Calling All White People, Part 23
(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)
By An Average White Guy
TODAY’S EPISODE: Don’t hold people of color hostage to your oversensitivity
[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]
Has it long been your dream to hold a gun to someone’s head or a knife to their throat and force them to do something?
Have you longed to kidnap someone and then demand a ransom for their safe release?
Do you have a deep and burning desire to extort someone who has done you absolutely no harm?
If the answers to any of these questions is “yes” I cannot imagine you’ve cared what I’ve had to say in 22 previous “Calling all white people” columns here but hey, rhetorical questions for the snappy intro, right?
The impetus for these three stark questions comes from BGIM’s most recent post on this site, “A little bit of this, a little of that” (yes, I know, one of my columns recently was also inspired by one of her posts; I promise this won’t be a regular new trend). Around halfway through that post, she noted:
A few days ago, I shared a piece over on the BGIM Facebook page by a fellow blogger that admittedly had an inflammatory title but which I believed had the ability to stimulate a deeper discussion. Instead, the conversation was derailed by individuals who believed that I was issuing a call to kill old white people despite never saying such a thing. I lost a day to a slew of messages from individuals expressing their disappointment in me and in some cases threatening to pull their support. The most fascinating part of this was that I did not write the piece, It was written by a middle-aged white man who is on his own journey of grappling with white supremacy.
Being aware of the story she shared and its admittedly provocative headline (and the fact that the writer of the story she shared was a white man dealing with his own attempts to confront racism in himself and the world)—plus being both nosy and concerned—I of course asked BGIM if she would be willing to share a bit more about what the hell happened.
One of the most shocking things about BGIM’s response to me was to discover how one particular irritating and pesky complainer had essentially (to paraphrase) said the following:
Not only am I bothered by the headline of the article you shared (ignoring entirely the actual content and intent of the piece) but you have a strong voice and have power in the world to shape opinions, BGIM, and so you should be careful what you say. Because if you make white people uncomfortable, we might not want to be allies and we won’t give you money.
Wow. I hope that most of you can see that’s a form of extortion—a kind of holding hostage of BGIM. And it’s not just against BGIM, of course; it’s the kind of thing said often to many who fight against social inequities or are activists. Don’t be too harsh with those of us who are part of the group primarily oppressing you. Don’t be too blunt. Don’t make us feel bad. Don’t make us consider our own flaws. Don’t do anything that would make this social justice thing feel icky. Make us feel good that we are even listening to you and maybe sort of caring a little or we will abandon you—or maybe even go to the other side to spite you.
First off, folks, is there really any warm and fuzzy way to make people confront racism and other nasty -isms, especially when their friends, family and probably they themselves are doing racist and bigoted things both big and small—probably multiple times a day?
The very subject matter is uncomfortable. We need to feel uncomfortable. Who among us is generally willing to change our bad habits or obnoxious behaviors to which we have become accustomed unless we are made to question those actions and realize others find them alarming or objectionable?
I am deeply offended by the notion of people who think themselves allies of Black people or Native American people or women or LGBTQ people or whomever and then make demands that they be treated with special delicacy or extra affection. They want head-pats, they want “ally cookies,” they want to be told they’re different from the bigots, they want to be given permission to say things like the n-word, etc. etc. etc. That’s not allyship; that’s performance. It’s a sham.
I don’t (usually) treat people with decency so that they will thank me. To do so makes the entire act an illusion—it makes it a narcissistic, self-serving bit of theater. Handing someone a gift I know is made out of something toxic but smiling while I do it.
To tell people of color or any marginalized or abused group of people to make their allies feel good and also to present their wider message to the public more nicely so that they don’t turn off people who are on the fence or anger people who were never going to stand with them anyway is an act of social and personal terrorism. You are basically holding that person hostage with an implied (or not-so-subtle much of the time) threat that you will harm them if they don’t do things in a toned-down, whitewashed way that you prefer. To be honest, that makes you one of the enemies of social justice. You don’t really want equity or change. You want capitulation and assimilation. You want people on the margins to toe the line, know their place and do what you say.
You just don’t want to hurt them quite as badly as the outright evil people.
That doesn’t make you a hero. It doesn’t even make you a decent person.
It makes you a somewhat reluctant but still willing henchman to the big, bad villain.
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