I've always been interested in how we, as humans, interact with each other with a particular interest on how race effects those interactions and relationships. What oscillates for me is how willing I am to engage with people (usually white) who haven't thought about race critically. As I get older I am finding that I am less and less willing to play educator. Now don't get me wrong, at various times I've given talks and trainings on topics of race, diversity and inclusion. That stuff I love. If you want to pay me I'm happy to be a paid trainer. I also love discussions with people who are genuinely interested in fostering anti-racist ideas. The problems arise when people show up in my personal (rather than professional) world looking to "play devil's advocate." The people who don't really want to question their own assumptions but instead want to try and find cracks in my assertions that our identities color the way we see the world.
You know how there are stages of grief? The second stage of grief according to the Kubler-Ross model is anger. The second stage of becoming aware of your own privilege or whiteness according to the Amanda Gonzalez model is Make-A-Person-of-Color-Prove-It-To-You. I spent more hours of my 20s than I want to admit pulling studies, blog posts and academic articles for my white friends to "prove" to them that oppression exists. After more than one of those folks told me things like "well, I read the article you gave me and I decided they don't know what their talking about" I've decided to stop doing that. I feel, however, that I deserve several gold stars for never once screaming, "Yes, Derrick Bell/Angela Davis/person who has lived the experience we are talking about is clearly a moron and you are an expert! Clearly."
What those experiences taught me is that admitting that you receive privilege and power because of your identity is a really hard and painful thing to admit. Especially if you're not used to being challenged. And no amount of "proof" is going to make that change happen for those people.
I also realized that these people, the ones that were insisting that I "prove" oppression to them, had access to all the same documents I had. Why was I spending my free time doing academic searches when they were reading The New Yorker? It's my job and it's not the job of any person of color to educate white people. Why was I spending hours researching my point when there was no obligation on them to research and justify their own (classist or racist) beliefs? If someone truly wants to learn and become anti-racist they will take the initiative to do so without burdening people of color with all the grunt work.
In this excellent article about how to deal with friends' racist reactions to Ferguson Jenee Desmond-Harris encourages readers not to engage with ignorant friends or family on facebook about race or the terrible things happening in Ferguson. She writes, "[H]ere's the thing: Each and every person making comments that rub you the wrong way has access to the entire Internet, live feeds from Ferguson, materials on the entire history of American racism generally and violence against unarmed black men specifically. They are choosing to think the way they do because it works for them and makes them feel good." I think the word "choosing" was particularly impactful for me.
I'm realizing that some of what is sparking so much anger in me is that at some point the ignorance of the "well intentioned" person (even those that are politically progressive) becomes willful. I'm having a really hard time excusing the fact that people often choose to say terrible things or think a certain way (at the expense of people of color and black men in particular) just because it's easier for them.
As I'm sure you've discovered fro the tone of this post, I'm finding myself quick to anger right now. I sometimes feel suffocated by all the news coming out of Ferguson...but I can't not read it. I can't pull myself away and I'm not sure I really want to because I think the anger is justified. I'm angry that a Pew survey found that 47% of Whites think that race is getting more attention than it deserves. I'm angry that black and African American families are loosing sleep at night worry about whether or not cop will harm their son, brother or nephew. I'm angry at the bullshit I've heard my liberal friends saying that the real issue here is the militerization of our police forces. Need I remind you that white men have been killing people of color long before the War of Drugs started funding police tanks? Yes, militarization is a problem. But it's not nearly as big of a problem as racism and the unwillingness of so many to critically examine systems of power, priviledge and oppression in our own lives.
Heartbreaking kiddo and homemade sign at the Denver rally