I recently wrote a blog post about what it’s like to be black in America. As usual, there were shitty comments from people that I blocked immediately, because ain’t nobody got time for that. But there were also a few seemingly innocuous comments that were actually pretty terrible. Anytime I write about my experience of being a person of color in a country with a long history of treating folks who look like me poorly, I invariably receive the same kind of unsolicited advice:
You should try harder to make white folks understand. Be patient and give them the benefit of the doubt. Don’t alienate your allies.
It literally happens every time. Without fail.
White folks, let me clue you into something you might not have considered before: if black folks could cure racism, it would already be cured.
We would have dealt with that shit decades ago. Believe me. And telling me to be nicer to white folks, or to not get offended at racist shit in an attempt to keep from rocking a boat that’s been on rough seas for centuries is utter bullshit. Stop doing it.
Let’s use an example to illustrate how wacky and ignorant this kind of a suggestion is:
Woman: Jim made a joke about my breasts again in front of everyone in the meeting. I’m getting really tired of the sexist crap in this office.
Man: Whoa, do you ever think that you’re just being too sensitive? Jim was probably just being funny. Give him the benefit of the doubt.
Woman: *stabs man*
Okay, maybe not that last part, though we can all agree he deserved it for those ignorant statements. But do you see how that kind of exchange puts the onus for fixing the problem squarely on the person being oppressed by the nonstop barrage of sexist behavior? It’s not just a case of blaming the victim, but of suggesting that the victim is the one who needs to do better.
Get a sense of humor. Wear different clothes. Smile more so no one thinks you’re an uppity bitch.
Here’s what I need you to do from now on, white folks: stand the hell up and collect your people. All of them, especially the ones showing their asses on the daily. White people created the widespread systems of oppression that POCs are experiencing in this country and it’s going to take white people to tear them down. Instead of suggesting that I get a sense of humor (already have one, thanks) or undertake the emotional labor of teaching the offending individual how to be a decent human being, how about you confront the people who look like you when they spout racist crap or treat POCs like garbage? It’s really that simple.
Sexism would have ended a century ago if women could’ve just rolled up their collective sleeves and rabbit punched some sense into the men around them. But men created the patriarchy, and they need to do the work of dismantling it. In partnership with women, of course, but we need you to step up, gents.
Collect. Your. People.
So, no, I’m not going to give a white person the benefit of the doubt when she says something blatantly racist or treats me like a second class citizen. It doesn’t matter if she didn’t ‘mean to be racist’. Impact trumps intent. Every time. I am under no obligation to treat you with kid gloves when you literally didn’t take a second to weigh the impact of your words before you said them. Why should I consider your feelings when you couldn’t care less about mine?
And if you don’t like being called out, then make like a POC and learn to weigh every word you speak and action you take, all day, every day, because a misstep could result in devastating consequences for you. And I’m not talking about hurt feelings. I mean life and death. Asking you to do better pales in comparison to that, now doesn’t it? And if you’re the ally you say you are, it’s really the least you can do.