say you’re white and you actually hear these words and think “OK then what do I do?” Well don’t go asking your one black friend. Use your good friend google, and FIGURE IT OUT. White people are so good at the helpless act. Especially white women. But now is not the time for that.
Here a couple resources to get you started, but beyond that you must want to do the work to dismantle your own internal white supremacy.
There are countless men and women of color putting the content out there, so read what’s already been written. Don’t go expecting someone to explain it to you. And don’t stop when you feel the urge to push back, or feel accused or embarrassed. That’s going to happen. Push through it. Sit with it.
And if you are really moved by what the google has to show you, if you’re shocked and appalled at the facts you’ve been ignoring your whole adult life: go tell your white friends! Don’t just sit alone in your guilt, feeling sorry for yourself. No, you can’t change it by yourself, none of us can. But we can do the next right thing. And the next right thing after that.
One more thing: this white fragility, this idea that white people’s individual lives are so much more important than the greater whole: this is why a pandemic has become divisive. This mentality, that white people can’t and won’t be told what to do. This all has its roots in white supremacy. And now 100,000 Americans are dead, a disproportionate amount of whom are black and brown. Discarded. Less than human. Because their skin’s not white. And this is not the first national emergency to teach us this. The 9th Ward. Puerto Rico. Jog your memory?
Dr. Maya Angelou famously said “…you know better, you do better.” Now you know. Do. Better.
[This is the last thing you’ll hear from me on this. In the future I’ll only be pointing you toward the work of black and brown voices. They are who you need to listen to, not me.]