Anti-racism work is tiring. Unlike other jobs (whether it’s truly your day job like with me or virtually a job like for those who dedicate their off time to it), where time off is important to one’s overall sense of well being, it doesn’t necessarily work the same. Doing anti-racism work as a Black woman in Trump’s America means that even time off can be a loaded issue. After all, racism, whether personal or systemic doesn’t operate on my time clock nor does it take a break. I have had racism find me on vacation, when shopping, when eating, when caring for an ailing family member…oh yeah, any activity that I engage in can be interrupted by white supremacy and racism. It’s just an uncomfortable truth and it has always been an uncomfortable truth.
As a result, I believe in blowing off steam by any means necessary. When I learned that letting things out was vital to my well-being, my anxiety decreased and my blood pressure thanked me. My usual venue for blowing off steam is Twitter. Those who follow me on Twitter tend to know this. Despite the site being a cesspool so often these days, there is still much good and useful about it. And, as someone who often works alone and from home, Twitter serves as a de-facto water cooler. I can pop in and pop out.
A few days ago, I did just that. A well-meaning but racially ignorant white acquaintance made a comment and it was the type of comment that will never fail to piss me off. For some reason, white people and their system of whiteness believes that when a Black person or other non-white person experiences racism, that it is far more important to “go high” or be a classy act than it is to stand in truth.
As a 46-year-old Black woman, who has been Black all my life. I am here to tell you that being the “better person” in the face of injustice get tiring; it wears on you. And after a while, it steals your humanity. Between the large acts of racism and the daily microaggressions that are pretty much par for the course, that means you spend more than half of your waking hours (assuming you are a POC around white people) stuffing down your feelings and playing a role. What people see on the outside does not match what’s on the inside. You are seething with rage and you can’t or don’t express it because if you do, you risk being labeled. And as long as most of us earn our daily bread working in white-owned institutions, showing up in our fullness as people is simply not an option.
So, after fielding an ignorant comment from the casual, white acquaintance, I went on Twitter to blow off steam and that’s when things got weird.
A white woman tweeted back to tell me that she was unfollowing me because my tweet was sad and that I need to find peace with myself and the world because my anger is poisonous.
So, a Black woman expressing herself is poisonous? Clearly this woman didn’t know or care that she was the embodiment of what Black folks deal with everyday. The denial of our humanity via tone policing. Tone policing is one of the oldest tools in a white liberal’s bag when it comes to race. Rather than seeking to get at the heart of what’s causing the anger, the anger becomes the focal point.
Remember, this all started because of the casual acquaintance suggesting that I should go high/be a classy act and now a random white woman on Twitter is telling me that I need to find some peace.
Instead of asking how they can be a part of the solution and work toward becoming actively anti-racist, the onus is placed on me (or any marginalized person) to a better person. There are times in life, when being the better person can be a good option, but never has Black humanity been granted by being the bigger person. If one is constantly abused by the system and individual white people, how is shrugging that off “better” or “bigger?” When has passively accepting chronic abuse caused it to disappear? Giving a pass to the oppressors only gives them license to continue.
Systemic racism and white supremacy will not be dismantled by being a better person. If that were the case, racism should have been eradicated during Barack Obama’s eight years as U.S. president. Obama and his wife were always going high and this country thanked them by electing an ignorant buffoon and openly racist, sexist SOB. People may have admired the Obama’s both in and out of office but even when the most powerful man in the world was a Black man, the needle didn’t move on racism. Instead, a nastier and more virulent form of racism sprouted up in our collective yards. Weeds on steroids.
To be honest, it is disheartening when people who would probably see themselves as allies of sorts engage in the same violent behavior towards POC as the openly racist. Make no mistake, tone policing is violent and harmful. It also widens the gulf and ensures that no real change will happen.
Whiteness is a system of rules and norms designed to ensure the long-term survival of white supremacy. One of those norms is discomfort with uncomfortable feelings and an avoidance of the unpleasant and uncomfortable. Another of those norms is a minimizing of the feelings of those harmed.
Black people, Indigenous people and other marginalized groups have every right to their anger. As a Black person whose ancestors were enslaved and whose father grew up under Jim Crow laws and who lives every day of my life fighting to be seen as fully human, I am very angry. Thankfully, I have learned to use my anger for good by working for social change. Anger and a willingness to not accept the status quo is often the fuel that motivates people to change. If you can move past the place of being immobilized by anger or wildly flailing about with it and instead by fueled by it, your anger can be a source of good and you can actually find peace by being angry.
The question I have is: Why aren’t the good white people angrier? Why can’t white people who purport to care about racial justice use their anger and privilege for systemic change instead of stifling the anger of marginalized people? Why can’t white people use their anger to confront the bigots in their lives? Instead, only racist white people are actively at work using their anger to protect their self interest, which is to maintain whiteness and white supremacy. And it’s getting them pretty far lately.
Rather than feeling sorry, shocked or immobilized, tap into your anger and let it be the guiding light on your journey to change.
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