You might be a little racist. I could say “racially or culturally insensitive” for some of this, but I think, since we’re having this conversation, I’m going to skip the sugar.
You do and say stupid shit that makes people of color (and other people who know better) look at you sideways.
Are you still with me? Cool. Because this is where I will tell you…guess what? I do it, too.
I am white as fuck, I grew up in a white family in a white neighborhood in a white town in a pretty white state. You know goddamn well I have put my foot in my mouth a thousand times over in my life.
Was it with malice? No, but really, I don’t get a pass for that.
Either do you.
When I was in my 20s, I would say fully ignorant shit like “I don’t understand why there’s BET, Black Entertainment Television…or Miss Black America. It seems to me that….”
I didn’t get why people of color may need spaces that are free of white people to just “be”. I mean isn’t that a form of racism? How can we all be this great melting pot if “they” don’t want to be around “us”?
I didn’t understand cultural appropriation. What does that even mean? What’s the big deal about wearing Native American headdresses? It’s not like it’s insulting. They’re pretty! Why does anyone care about dreadlocks? It’s not racist to have them, it’s just hair, I mean, after all…black people STRAIGHTEN their hair…AMIRIGHT? And, I mean cornrows…not for me, but, hey, it’s a free country. IT’S JUST HAIR.
I didn’t understand that “the system” was and always has been rigged against people of color. I mean…I know successful black people (i.e. I had seen them, I didn’t know them) and if you were in prison, I guess you shouldn’t have broken the law guys, everyone plays by the same rules.¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I didn’t understand why the first instinct for people of color, when seeing the police, is to run for their lives. Cops are our friends! If you are just polite…and do what they say…my super white brother has no problem with cops, and he’s ALWAYS in trouble! YOU DON’T RUN FROM THE POLICE FOR FUCKSSAKE. Don’t give them a reason…
I could go on, but I think some of this might be sounding familiar.
Doesn’t it? It does, doesn’t it. Are you feeling defensive yet?
That’s ok. You’ll be fine.
I will forever be embarrassed about the thing that slapped me across the face and said, “Hey, asshole…LISTEN.” Embarrassed because something had to hurt ME first for me to understand why someone else might feel pained.
In the early 2000s, I had seen an article written by a woman of color who was very insistent that people NOT touch her hair. “Don’t touch my hair, it’s presumptuous and it makes me feel like think you have some sort of ownership of me, and that’s not how I need to be made to feel by a white person.”
I read it and, while I thought, ok…I mean fine, but I’ve touched black people’s hair before AND I certainly didn’t feel like it was racist. My intentions were fine. This whole thing wasn’t really as it seemed, in my opinion.
Months later (at least), I was having a conversation where I was venting to a man I am close to about some seriously fucking misogynistic bullshit I was dealing with at work and how it made me feel devalued and just angry.
“I don’t think it’s as bad as you’re making it sound,” he said.
Punched. Right in the gut, that’s how I felt. How could you, a man who has never been in the position I have been and will never feel this way, dismiss my feeli…
Fuck me…I HAD BEEN “that guy”.
I had been “that guy” in the instance with the hair, and I had been “that guy” a number of times before that, honestly, I had probably never even registered.
I was hurt, felt dismissed, devalued because someone who I thought would understand and sympathize with me had, when I shared my feelings, blew them off because he had zero perspective and, in his own way, was trying to make me feel better by minimizing my experience as a woman in a world where men called the shots, always had, and where women had to crawl through shit to deal with crap like this.
And I had been doing the same thing to people of color and their experience.
“Oh, I don’t think any harm is meant by it…”
I have spent a lot of time since then…learning. Undoing years of bullshit information from my public school education, the white-washed textbooks, the stories we’re told that gloss over entire sections of humanity and sugarcoat atrocities as things that maybe were bad, but were TOTALLY in the past (FUN FACT: They’re not).
I napalmed the bubble that I lived in as well. You can’t live in a lily white bubble and expect to learn jack or shit.
When I am called out for saying or doing ridiculous shit by people of color…and from white folks who have been listening longer…I listen.
I ask questions when I should, but try not to burden people with my ignorance. Regardless of what you think, it’s not someone from any particular section of humanity’s job to teach you.
Do the work. But if someone wants to teach you, please listen.
When my first knee-jerk when called out MIGHT be defensiveness, I give myself a second to feel the sting and then go, “Ok, did I fuck up? And if so, how, why, and what do I do NOT do be “that guy?” And I figure it out.
Sometimes it takes me a while to “get it”.
Do you stop listening with one person’s perspective?
What if it soothes you and assures you that you’re not, in fact, a racist clod? YAY!
Dude, you don’t even have to stop listening the first time someone is harsh with you, but don’t you dare go looking for your confirmation bias.
If you don’t want to be “that guy”, keep listening.
And this is super fucking simplistic, people. This isn’t going to “cure you” of being an insensitive cockwomble. I don’t have enough time to “cure ignorance” here, and, honestly, I don’t believe that I’m even qualified.
If a slough of information is being presented to you that that thing you’re doing is offensive as fuck, maybe stop doing it instead of looking for the group of people with your skin color that promise you that it’s not that bad and give you a hug and promise that they totes know you could never be racist…or the one person of color that shrugs and says, “Fuck, I don’t care.”
I recently saw a statement that I will paraphrase here sums it up:
“White women getting mad when women of color point out racism in feminism is like getting mad at being told there’s junk in your teeth. ITS A FAVOR. FIX UR FACE”
Seriously…fix your face. And you might get junk in your teeth again, Becky. Keep fixing your face.
BRB, headed to the mirror to make sure my teeth are ok.