(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.
11 thoughts on “I Can’t Protect The Feelings Of White People Any More.”
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this post! I had to end a long-standing friendship last week because I found out just how deeply my friend’s racism was. She’d made comments before, but I’d always written it off as being because of where she’s from or how she was raised or whatever else. She was a friend, so I wanted to “agree to disagree.” But after presenting her with clear evidence against her beliefs and then having her make even worse, offensive, closed-minded statements, I couldn’t stay friends with her and live with myself.
This post is so much of how I feel right now. Thank you so, so much for writing it!
I honestly don’t think we *can* change things without hurting the feelings of sensitive white people (or sensitive men, or sensitive cisgender people, or whomever else is benefiting from the system of oppression). It’s nice to try, but obviously that doesn’t always work. Change is usually hard, and not everyone is going to be happy about it. But if you’re serious about wanting change (that burning building analogy was awesome; you’re so good at analogies!) eventually you just have to shrug and say oh well.
This is how I’ve been feeling lately. I’m trying to be gentle and use kindness to change minds but I want to shout and scream. I worry the yelling and screaming won’t change minds just shut them to what I’m saying. However, I need to remind myself, I’m allowed to be angry. I’m allowed to disagree vehemently. I’m allowed to shout and scream sometimes.
Great post. Thank you for your wise words.
So I was someone who had to be educated on why saying All Lives Matter =/= saying Black Lives Matter, and I have shared that lesson with many people since then who really don’t understand the distinction. The way it was described to me was that me raising money for breast cancer does not mean that all cancers do not deserve fundraising efforts. It just means that breast cancer is at the top of my list right now because of some reason (friend has it, family member died from it, there’s a 5K I am running in, etc.). So saying Black Lives Matter does not mean I am discounting the value of all lives. It just means that I am DISGUSTED and HORRIFIED and DEVASTATED by the fact that this land of equality that we supposedly live in does not treat people equally at all. I have cried for the innocent black men shot by police, I have felt deep sorrow that some of my friends may have to worry about their husbands or children being in that position someday, and I have wondered when people who still don’t recognize their own white privilege will WAKE UP and realize that these things are NOT OKAY. I am with you on this one…I don’t know what to say all the time, and I don’t know how exactly to shout it from the rooftops, but I don’t let casual comments pass me by, and I am quick to point out the difference between ALM and BLM if someone suggests that there is not one. And it’s okay to feel angry…we SHOULD feel angry. And this is your blog…so you get to say whatever you want!! I usually forget that about my blog (I too am a #peoplepleaser.), but it’s the truth!
You don’t talk much about music, so not sure if this will resonate. But this (great) post made me think of a song by Patty Griffin called, “Standing”. You should look it up on YouTube. I think it will move you.
One verse goes, “Standing in the shadow walking blind/ I have been unfair and unkind/ Turned away from your suffering far too many times/ I’m standing in the shadow walking blind.” Patty is a white girl like us. This song is done in a slow gospel style. Great stuff. I think you will like it.
Thanks for “standing” and for shouting!
This post is exactly where I’m at. I made a commitment to myself last year that I would speak up anytime someone said something racist or that came from a perspective of white privilege. It is SO HARD and exhausting, which is why we have to do it. People of color should not have to do this work. What they are experiencing is so much worse than these conversations. They are exhausted, scared, and traumatized. I’m in the middle of a Facebook discussion right now with my brother-in-law, who just took the All Lives Matter position to my Black Lives Matter post. I’m shaking, my heart is racing, and I’m so sad that someone I love sees the world in a such a different way than I do. But we, as white people, MUST do this. We have to have these horrible conversations. And they never happen at convenient times. I had to get into it with my father-in-law on Christmas Day last year. It’s awful. But it is seriously the very least we can do to make a change. White people feel angry and defensive when they’re called out (I know that’s how I’ve felt when called out in the past). But part of that is embarrassment. When we force people to reflect on themselves and their beliefs, it’s not a good space to be in. But that’s where change comes from. So being kind while trying to advocate your position is not a bad thing. Showing grace to people while having the hard talks is not a bad thing. You can be kind AND have the tough talks. I’m really struggling in these conversations, but I’m still having them. I hope everyone will.
Awesome post. I also have huge abandonment issues so I relate so much to the people pleaser thing. I’ve been more vocal in the last few months than in my entire life. The current events of today have pushed me over the edge and I’ve started really speaking up. So thank you! I know I am not alone.
You are so right that it is exhausting. I have a friend (22-years a friend) who is clearly a racist but I didn’t know it until this year. She has been hiding it all this time. Her comments to some of my posts regarding immigration outed her. My husband immigrated from Canada 17-years ago. With all the talk about immigration going on, I feel I need to remind people that immigration is not just something POC do. When someone was saying that all immigrants should be in a database, I lost it. I put a huge rant about it on FB. She commented…well HE doesn’t really need to worry though. I said do you realize how racist that comment was? And she argued until she was blue that it was not. Husband is a large loaf of white bread…from Canada. But he should just be chill about this since he is not the target? HOW is that not racist? Just yesterday we got into it again about this same thing. Only difference is that she is actually saying what she clearly has always believed. White people have nothing to worry about because only brown people are dangerous. I will probably end up unfriending her. Yet part of me still jumps into these horrible conversations with her in hopes that SOMETHING gets through.
I really feel for you. This is tough stuff. Good for you for engaging. You never know, it might make a difference. Keep up the good fight, as long as you’re able. If it helps, there’s plenty of data out there that shows that white right-wing extremists are faaaaaaar more dangerous than immigrants of any color. Refugees in particular cause much less crime (basically none) in comparison to American citizens.
I have been reading for YEARS and am not sure I’ve ever commented before now. This post is everything and speaks to exactly where I am right now as a privileged white woman. I too have been afraid of hurting my friends’ and family members’ feelings. I am all in when it comes to supporting the Black Lives movement, but have always hesitated to be more vocal for fear of not being sen as kind (something I really hold true to my heart). All of the horrible truths about being black in America that you listed are exactly truths. I know this and am really trying harder to step up and be more vocal. I’m just dipping my toes into being more vocal and love that there are people like you out here saying exactly what I’m thinking. Have you joined this FB group: https://www.facebook.com/raisinganadvocate/?fref=ts It’s an incredible resource for me and a super safe place to learn how to be more vocal about these issues. Big hugs from CA!