(Since you haven’t read this post yet, you won’t fully appreciate this. But please know, the hardest thing to write was the title because I was TERRIFIED that I would lose a reader who MIGHT have been changed by my words but wouldn’t even read the post because of the title, and so I almost didn’t use that title.)
It should come as a surprise to NO ONE that I’m a total people-pleaser. I’m sure that it’s partly because of my newly discovered abandonment issues, but the idea of someone not liking me is upsetting on a VERY VERY VERY deep level. Obviously, I know there are people who don’t like me. I’ve been unfriended on Facebook twice and blocked once, so those are very concrete moments where I can say, “Welp. That person doesn’t like me.” AND THOSE THINGS STAY WITH ME. It’s terrible.
But I’m working on it.
This plays into the political season quite a bit because I’m very VERY careful about how I present messages of support for people or ideas. I rarely (if ever) post things criticizing people/ideas and more often post support of people/ideas. I do this partly because of the abandonment issues and partly because I truly believe in changing minds with steady logic and kindness instead of bullying.
I once saw someone refer to Laverne Cox as a “he/she” on Facebook and I saw RED. That is SO INSULTING to a transgender person. They have openly claimed their gender identity and we respect that by using it. I wanted to RAGE and maybe even MOCK. But then I stepped back and remembered the girl who took the time to explain to me once why using the word “retarded” casually was insulting and – instead – I shared out a helpful media guide about how to refer to transgender people.
And do you know what someone said to me later? “I didn’t even know that was derogatory until you shared that out.” And that wasn’t even the person I was directing it to! So my instincts to yell would have upset that person, instead, I enlightened them.
Hank Green posted this on Twitter yesterday and I almost retweeted it, but then I thought about it awhile and didn’t because I don’t always want to change the minds of people I disagree with (like I don’t want to convert my Christian friends to atheism), so I didn’t retweet it. But often, when I do want to change minds? It’s definitely done better with kindness than with anger.
But sometimes y’all? Sometimes I want to get really angry. But will I lose people I could have convinced by doing that? Is there a point where I stop caring if I do because I just want to scream something from the rooftops?
Teachers around here are very respected. Our school system has had some administration that maybe hasn’t made it easy on the teachers and as a result they’re loved and adored even more so than usual. BUT. We all know there are bad apples and that they need to be punished and removed. We’ve had some stories of illegal activities and those teachers are arrested and sent to jail. We don’t lose our respect for the group as a whole by standing up and talking about how horrible it was that this particular teacher deserves punishment. No one thinks I hate teachers when I celebrate the arrest of a teacher who had sex with one of her students.
Yet…YET…no one is allowed (around here in my community anyway) to voice their disgust over crappy police officers without FIRST writing entire paragraphs PROVING how much you love the people in law enforcement. And even then…you STILL get completely trashed for even daring to support the Black Lives Matter group because they are seen as anti-Police.
And I’m angry. I’m angry because #TerenceCrutcher was unarmed and had his arms up and he was shot and yet…YET…I saw a friend act appalled on Facebook and tag something #BlackLivesMatter and suddenly she was lambasted for being anti-police.
And I have the luxury to decide to play nice because it’s not my son. My husband. My brother. It’s not my daughter or even my friend. None of my family is at risk because of the color of their skin, so I can whisper instead of shout.
But the system is never going to change unless the majority wants it to change. And the majority is white. And I want it to change. And I’m starting to feel a fight within myself between playing “nice” and trying to post kind and respectful articles that explain how the marginalized got so angry without placing blame on anyone who is white but you know? It’s our fault. We are white and the system that continues to favor us is at fault. So of course we don’t fight to change it because it favors us, so know what? That means WE are AT FAULT.
And I find myself facing my own truth and looking deep inside myself. I do TRULY believe my method changes hearts and minds, my method of kindness and understanding and empathy, but do my black friends care? If I whisper “black lives matter” and kind of ambiguously support Colin Kaepernick, am I really delivering the message of support to the people of color crushed every day by the system that allows me to go to bed every night not worrying about my 21-year old son getting pulled over by cops? (He has gotten pulled over and ticketed several times and none of those stories scared me.) I am wrapped in a blanket and kept warm by the system of racism that exists around me, so when I only whisper my criticisms while holding onto the blanket at my shoulders, am I really fighting against it?
Is there a way to shout and still actually change minds of sensitive white people?
The system around us is racist. You remove other factors: Age, Income, Education and you compare two men of different skin color and at EVERY TURN they are treated differently. Black students are suspended more often and that’s even balanced out to a percentage of the race populations as a whole. The race division in jail does not equal the race division in the general population and while some analysis supports poverty over race for these numbers, The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported in March 2010 that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes. And even if you support the “it’s poverty” argument, then we can look back at other factors in the racist system that cause the poverty divide. Like the fact that up until fair housing in 1968, the system supported refusing to give home loans to black applicants, even those who had come back from war.
If you’re willing to open your eyes and really dig into our history you can see the vein of racism that still shapes everything today. It’s painful. I’ve been open to these ideas since Michael Brown and it hurts. Some days I fight against it because I’m ashamed and embarrassed by how ignorant I’ve been. But if you’re willing to face the ugly truth you can accept that people of color have a different relationship with law enforcement than we do. That doesn’t mean we don’t have non-White cops, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people of color who disagree with that statement. But in general, it’s a much different relationship and if you’re willing to read words that make you feel uncomfortable, brave people are putting their stories out there to help the blind see.
So I find myself wondering, am I doing more harm than good by tenderfooting around the messages so that I can MAYBE convert a few white people to see the side of the Black Lives Matter efforts? Am I supporting the racist system by not shouting about it’s racism from the rooftops? Is it time to take off the kid gloves?
This has been on my mind a lot lately, but especially after that tweet yesterday. Especially after being told to quit whispering and SHOUT.
This was another one that hit home. I can tell you times I’ve heard friends and family say things and my first thought is, Wait. I think that might have been racist. And I don’t say anything (#PeoplePleasing) and even find myself justifying their words or framing them in a non-racist way so I feel better about not saying anything. And sometimes I use the old standby, “What’s the point?”
Well. I guess that’s where I’m at now. The point is? Maybe to truly change the system it’s time for those of us benefitting from it to quit worrying about the feelings of other people also benefitting from it. Oh? I might upset this white person by pointing out their racism? We are at a point where black skin is seen as a weapon. Where an unarmed scared man with his hands in the air gets shot and his friends and family have to provide some sort of PROOF that he was a good guy because the other side can’t wait to find out that he might have had drugs in his car, or a criminal record. WHEN NONE OF THAT MATTERS.
And the people of color are rising up and screaming from the rooftops of the burning buildings, “WE ARE DYING. HELP US!” And I’m down here saying, “Okay!” And then I’m still worrying about the feelings of the white people around me as I look for support. I’m yelling, “I’ll catch you!” to the rooftop but I’m refusing get my white friends and family to help me because it might hurt their feelings. I can’t catch them alone. They need our help. ALL of us. Even those of us scared to face the truth of our own unintentional racism.
That’s how the system just keeps surviving. And I think I’m at a crossroads and I need to worry less about the feelings of the people perpetuating the system and worry more about the feelings of the people being stomped by it every day.