This is not the first time I’ve written a thing or another thing or this or that on racism as a general topic. There are authors and other authors and professors and activists who can tell you about this much better than I can. But I’m white and I know where the scary scary pitfalls are. Being white I also know that you’ll listen to me before you’ll listen to Prof. Cooper. So listen to me, get your mad on, and then go listen to her.
White fragility is where white people employ all manner of defensive techniques in order to avoid realizing that we’re doing damage or taking things that do not belong to us. One of my medium posts I linked above is entitled “I’m not racist, you are,” and I did that because blaming the other party of racism when called out on racism is a pretty standard white supremacist deflection. Yeah, I said white supremacist. Other deflections include feigning ignorance, claiming the other party is oversensitive, tears, and reactive anger. Some of these are just annoying, but some of these like the tears and police calling can result in all sorts of mayhem.
White fragility shuts down the discussion about racism. It is a technique of reinforcing white supremacy by ensuring that white people do not have to evaluate their own privilege or the societal and economic advantages their white skin confers.
“They need to (l)earn their place”
So then let’s talk a moment about the advantages your white skin confers. White people get MAD with a capital M-A-D about Affirmative Action. I’ve even written a little about how women in academia deal with “impostor syndrome.” People who are not white and sometimes people who are not male are constantly told that their presence in a high paying job or academia or politics is taking that position from ‘a guy who really deserves it.’ But, the thing is … those guys have their own much more powerful form of Affirmative Action.
Ever heard of a “Legacy Admission?” It’s when a candidate gets a leg up on being admitted to a school of their choosing because their parent, grandparent, or older sibling went there. In a vacuum it’s perfectly fine, but schools did not readily admit students of color until rather recently. So legacy admissions are far more likely to be white.
Same goes for jobs. Nepotism is generally frowned upon … now … sort of, but you’ll still see companies that are ‘So-and-So and Son,’ or firms with two or three of the same name all in a row. That’s not a mistake. And you reading this are likely not the kinda lazy son of a high powered name-partner on a leading New York law firm, but if you’re white you have a better chance of being friends with that guy. Maybe you were his college roommate or maybe you partied with him. And that translates to a better chance of landing a cushier job regardless of your resume.
All this is even before hiring managers look at candidate’s names and go, “Ah, Ethan, he sounds nice.” Or, “Ooh Desiree … how … exotic.” I’m not making this up. Just check out this break down of a Harvard study on race discrimination in hiring practices. You can also look to the fact that California recently felt it was necessary to pass a law to protect African-Americans who didn’t want to be constantly shelling out major bucks to have their hair chemically relaxed (a process by the way which is apparently incredibly painful).
White people often excuse the predominance of white people on the Forbes 500 or in politics or in other positions of power by saying that members of other ethnic or racial groups haven’t “earned” it or are “taking the place of a more deserving candidate.” But no, it’s actually the other way around. Black people in particular but people of color in general in the USA have a saying that they have to work twice as hard to get half as far. It’s true. I’m not saying that hard-working white people don’t exist, but we get a hell of a lot more breaks and opportunities than everyone else. And frankly, I’ve met quite a lot of white guys who were definitely taking the place of a more qualified minority candidate.
“General Empathy is Sufficient”
This subtitle I lifted almost word for word from a response from my most recent thread on racism. That particular white woman who typed that was not being original. At all. All the time I hear from white people “as long as your intentions are good, it’s fine.” And …. OMG, no.
First off, do you really, truly, absolutely, in your heart of hearts believe that good intentions and happy thoughts are going to make up for several centuries of slavery, torture, genocide, incarceration, terrorism, and economic, cultural, and social repression? Because if you do I have a bridge to sell you. You might have seen it. It’s in Northern California, it’s rust red, iconic, people keep threatening to add a second level to it. But yeah, you can’t possibly actually believe that. You just can’t. I will not believe you’re that stupid. You cannot possibly have read this far and truly think that benevolent denial is going to solve racism.
Secondly though, this is white fragility. And I — being white — get it. Racism is a white people problem. We’re the ones who perpetuate it. If white people decide to stop being racist then racism will cease to be a problem. But, because we were racist for several hundred years and because as much as we don’t want to take the blame for our ancestors actions but do want the credit dealing with the effects of all that racism is OVERWHELMING. No, I get it. African-Americans have higher mortality and morbidity rates due to persistent and inter-generational stress because of white people’s inability to not be racist and we white people are too chicken shit to stop. That sucks. I lay awake thinking about that and I need my beauty rest. So I do totally understand why a lot of white people REALLY don’t want to think about how their mental comfort is murdering people.
The good news though is you’re working yourself up over nothing. There’s a few people who want full on revenge. But most people just want reform. So thoughts and prayers are not sufficient for ending racism, but it’s not like people are going to whip you through the streets like your ancestors did to them. I don’t study this, but I do listen and I do read and from what I understand solving racism involves reform in the judicial and healthcare areas primarily, and then correction in education and economy. So yeah, you as a white person are going to be evaluated fairly, but that’s it. Work towards this reform and you’ve already gone above and beyond the call. General empathy is not enough, but if you truly believe that then you’ll have no problem fighting for reform and allowing yourself to be evaluated by the same standards as everyone else.
The White Savior
I feel bad for Emily Clarke because she didn’t ask to be dressed up in a blonde wig and literally carried on an ocean of brown hands. She didn’t. That’s not even how George RR Martin wrote that scene. He had her riding through and everyone trying to touch her and crying out “mother.” Still white savior-y but not quite as on the head. Not to get too into Game of Thrones, but I think Martin’s intention had more to do with Daenerys’ own perception of herself in the conflict between woman and conquering ruler than it does about race and notably the enslaving “race” Daenerys comes in and murder kills are not white. But Dan and Dave wanted to cosplay the Confederacy, so whatever.
Anyways, when we white people get all anti-racist we always want credit for it. I am myself milking it right now. And yeah, I do have better reasons for writing this piece and I acknowledge that other white people are more likely to listen to me than they are to people of color so despite the fact that I am literally going to profit from this (although, if my last payment was any indication it’s going to be something like 30 cents), I will persist.
But we white people … are selfish. We always want credit and acknowledgement and applause and on and on and on. We want our mother of dragons crowd-surf. And this is the exact opposite of helpful. You shouldn’t need congratulations for realizing the obvious especially when the obvious is being shouted at you from hundreds of people of color. The fact that white people do need this is a bit part of the reason we’re having such a bad time not being racist.
So, what the hell am I talking about, right? You’ve totally never done that. Maybe I want to crowd-surf, but not you. Definitely not you. Okay. So, have you ever gotten mad at black people for not voting the way you wanted them to? Did you ever wonder why those people of color aren’t supporting your candidate? Did you ever say to yourself or anyone else, “they’re just so ignorant/uneducated?” Did you ever refuse to vote for a minority candidate supported by people of color because you were able to convince yourself that there was a white candidate that was the same or better? Did you ever try to tell people of color what their problem was? Did you ever come up with or endorse a plan for correcting racism without getting input from people of color?
We’ve had exactly one black President so my guess would be that you definitely have done some of that at some point. And you know what? It’s fine. Not the part about us having had only one black President, the part about you sometimes indulging in white saviorism. As long as you’re doing that in the privacy of your thoughts and not insisting on it from others it’s perfectly fine. The problem comes when your fantasy gets so strong you start projecting yourself into white candidates and refusing to consider anyone else or close your ears to minority voices.
I’m going to be totally honest here. I have a pretty fleshed out fantasy of myself being swept into the Presidency and being teh bestests President eva because it’s a fun fantasy. But I also have an entire book I’m editing now on how much a pain in the butt that would be. And even in that fantasy my path to the Presidency would be, ‘Russia messes things up. Cut to me borne on sea foam. Angels sing.’ Basically, it’s a thought exercise to fuel my writing that also happens to be mentally indulgent.
But, you know where I get virtually all of my ideas for solving racism? Black authors, civil rights leaders, and Professors. I’m not saying anything black people haven’t said a million times before. Except the weird thing about me magically becoming President. That one’s entirely on me. These are not new ideas but the reason they sound new to a lot of white people is that we are jerks who do not listen to minority voices.
Guys, people of color live racism every day of their lives. Yes, virtually all white people engage in racism, but because its effect on us is largely neutral (yes, neutral, not beneficial because racism keeps us from challenging ourselves among other things,) we don’t really notice it. People of color die because, racism. People of color are incarcerated because, racism. People of color are deprived of their hopes and dreams because, racism. So people of color know how to deal with and ultimately how to solve racism.
So, no, white people don’t get to lead the charge on this. People of color don’t need to listen to your stupid ideas because that’s all they do basically ever. I’m not writing this to people of color I’m writing this to you other white people who won’t listen to people of color. And that’s why I front-loaded my references. You have to do the clean up work. That is your role in this. You don’t get to be the Grand Marshal of this parade, you get to be the guy with the shovel who walks behind the horses.
People of color owe you (and me) absolutely nothing. They don’t need to listen to us, they don’t need to vote for us or the way we tell them, they don’t even have to be nice to us. And I know, a lot of you have gone out and said things like, “this divisiveness is why Trump won.” No. You don’t get to threaten Trump and four more years of overt racism if people of color don’t vote for your designated white person approved candidate. Not cool.
(And also, Trump didn’t win because of divisiveness on the left, Trump won because of racism on the left. Russia did engage in targeted voter suppression of black people but they did it with the tacit approval of reticent Sanders’ supporters unwilling to acknowledge that African Americans in particular and American minorities in general were all in for Hillary Clinton.)
And Another Thing!
This is not about you, white person, but it is your responsibility to do better. White anxiety about the “other” is destroying our society. We were so freaked out about Obama and then Clinton not looking like what we understood as power that we allowed Trump to become President. We are so unable to deal with challenges that we are shutting challenges out and letting ourselves molder.
Putting your psychological comfort above the health and lives of others is not gentile or nice or civilized or whatever you want to call it to justify it. It’s AWFUL. It’s what allows white supremacy to flourish. And I’m not saying you need to engage in self-flagellation, but be aware of the cost of your comfort. And speaking of cost, for white people the buy-in for overcoming racism is absurdly low. Yeah, you won’t get the spotlight in this, but you also don’t have to do basically any of the work. The work’s already done. All you have to do now is accept the existence of other people in “your” space. (And it’s not yours; we stole this entire continent through the power of racism.) All you have to do is earn your position with a little extra competition. You don’t even have to think that hard because the academic portion of this is already done.
So this is weird because you don’t have to really do anything but you do have to overcome your own internal barriers. You have to look at people of color and a few women in positions of power and rather than thinking, “she’s there because she’s a diversity candidate,” think, “wow, she must really be cool to have gotten that far in life with all the obstacles that must have been thrown in her way.” And I know you want to be proactively helpful, but you have to accept that you as a white person are in remedial racism solving class whereas people of color all have advanced degrees just because that’s what they need to survive.
Nice isn’t really going to cut it. Nice alone is an instrument of white supremacy and allows you to excuse yourself from worrying about racism and from interacting with people of color. You have to overcome yourself, both your biases and your ego and cast yourself in a supporting role.