Black folks are tired, y’all.
This is the kind of exhaustion you feel in your bones after carrying a heavy load for much too long, one you know you won’t be able to set aside any time soon. It’s the kind of tiredness that affects you at a visceral level, leaving you sick and frustrated.
Why are black folks so tired, you might ask? In a few words: because of white folks who would readily call themselves ‘allies’ but won’t actually engage in any real self reflection or undertake the emotional sweat equity necessary to talk to the folks who look like them in order to begin the long process of tearing down systems of widespread oppression.
That’s a mouthful, so let’s break it down…
We just had an election, and, in the Florida gubernatorial race, we had a white Republican man run on racist rhetoric reminiscent of the 2016 Republican nominee. But unlike in 2016, the Republican in Florida was actually running against a black man, so the racism had a clear focal point. In Georgia, the governor’s race between a black woman and the racist, voter suppression happy Secretary of State had the same racist undertones. And, as usual, the majority of white women voters voted for the Republican candidates (51% in FL and 75% in GA), despite the fact that this was also a vote against their own interests of autonomy over their own medical decisions, funding of public schools, protection of the environment, etc.
Because I am a glutton for punishment, I posted a clip from the Daily Show in which a white woman was talking about how voters who look like her will uphold systems of white patriarchal power because they benefit on the basis of shared whiteness, and that these limited benefits were earned on the backs of people of color. White folks need to talk to other white folks in order to start tearing down these systems, and white women specifically need to understand how they might benefit from their whiteness, but that their gender is still a liability. When they vote to uphold the status quo, they are actively voting against their own interests.
As you can imagine, the white tears and pearl clutching was immediate. Here are just a few paraphrased samples of the responses to my post:
Why are you trying to divide us right now?! We should be standing together!
You are too intelligent to be pushing away your allies at a time like this.
You don’t know my heart! I’ve been working so hard!
Tell us what the answers are! What are we supposed to do?!
Not all white women!!
And on and on.
Also, honorable mention for the white man who came onto my page to ‘stand up for women’ by attempting to shout down a woman of color in her own space (he was deleted and blocked after he attempted to PM me with more of his mansplaining bullshit; ain’t nobody got time for that).
There were white women who commented on the post in order to undertake the emotional labor of attempting to educate their fellow white women, but these initial responses from so-called, self-identified ‘allies’ were problematic on so many levels. Folks were demanding education and sources, though I’d attached a clip of a white woman explaining the issue as well as an article. But, as usual, that was not enough. So, I had to break it down in terms of sexism.
The same women who came onto my page throwing around the #NotAllWhiteWomen defense would be quick to pounce on a man who used the #NotAllMen excuse as a response to a #MeToo or #TimesUp post. Obviously, not all men are engaging in blatant sexual harassment and assault, but men still uphold rape culture and systemic sexism by not speaking up to their fellow men whenever they see questionable behavior or hear jokes and comments that are sexist, or when they simply benefit from systems of patriarchal power on the backs of the women around them. Until all of the so-called ‘good’ men stand up to other male perpetrators, women might as well be spitting into the wind. We can’t tear down systems of widespread oppression set up by men to control us. We need men to undertake that labor, and the work is constant.
In the same way, people of color can’t be expected to tear down systems of oppression put in place by white folks. We can call out the problems as we see them, but we can’t talk to most white folks in a way that they will actually hear and acknowledge what is being said.
Case in point: my social media post, which was a list of statistics about how white women voted in the last two election cycles, a clip in which a white woman called out other white women for voting to uphold patriarchal systems of power to their own detriment, and an article. From the responses, it was clear that the real problem for certain white women was not the racism itself, but my uppity audacity in daring to call out that racism. That level of knee jerk defensiveness is exhausting, mostly because of how predictable it is.
If we want to do better in this country, it starts with a long hard look in the mirror. We all have layers of privilege. I might be at a disadvantage due to my race and sex, but as a straight black woman who is not disabled, I am still the recipient of a certain amount privilege, and if I hear someone who is not LGBTQ or disabled speaking in ways that are bigoted towards those groups, it is my responsibility to put a stop to it. I don’t understand what is so hard to grasp about this concept. The onus is not on other marginalized groups to do all of the emotional labor. Being straight is currently the ‘default’ in this country, so it’s my responsibility to speak to other straight folks about their homophobia or transphobia. They will listen to me in a way they might not listen to someone from the LGBTQ community. If I don’t have a strategy for speaking to other straight people about how unacceptable it is to be hateful to someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, I can simply consult my BFF Google for answers. Under no circumstances do I demand that a member of the LGBTQ community take on the emotional labor of educating me.
If the act of a person of color pointing out racism makes you defensive, you need to undertake some self reflection to understand why that is, and that needs to be done on your own time. It’s not the POC’s responsibility to soothe you or educate you. If you really want to be an ally to marginalized groups, then you need to listen when they speak, and then you need to be willing to do the work necessary to change things. Sometimes that’s simply having conversations with the white folks around you. If you are afraid to do that, imagine how difficult it is for POCs. Not only do we have to have conversations with white folks who discriminate against us on the basis of skin color, but we also have to deal with so-called ‘allies’ who discount us because what we are saying doesn’t fit the ‘we are all in this together’ sunshine narrative to which they subscribe. If we really are ‘in this together’, then white folks who truly want to see racial equality need to start shouldering their part of the burden, because black folks are tired.