We’re suddenly talking nonstop about hard subjects like sexism and racism. If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s that we’re not nearly as far along as we thought in this country. The same way the #metoo movement was an eye opener for men about the pervasiveness of systemic sexism, seeing white supremacists marching openly in the streets was a wake up call for white America about how deep racism actually runs in this nation. Since Charlottesville, I’ve had many discussions with white folks. On the one hand, they want to know how they can help, but on the other, they are extremely resistant to the idea that they are most likely perpetuating systems of oppression without even knowing it. Change starts with acknowledging how you feed into the problem and then beginning the hard work to minimize that contribution. How? Well, I’m glad you asked. I’ve come up with a bit of a road map, complete with examples and comparisons, because that’s exactly how I roll. This first part of the road map involves phrases to excise out of your vocabulary like the malignant tumors they are. When we change the way we speak, we change the way we think, and that changes the world around us. Here we go.
1. I don’t see color
This sounds great, right? But it’s actually the opposite of great. I’m proud to be black and I’d like you to see me that way. The issue isn’t my color. The issue is the snap judgments you make when you see my color. That’s what needs to stop. And, usually, when someone says they don’t see color, it’s used as a way to shut down a POC who has called someone on some racist shit.
Let’s compare it to sexism, shall we? Imagine a man who said something seriously sexist and when called on it states that he doesn’t see gender. He just sees people, so there’s no way he can be a misogynist! That would never fly. And, fellas, we want you to see us as women. We just don’t want you to subject us to any of your sexist male nonsense.
2. I have a black friend!
If you’re called out for some messed up stuff that you say, resist the urge to hand us your racial resume. I don’t need to know that you have a black coworker, that you went to school with black kids, that you voted for Obama, or that you love MLK.
Bringing it back to sexism, would you accept a man’s excuse that he can’t have said something sexist because he knows women. He’s married to one. He has a daughter and a mother. That actually makes it worse, right? That he knows women and still reinforces the sexism inherent in every aspect of society? He needs to do better, not make B.S. excuses to shield himself from the consequences of his conduct.
Proximity to a marginalized group does not inoculate you from contributing to systems of widespread oppression. If that’s how it worked, there wouldn’t be any sexism or racism in the first place.
3. I’ve struggled my whole life, so I can’t have white privilege
I’ve heard this more times than I can count, and I always shut it down the same way. Privilege doesn’t have a damned thing to do with you as an individual, but rather the way societal structures reward groups of people for whiteness on the one hand while penalizing other groups of people for their non-whiteness on the other. You may not like the term white privilege, but that doesn’t change the fact that it exists in every institution in American society. Men don’t like the term male privilege very much either, but that doesn’t change the fact that society is uniquely suited to their specifications while the rest of us must work harder if we hope to achieve the same things.
4. I’ve been the victim of reverse racism
In case you haven’t heard, reverse racism isn’t a thing. Racism arises out of a system of supremacy used to keep one group of people elevated above another group, and that kind of oppression only runs one way in this country. So that one time a POC didn’t want to sit with you at lunch or be your friend has nothing to do with ‘reverse racism’. That person might just be a jerk…or it might be you. Hard to tell. I wasn’t there.
5. All lives matter!
If this is your response to black lives matter, you need to cease and desist. When someone says we need to save the rainforest, do you shout: all land matters? If so, you might need more help than I can provide here, because that would be ridiculous. Black and brown people are killed by police at disproportionately higher rates than white people. That’s just a fact. And just like wanting to protect the rainforest from destruction because it’s in crisis doesn’t mean screw all the other land on the planet, wanting to protect black and brown lives from rampant police brutality doesn’t mean all other lives don’t matter.
6. Stop pulling the race card
This one is ridiculous as well. I’m a black woman. That’s the lens through which I see the world. If you’re white, that’s your lens. It just so happens that your lens is the default in this country. It’s why I have to go to the ethnic section in the grocery store to buy my shampoo while you just get to go to the shampoo aisle. Men don’t get accused of making everything about being men, even though EVERYTHING IS LITERALLY ABOUT THEM HAVING PENISES ALL THE TIME. But white men are the default. The rest of us are just making everything about our feminist vagendas or pulling the race card. It’s a microaggression. It’s a way to shut down a voice that’s saying something you don’t want to hear. No one can shrug out of their skin or their sex, and it’s unacceptable to demand a person try to do so in order to make you more comfortable.
7. Talking about race is so divisive; let’s unite and focus on the ‘real’ issues
It’s extremely easy to tell folks not to worry about issues of inequality when you are the beneficiary of privilege–be it men telling women to set aside issues of gender inequality or white folks telling people of color to simmer down about racial inequality. In the last election cycle, issues that referenced these struggles for equality were called identity politics. But what isn’t identity politics? If you’re lucky enough that you are the default (stand up so we can see you, white gents), you’re interests just get called politics and the rest of us are told to wait quietly for our turn, which will come after all the ‘important’ work has been done…
Do you want to know what’s divisive? Inequality. That involves literally separating groups of people and putting certain groups above others. Contrary to popular belief, bringing up the fact that inequality exists isn’t divisive. It’s actually an attempt to bring people together.
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a start. If you truly want to do better, change starts with the woman or man you see in the mirror.