âWhen it comes to healing the racial wounds that divide this country into the oppressed and the oppressor, the thing that comes up time and time again as a means to healing is dialogue. We need to talk. And we, as White people, need to listen.
And more importantly, we need to listen when people are expressing their anger. As I have read the accounts of different Black Americans, the thing I continually hear is White Americans only want to listen when it's comfortable. We must be spoken to in soft, calming tones. We want to be reassured we're good people. We want to be told things aren't that bad, and it's okay to let time heal this. We don't want to be made aware of the sense of urgency the Black community lives with.
We, the White people, must be treated like fragile glass eggs that could break at any second. We must not be made aware of the deep residing pain that develops within Black Americans as they live with the daily struggles of racism - from both micro and macro aggressions.
White Americans are uncomfortable with the anger of Black men and women for many reasons. It makes us feel guilty. It makes us afraid we'll respond wrong and be labeled racist (this is a reflection of how much we make this about ourselves). It makes us afraid because we have internalized false biases about how Black people are naturally more violent (if you believe this, we need to have an even longer discussion RIGHT NOW). And on a deeper level, we don't want these inherently cruel and patently wrong prejudices to be surfaced, because again, that would make us look bad.
On average, White people want to see things change without having to acknowledge that people are angry. Because if we see the anger, then we see the pain, and if see the pain, we must admit things have been bad for a very, very long time and we have done nothing for a very, very long time.
A Black man's life, in his own words:
It gets so tiring, you know. It sucks you dry. People don't trust you. From the moment I wake up, I know stepping out the door, that it will be the same, day after day. The bus can be packed, but no one will sit next to you. You get served last... when they serve you they have this phony smile and just want to get rid of you... you have to show more ID to cash a check, you turn on the TV and there you always see someone like you, being handcuffed and jailed. They look like you and sometimes you begin to think it is you! You are a plague! You try to hold it in, but sometimes you lose it. Explaining doesn't help. They don't want to hear. Even when they ask, "Why do you have a chip on your shoulder?" Shit... I just walk away now. It doesn't do any good explaining."
The above example features many of the micro aggressions that Black Americans experience on a daily basis. For the most part, a lot of the protests have revolved around the macro aggression - the open killing of unarmed Black people.
However, when we are only moved to action by the overt racism, we are looking at the waterfall while ignoring the gushing river leading up to it. Yes, the waterfall catches our attention. But it's the powerful current of water behind it that causes it.
This current shows up as daily forms of insidious judgement, prejudice, and demeaning behavior. The problem is, as White Americans, we don't see it. Below are two powerful example of this. You didn't see these things happen. And if there weren't videos, would you believe they did? I have left the caption in so the Black people who experienced it can speak about it in their own words.
I can't even come out here for some fresh air without a White lady telling me I shouldn't be sitting here."
The above videos are an example of what it means to be labeled by White Americans as "other" in this country. To be Black is to constantly encounter people who think you don't belong. You must constantly prove your right and your worthiness to exist. Make no mistake - these videos are not isolated incidents (as Team Top Figure noted in their caption). It was just the one time they decided to film it happening. Imagine how exhausting that would be. How infuriating it would be. How you would see this happening to not just you, but your friends, your family, and your community. How it would get under your skin and inside your head - is it me? Am I imagining this? Why don't White people do something to stop this?
Along with the micro and macro aggresions, there's something in between this. A sort of national complacency that allows a deeply racist man to own a NBA team with a mostly Black roster (Donald Sterling). It's what allows us to make folk heroes out of men like Cliven Bundy. In 2014, Bundy held an armed standoff in Nevada to oppose government overreach. Bundy, who is a source of inspiration for many White Americans, said this about the Black community, "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves?"
Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy are only the tip of iceberg. The fact is, we as White people have a long history of idealizing and elevating racist people into positions of power and influence. The most glaring example is of course our current president (to understand this begin with his role in the Central Park 5). But as I pointed out in the two examples above, it's not just the man at the top. He's just the one we are all aware of. Racist people hold positions of power, from city council to landlords to middle managers, in every corner of this country. As a White person, this can be hard to see, because to us they appear neutral. There is no negative impact for us. Nothing forces you or I to acknowledge their existence. And so we don't.
You add all of that up, plus all the things I didn't get into (there is so much more) and yes, there is a lot to be angry about. And adding to the anger is the fact that, as a Black person, your anger is considered inappropriate and unwanted. If you're Black and talking about your life, your children, or your community, you're not allowed to express any emotion. Don't yell. Don't glare. Don't get tense. Be as soft and tender as possible. Make us feel safe.
The bottom line is, asking Black people to talk about racism while demonizing their anger is akin to emotional torture. It's a brutal way of negating someone's experience. It's a direct blow to someone's right to feel in response to the world around them. It's a form of silencing people who need to be heard more than ever.
And so I leave you with last one video. This one might make you uncomfortable. It might bring up all kinds of stories and biases. It might make you want to return to the words and voices softened for your comfort. Keep watching. Resist any urges to project onto them how they "should" act or what you would do. We, as White people, do not experience racism. We have no idea how it feels. We have no place to say how anyone should respond to it. Our only place is to listen and understand this is but a glimpse of the emotional weight Black Americans carry every day.
Photo at top by Nicole Baster on Unsplash
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