What happens when your white friends or family says or does something racist? How do we cope when someone we love excuses or condones racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic rhetoric and actions? If you’re a person of colour existing in our current world, you have probably experienced this. I have white family members, my best friends are white, I have fallen in love with white people. Most of them, at one point or another, have said or done something hurtful. It often comes from being ignorant or so unaware of their place in life that the comment or action doesn’t appear harmful to them. I had brushed this off as a part of life, something I would have to contend with. As a light skin, relatively privileged WOC, I figured I don’t have a right to complain. My thoughts around this have changed as the climate of racism and white supremacy intensifies. Recently, a POC pal mentioned how hurt they were that their white friends were not empathetic towards them when they experienced racism. At times, they were argumentative and refused to believe that things could be “that bad”. It’s often easier to see things when it’s not happening to you. I hated seeing a person I care about hurt, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how common this experience is. Recent events have reignited a local conversation on racism and white silence/violence. We, as poc, are all too aware that racism is a systemic and insidious problem.
These are not new conversations for us. Every time, something happens, whether it’s in the news cycle or something closer to home, I see and hear white folks coming out with, “It’s [insert year], I can’t believe this is still happening!” or how the perpetrator(s) of said racism are sick individuals, filled with some unknown source of hate. These good white folks are confused. They are scared and they feel helpless. If this is you, your feelings are valid, but your surprise and lack of awareness of your complicity needs to end. POC are not surprised, this is not new to us. We also know that this isn’t a problem with one individual. Racism is systemic issue, it is built into our institutions and structures. individuals may act, but the rhetoric, stereotypes and reasoning behind their actions are deeply rooted in structures of white supremacy.
The majority of the white people I know are Good White People™. They are proudly call themselves allies, they attend anti-racist events, they post on social media, they might even attend a protest or work to call out the ‘bad’ white people in their lives, i.e. ones that are openly racist. Good White People™ pride themselves on being part of the struggle, they love having POC friends, they like Solange over Beyonce, they are the best ally, they ask a lot of questions during Q&A’s at racial justice events, they are not racist. Good White People™ may also be your parent, your best friend, your lover. They genuinely love you. They don’t want you to experience the pain racism and discrimination causes. At the same time, they stumble over their words when you gently point out that maybe, just maybe, they could do more. Good White People™ get just a little bit upset when you start celebrating your ancestral magic, they prickle when you call them out, their silence is is palpable when racism happens in your community. They post 7x a day about racism in the US, but their feed is empty when it comes to the racism happening at the local bar or on campus or in their own home. Good White People™ want racial justice – as long as it doesn’t disturb their status quo. They want to see the end of discriminatory policing practices, they want to see more WOC in leadership roles, they advocate for a vague kind of Reconciliation. They don’t want to confront their own racism, those deep internal thoughts that are inescapable in a white supremacist society, they do not want to give up their 10 minutes at the Q&A, they still want to point about that “all women are beautiful y’know, not just woc” every time we uplift our sisters, they are reading this blog post thinking about all the other white people they know that fit this description, but not them, because they really are a Good White Person™
This is not to say there is no way to unlearn this or that their is not a place for them (you) in the struggle, but it takes work. Hard, uncomfortable, on-going work. POC have been doing this work, we need to unlearn internalized racism. We learn at young ages how to deal with racism with a smile on our face because it may not be safe to respond. We are here, resisting by simply existing. We are doing the work and we don’t need allies, we need accomplices. We need white folks to put their whiteness on the line and take the risk to share their power and privilege. The understanding that achieving liberation for POC means white people losing power is rooted in white supremacist notions of power. That is to say that, to achieve liberation, we need to shift our understanding of what power means, how we organize our communities and how we share power and responsibility in relationship. This is an ongoing conversation that is made harder when so-called allies take over spaces of activism and cloud the vision of true liberation with neo-liberal, neo-colonial concepts of “diversity” and “multiculturalism”.
I understand this is daunting. Challenging your own racism and prejudice is scary, but is it worth avoiding and staying complicity in white supremacy? Being a Good White Person™ is often an important phase of ‘getting there’. We can’t expect ourselves or those around us to wake up one day, fully released of any racist notions, that is unrealistic given the society we live in. I do expect myself and others to commit to unlearning. I expect the white people around – if they want to continue to be Good White People™ or “allies” or whatever – to confront their racism in a humble and open way.
So if you have read this whole thing, and still think it’s not about you, it’s probably about you.
If you read this and think it is about you, you already completed the first tiny step. Educate yourself, don’t ask POC to do the work for you. Be patient with yourself, learning and unlearning takes time, but hey, at least you’re moving forward.