Talking about racism is exhausting.
I have a rule. Whenever a white person wants to talk race/racism with me, I will say no, and direct them to the nearest white person who gets it. There is a good reason for this rule.
Talking about race will always mean trying to have the other person, in this case the white person, understand that racism is still a reality, that it is a system, a logic, a paradigm, not a character trait, that reverse racism isn’t real. This also means talking about white privilege, the privilege the white person in front of me has. This is when it gets uncomfortable.
The reason is usually because this conversation is very personal for the white person. Well, guess what – its personal for me too! And this is why I usually abstain. Not because I think you can’t handle it, but there is a cognitive dissonance at work that will make you see me as the angry person of color who can’t let the past go instead of a human trying to explain a system that benefits you at my expense, and that we should work together to dismantle it.
For better or worse, I break my rule all the time.
Recently, I engaged in an exchange about the genocide of the indigenous people of the Americas that was ushered in by the accidental landing of Columbus on Taino land. It eventually led to me making links between historical oppression and contemporary inequality, a conversation which involves talking about privilege. I lost it when someone said privilege is more of a blessing. I mean, hey, if privilege is a blessing, does it work when that blessing is at the expense of others? Racial profiling … #blessed. I’ll just sip my tea.
That was when I lost it and couldn’t go on. I was surrounded by many other White people, who were listening (and sometimes intervening) into the conversation. But for the most part, many of the people around me stayed silent and didn’t step in. A large part of me wished they had, that they would have just said to the other 2 white dudes “Hey guys, we need to talk”
This is a call to all the White Allies! When you see a conversation about race and/or related issues get reckless, primarily when White folk deny the existence of racism and privilege and historical atrocities, step in! Yes, it is going to suck. It is going to be uncomfortable. It is going to get reckless. And it might infuriate you. But guess what, ally, you have something I don’t have. White privilege. And you can use it to help dismantle the racist system we live in.
When you see a person of color trying to make White people get it, don’t be afraid to stop the conversation and confront the white people who are (sometimes inadvertently) fighting to make racism invisible. It might feel like you’re silencing the person of color, but these are some of the steps you can follow to make sure your respecting them in the process.
1. Step in. Make everyone acknowledge that the conversation is getting into unproductive territory
2. Make sure to ask the POC if they feel comfortable about you stepping in
3. If the POC says yes, proceed to let the other White folk know they need to take several seats.
4. Use your privilege to drop all the mics.
5. Whenever you see this happen, go to step 1 and repeat.
You can do it after the conversation too, but there is something super valuable in doing this right away instead of waiting. Doing it on the spot lets the person of color know “Hey man, sorry they don’t get it, but I got you”. Solidarity is important.
We can all be doing better, but when you see a homie in the trenches, use your privilege to help em’ out and let the other White folk know they need to get it together. Because, from my experience, White people tend to listen to other White people when it comes to race, because they can relate, just like I can relate to other men and let them know about their male privilege.
Be brave. And trust me, it might seem like a small thing, but we appreciate it. And it seriously goes a long way. If we want to break down this racist structure we live in, we all need to do our part, and this is something you can do. And when you do step in, I’ll be right there to scream out #blessed.