Today’s post comes by way of Samuel James, one of our newest contributors (though not new to writing for publication). He is, however, better known to most people as a roots musician. He wields a voice of grit and gravel and is a modern guitar master; his songwriting has been compared to Leonard Cohen’s and his guitar virtuosity to that of Jimi Hendrix. In addition to bringing his music to the stage, he is a Moth-featured storyteller.
As a white person discussing race, sometimes you are confronted with a Black person who does not want to explain to you why something is racist. The reason you need this explanation is because you probably don’t have any Black friends. Not definitely, but probably. It’s just how numbers work. It’s also how segregation works, but sometimes it’s also because of you. You may have said something stupid and didn’t know any better because you don’t have any Black friends…
It’s a vicious circle and, really, you need a Black friend. So just for this blog post, even though we’ve never met, I am going to be your Black friend.
Now that we’re friends, I think it’s time for some tough love.
A lot of times it just isn’t worth trying to explain racism to you. For me, there are three reasons.
1: You don’t trust us with our own experiences. Every person of color I have ever met has at least 574 bazillion stories that are all the same: We tell a white person about a racist experience only to have that white person respond with something like, “Are you sure it happened like that?” as though we are incapable of understanding our own experiences.
Remember that time your friend/parent/significant other/coworker/complete stranger was mad at you and no one else could tell? Of course you do. You know that experience very well, but when it comes to race, you’re not willing to allow another person that knowledge of experience. I think it’s important to ask yourself why that is. If your answer is #notallwhitepeople then this list probably isn’t long enough for you.
Oftentimes, if we get to the point where you acknowledge our experiences, the very next thing you say is, “I’m sure they didn’t mean it like that.” Not only is this still saying we don’t understand our experiences, it also means…
2: You think intent is more important than it is. Look, intent is useful in that it’s a predictor of future behavior, but it’s not a particularly good one. A much better predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
There are some dudes in the KKK who don’t hate Black people. Really. It’s just that they live in a rural place with nothing much to do and their cousin is a member and setting things on fire is fun. Their intent may be nothing more than to hang out with the boys on the weekend, but I’ll tell you what. If those boys show up at 3 a.m. burning a cross on my lawn, and you think it’s a good idea to investigate their individual intents, well, again, you’re going to need a longer list than this one.
I told you this was going to be tough love.
That makes this whole thing so difficult because…
3: So much is about your feelings! Just this week I watched two white guys talk about how much it sucks to be assumed a villain just because you’re a white guy. Yes. That actually happened. Right in front of me.
Look, having your feelings hurt does suck, no matter who you are. I’m not going to deny that, but as a Black person, I wish we could get to a place where anything was about my feelings. That would be incredible. I would genuinely love that. Unfortunately, while hurt feelings may be the result of being stereotyped as a white man, as a Black man, being stereotyped, all too often, means I die.
A white guy in a suit is a business man. A Black guy in a suit is a gangster. A white guy with a gun is a patriot. A Black guy with a gun is a gangster. A white guy who loves marijuana is a stoner. A Black guy who loves marijuana… you get the idea.
The point is it’s difficult for me to hear your complaints from inside this coffin.
Then I’ll tell you the secret to holding onto this friendship as well as forging others:
If your friends say they’re suffering, trust them and ask what you can do to help.
Just like you would with any friend.
If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.
Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.