This blog post may come off as aggressive, but I hope you give it a chance and consider it impassioned. Besides, the time for tiptoeing around white fragility passed as soon America decided it prioritized screwing the establishment over the wellbeing of millions of people.
On November 8, 2016 many white Americans were awakened to the drastic truth that America is a nation driven by racial systems of oppression that many will go to great lengths to protect, a truth people of color realize on the daily. Even though I was aware and actively fought against the beast that is white supremacy, I was still caught off-guard by the outcome of the election. Why you ask? Because I put too much faith in white people, more specifically, white women.
White feminism, you have let me down many times. You continually demonstrate to me and other women of color that you will choose your race over the sisterhood if ever there is such a decision to be made. This was evident when Susan B. Anthony declared that she would cut off her right arm before working to ensure the vote for black men and not for [white] women. And it was evident on Election Day when white women, both college-educated and non-college educated, turned out in masses to vote for Donald Trump. Meanwhile, 94% of black women got in formation, did what we had to do, and voted to protect the civil and human rights of all women and people of color in our country. Black women have been building and saving this country since the dawn of its existence, and we are tired of being taken for granted. I have done my due diligence, have had more than my fair share of conversations regarding race, and have come to the conclusion that this is no longer solely my, nor other women of color’s, burden to bear. The time has come for white liberals, both men and women, to take conversations about race, gender, and systemic oppression into their fellow white moderate and conservative communities. Acknowledging systems exist to oppress people of color is no longer enough. In the words of Pete White, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, “If you acknowledge an issue exists you are duty-bound to do something about it, and if you don’t, you are complicit in whatever that thing is.” For now, we can start off slow. We will consider your active participation in conversations about race a catalyst for future commitment to the cause.
Recognizing that many of you will be participating in more conversations regarding race, the following are a few suggestions for how to engage indifferent or combative people on the subject.
1.) Language Matters.
Be sure to refer to your melanin-rich friends as people of color, not colored people or minorities, and be steadfast in your readiness to correct others when they fail get the language right. Contrary to popular belief, correcting word choice is not an instance of liberal political correctness. Words matter. They are the essence of communication. They are the basis of our thoughts. Those thoughts, when merged, form ideas. Those ideas, when solidified, form opinions. Those opinions, when scaled, have the power to shape policy.
This point is more easily understood when discussed through the lens of the phrase “illegal aliens.” There was a time when this term was commonly used to refer to people who immigrated to America unlawfully. In a video compiled by Fusion, Latina journalist Maria Hinojosa outlines precisely how dangerous this type of language can be. She cites Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, who maintains that the first order of Nazi Germany was to declare anyone of Jewish decent an illegal people. Declaring a group of people “illegal” serves one purpose – to erase their humanity. Once that’s accomplished, society more willingly turns a blind eye to how that group is treated because language has effectively labeled them subhuman. Hence the importance of language discussing issues regarding race.
2.) Yes race is socially constructed – but it has literal deadly consequences.
Recently I was engaged in a conversation that took a turn for the worst when a participant alleged that, because race is socially constructed, acknowledging the role race plays in police violence is ineffective and unnecessary. Essentially, his argument was grounded in colorblind rhetoric.
Here we have an opinion predicated upon a semi-fact, that is being used, whether intentional or not, to erase the influence systemic racism has in policing policies across the country. Yes, race is a result of social construction, but, as MTV Decoded’s Franchesca Ramsey so eloquently states, race has very real consequences.
If you face this kind of pushback in your future conversations about race, consider reiterating a version of the following:
The concept of race existing as a result of social construction doesn’t belie the fact that racism has played a significant role in state-sponsored violence, disparate policing practices (ex: stop and frisk), as well as the disproportional imprisonment of black and brown people. In fact, it explains it. The social construction of race is what tells “suburban white folk” to fear the “urban black male.” Claudia Rankine, author of the award-winning book Citizen, contends that we act upon that which we conceive. That is, when society constructs and perpetuates the narrative of the black male criminal, associating black men with criminality over time becomes second nature to those who do not interact with a significant number of black people on a regular basis. Rankine expands on this idea by declaring “because white men can’t police their imagination, black people are dying.”
Telling me that race isn’t real in the face of evidence of its very real consequences does nothing to alleviate those consequences or prevent more from occurring. Similar to the way colorblindness does nothing to dismantle systemic racism. Your comments may lack ill will, but the result is the same as those who shout “alive lives matter” in the face of the Black Lives Matter movement – you distract and erase the experiences of people of color in this country. In actuality, these types of mentalities make matters worse. So lets agree that race, while not being real in theory, plays a role in the way people are perceived, treated, and policed in this country (and around the world – it’s a global phenomenon). Ok? Ok.
3.) Indifference towards racism = passive oppression
In the wake of the election, a common theme has emerged to stop shaming Trump supporters for voting a racist, he-man woman-hater into office because they aren’t all racist, as not everyone has the same “bottom-line.” And while logically this may be true, I am not yet ready to face a Trump supporter and discuss with him/her the implications of his/her indifference towards racist hate speech. I am sure if I were to have such conversations my passion would escalate and my words would fall on deaf ears. That’s where you come in, my white liberal friends. Go forth and engage your white conservative friends, family, and possible foes and partake in the much-needed discussion regarding the dangers of racial passivity. This is important work that needs to be done. Awaken people to the fact that there can be no indifference to oppression. Indifference signifies tacit consent, and tacit consent only works in the favor of the oppressor – never the oppressed. Do not be afraid to draw a line in the sand, white liberals, and declare that your moderate and conservative friends are either with us or against us. There is no in between. I need not say more.
-Britney Wise, co-chair of the Price Society of Black Students (PSBS)