Trigger warning: if you suffer from white fragility this is going to hurt. Please feel free to step outside for this one. Your feelings are not safe here.
I’m starting a new series called “White Privilege Says” because I’ve been having to deal with it and maybe explaining some things very clearly in a way that can be referred to as needed might be helpful and save time.
White Privilege Says:
“[Back person] should be nicer about that poem I wrote/ thing I said about race. I think when people make an effort to help you don’t have to thank me but you should at least be nice. I think [Black person who doesn’t care about their poem or being their friend] just hates white people.”
When white people start explaining or poem-ing about the ills of racism, I tune out. Why? Well they’re obviously not talking to me. This rudimentary understanding and explanation that racism is bad cannot possibly be to enlighten my Black self. The only way these poems and explanations make sense is for the purpose of enlightening and educating OTHER WHITE PEOPLE; especially those who would not listen to the Black people who have been saying the same thing for decades, centuries even. Sure, I think these poems and discussions are necessary – racist minds won’t listen to reason from a Black person, so having a white person (like themselves) break shit down is the only way to break through to them. I appreciate that and its value. Keep in mind as you do your “good deed” that you should stand for something because you believe in it, not because you want thanks or validation.
Please don’t expect me to listen to your poem and don’t expect cookies. You are not a puppy and I am not your trainer. You are an adult only now coming out of your privilege to realize and speak about a fundamental truth that finally acknowledges something that has shaped many Black people’s whole lives. I am gracious enough not to judge you for only now exploring this fundamental truth (not everyone will be that gracious), but don’t expect congratulations for your venturing out of naivety. Don’t ask for me to bake you cookies (literal or figurative) to encourage you to continue your journey toward dismantling your ingrained racism or privilege. That is asking a lot of me and I have never had that nursery school teacher kind of patience with anyone over age 10. You are an adult and if you cannot do this work without getting rewarded by your “Black friends” then you are still not getting it. You are still using your “Black friends” for validation to feel good about yourself for not being “a racist.” You are still objectifying me as “Black” before appreciating me as “friend”.
You may think it’s only right for me or any Black person to be nice to you because you said something “progressive” about race. The very idea that advocating for the end of oppression in any form to other human beings as “progressive” is insulting. It should not be “progressive,” it should be expected. As my author crush Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put so precisely “Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.” (Sidenote: this quote is from her novel “Americanah” which is a great read – you should check it out. Do you even read black authors? Reading is fundamental but reading non-white authors is one of those “progressive” things isn’t it? Along with basic human decency…)
Expecting Black people to be nice to you because you said something intelligent about racism uses the same logic as street harassers who expect women to “smile” or “be nice” because they gave her a “compliment.” Why should I trust you or be nice to you? Do you know how dangerous your whiteness is to Black people? No? White tears burn Black cities. White fear kills Black children. White hate murders praying congregations and bombs Black churches. White authority shoots and bombs Black families. White “morality” colonized and enslaved whole nations for hundreds of years. Even powerful white “ally” Eleanor Roosevelt who talked the good talk and was on the NAACP board in the 40’s and 50’s actively worked against Black Americans’ efforts for human rights in the UN. If you are white, then Black people have no real reason to feel safe with you, even if you say “nice” things, just like a woman walking alone has no real reason to feel safe around strange men giving her unsolicited “compliments.” So saying a Black person hates white people because they’re not interested in your feelings is analogous to a street harasser saying a woman who has been raped by a man hates men because she isn’t receptive to his advances.
If we connect on a human level and become friends, then great! If I have the time and energy I may be willing to engage in critical discussion to help you sort out this new way of thinking – but I don’t owe that to you. If you are really trying to be a friend then show it by respecting my time and energy rather than demanding it. I’d rather spend it building community with people who renew, not drain me. It’s not my job to teach you or do your work for you or even to be nice. So don’t expect it, and definitely don’t demand it.
© 2015 Kelene Blake, All Rights Reserved