Wow, there’s a lot of shit pissing me off on the web this week. Never mind the natural disasters and the loss of a great Canadian political leader (we will carry on the fight Jack). I’ve got so many posts rattling around in my head that I feel stumped as to which one to write today. I guess I’ll go with what’s making my head explode at this very moment.
So, as you may or may not have noticed there has been a lot of discussion about race on the web lately. Or maybe that’s just in my twitter feed. In any case, between Mochamomma and The Good Men Project I’ve been spending a lot time reading (and a little time writing) about race.
Last week I wrote this post about some of my experiences and thoughts on racism and I got an amazing response (much thanks to Mochamomma, The Bloggess, Schmutzie and Rage Against the Minivan for all of the retweets and links). But the conversation is far from over and I felt the need to write a follow up. Then this morning I read Damon Young’s piece on The Good Men Project about the reaction he got to a previous post entitled “Eating While Black”.
My favourite one was the commenter who said that “blacks are jerks, that’s all.”
And you wonder why we’re still talking about race and racism.
And now I’d like to share a quote from the body of Damon’s most recent piece:
And, the reluctance to freely share, to have open and honest discussions about anything race-related, to "air our dirty laundry in public" is basically just us not wanting to provide any opportunity for “White America” to gather more evidence to support their latent belief that we’re just not supposed to be here.
This is why it’s so vital that white people call out racism when we see it.
~ ~ ~
Too often when we’re in public spaces the onus is put upon racialized* people to speak up when something, shall we say questionable, is said. I distinctly remember being in a classroom with only one black student when some discussion around race came up and all heads turned to her. I’ve since become familiar with this experience as the only out queer person in a room. Whenever something that could conceivably be perceived as homophobic was said all eyes would turn to me.
This, my friends, is bullshit.
Let me start with the most obvious thing. If you know enough to expect me to take issue then you know that perhaps something should be said. Instead of looking to the black kid or the queer kid or the kid in a wheelchair, why not just speak up your damn self?
Conversely, when someone who doesn’t fit the identity in question speaks up it creates confusion and often results in a different kind of resentment.
Let me share a friend’s story with you.
A good friend of mine was briefly enrolled at a local queer alternative school. He was glad to be free from the homophobia of his old school but frustrated with the other kinds of intolerance and ignorance he was hearing from his peers. When he called someone out on their racism/biphobia/sexism they would invariably say, “What do you care? You’re not black/bi/female.”
And therein lies the problem. What do I care? I care that people are daily living with systemic and interpersonal bias and outright hatred. I care that we live in a world that is inherently more dangerous for racialized people. I care that the voices of millions of people are silenced because they “just can’t get over it already”.
I don’t believe in a world where we only fight for causes that have obvious direct effects on our own lives. I don’t believe that there is anyone who isn’t adversely affected by the inequities in our system.
I do believe that a good life includes making choices based on who you want to be, not how you can benefit. I do believe that if we all open our eyes to the humanity of one another we will see how ludicrous it is to ask the question, “What do you care?”
Few people enjoy conflict. It’s scary to call someone out on their shit. Me, I hate it. People who know me may think I love it because I just keep on doing it. What they don’t know is that every time I do my hands start shaking and I have to fight to keep the tears at bay. I hate doing it and I hate the way it makes me feel but I do it. And speaking as someone who sees it from both sides let me tell you, it’s infinitely easier to speak up when you are not the target of the other persons vitriol.
It continually astounds me how patently unfair it is to expect the object of derision to be the one to speak up.
Let’s look at the risks involved.
As a white woman calling someone out on their racism the worst I’m likely to get (in most situations) is some foul language thrown my way. I’ll get called a slut, a bitch, a dyke – honest to God I once got called a squirrel (wtf?). As a woman if I call someone out on their misogyny I know that there is a real physical danger. I also know that my words will not be heard because I’m “just some whiny feminazi” and that any bystanders will be more likely to perceive me the same way.
Several years ago I was on a bus platform along with my mother and a diverse assortment of about fifty other people. Along came two white guys talking loudly about “those damn niggers”. I promptly shouted back, “Keep your racism to yourselves!” At which point they started calling me a whole range of sexist – and often nonsensical – epithets (see squirrel reference above). Later when I was telling someone about it they asked, “Why bother, it’s not like you’re going to change their minds.” And they were right, me calling them out in public is not going change their beliefs.
But that’s not the point.
While I may not be able to change their minds, if enough people actually call them out when they so publicly share those opinions, they may decide that they're better off keeping it to themselves. And this matters, because every time someone is allowed to pronounce these hateful attitudes unchecked they take over the public space and render it toxic and unsafe for the people against whom they are railing. Which brings me to my second point. I needed all of the bystanders and witnesses on that platform to hear the racism being squashed.
It is the responsibility of those who hold privilege, be it white, male, straight or cis to not be bystanders. When you don’t speak up you are complicit in creating that toxic environment.
It is a delicate balance. On one hand it is incumbent upon us to speak up, on the other hand we cannot, and should never try to, speak on behalf of someone else. To do so is paternalistic and condescending. We can, however speak in support of others.
When I speak about race and racism, I am not speaking on behalf of people of colour, I am speaking for my own values.
I am nobody’s saviour but my own, but I will stand by your side in the fight, because, to quote Emma Lazarus “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
|image source: http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/projects/niem/FirstTheyCameForImages.htm|
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