I don’t write about race. It isn’t what I’m compelled to share thoughts about, on the internet anyway. I’ve criticized myself for this, as I feel it shows I’m not taking risks, putting myself out there, adding to the public discourse when we need more people engaged in it. I’m afraid of this conversation, as a white woman. There are many aspects of my white privilege that I feel guilty for and have not taken steps to reconcile; and by reconcile, I mean taking action as to move past the guilt, and not make it the primary motivator of my thoughts concerning racial inequalities and my role within them.
I don’t believe we are in a post-racial society. I don’t believe that the best way to go about addressing race is to be “color-blind”. I don’t believe that white people experience the same struggles as people of color. I believe many, if not all, systems within the US have been formed with and are currently operating from an oppressive agenda that specifically targets people of color. I do think these systems thrive on poverty, both economic and educational – and yes, that does include white people, but I don’t believe this is ever an excuse to shift the conversation into one of class without race.
I write these statements as a reaction to some conversation on Twitter between Black Girl Dangerous and a white woman who identified as a human rights activist. The white woman called BGD’s recent talk at PSU “divisive” because she 1- doesn’t take Q and A from white people in the audience and 2- talks about race (I’m assuming in a way that calls white people to task, but I wasn’t there). She asked BGD to “humanize all” to promote a collaborative conversation. BGD and her brigade then proceeded to rip this white woman a new one because she had accused BGD of “shutting people out”.
The anger and the attack resonated with me in that it made me uncomfortable. If I had been that white woman at BGD’s talk, there’s a very good chance I would have recoiled the same way. I would have felt “punished” or “shut out” or “attacked”. As a survivor of sexual abuse, or just being a woman, a little voice in my head may have said, “But I’ve experience struggle in similar ways.” I may have wanted to join in the conversation just as much as this white woman did.
As a white person, it’s the defensiveness that indicates I (we) have not interrogated our role of white privilege as thoroughly as we must. When we react and say “Person of Color- you are being divisive!”, we’re really saying, “Stop making us feel so bad about who we are!” I believe this is a false reaction, one that is fueled by our learned need to stay powerful, and stems from our comfort in always being heard. While I have experienced struggle, degradation, oppressive circumstances as a woman, it has not been outside of my white privilege. When I have chosen to speak, I have been listened to. My experiences and my white femaleness have not affected the relevant degree of success or ease with which I can live my life.
Additionally, the need on the part of this white woman for “collaborative conversation” is problematic. What BGD and others like her call for is that white people take responsibility for their own interrogation of white privilege because they can, and because people of color aren’t there for our own edification or examination. It is turning the conversation around, placing the onus on us to figure out our own agenda before thinking we’re ready to enter into authentic dialogue and action about race, inequality and oppression. Much of the time, “collaborative conversation” means the conversation is about us, white people and our feelings about race, white privilege and the like. It again takes away from the dialogue people of color are having and need to continue having in order to build solidarity and strength; in order to fight for space and recognition within a world of white privilege.
I am not brave for writing this, as perhaps people will say and have said to other white people; championing themselves for talking about white privilege, how afraid we are to examine it, and how amazing it is when we finally open our mouths to challenge it. It is not brave; it is our responsibility. This is the conversation we need to be involved in: as listeners, as learners, as supporters. Additionally, my opinions are not new or original about the conversation. This is a baby step in thought and action, that I have to continue to nurture, and call upon others within my circle of white friends, family and colleagues to do the same.
*I don’t tag BGD because I’m not interested in linking for any type of reader-profit. If you want to read more about Mia Mackenzie and the writings of other people of color, please visit blackgirldangerous.org.