On social media I’m often confronted with white friends posting about how afraid they are to fuck up, how unforgiving their friends of color are when they do. How “call-out culture” is ruining their relationships and destroying discourse. How they were label…
But we have to continue to try to build those bridges, even if some of our friends are on an entirely different bridge and will never meet you.
Most white people want to have conversations about racism that reassure them the status quo will remain the same. Most black people are entirely uninterested in those conversations; and the conflict of interest is growing more extreme as the times become less stable.
White people habitually ask stupid questions and say shockingly stupid things about African-Americans. It never bothered me much, because they are truly ignorant- they just don’t know -and the most effective way for them to learn is to ask those stupid questions, say those stupid (and often offensive things) and learn.
It doesn’t bother me. I answer the questions with the attitude of someone teaching a baby how to speak. Because when it comes to American race relations that’s where most white consciousness is, at an infantile level. The of American systematic racism as collective white America’s bottle, or pacifier, you take it away, there will be furious reaction.
If you don’t approach these conversations, with an understanding of this ignorance, the situation will devolve rapidly. You will be outraged by the ignorance you are expected to entertain, and they will be outraged by your failure to entertain their ignorance. That is the state of most American conversations on race. There is a lot of new terminology, designed to make the conversations easier: terms like “white privilege” and “white fragility.” But also there is a lot of backlash for these terms. Temper tantrums are being thrown; and honestly this is to be expected. You snatch a pacifier out of a babe’s mouth he will scream.
We can never expect white Americans to have the sort of in depth understanding of racism as black Americans do. It has worked to their advantage. That’s all they need to know, any more information is only going to show how deeply their advantage has disadvantaged blacks, and whites are largely disinterested in those conversations.
To be fair, most people enjoying the benefits of an unfair arrangement almost always are uninterested in learning about the disadvantages or feelings of those who are the victims of this arrangement. You can apply this to sexism, sexual assault, immigration, taxes, whatever. It is not personal. I have always felt like, at least those who ask questions, even stupid ones, are trying to expand their awareness. I have always respected that.
Having these conversations is exhausting though, especially when you answer stupid question after stupid question, and what a lot of whites are really attempting to get you to do, with these questions, is validate their racist view of reality, and at the same time absolve them of their racism.
“See Rodney King deserved to be beaten because…”
When they come at you like that, what they really want is for you is to tell them “hey it’s okay for police to brutally beat black people.”
They want to hear this because black people are scary…right? They are also wanting you to absolve them of their racism, it’s why they entered the discussion. They are okay with police brutally beating blacks, and they want you to be okay with it to. This confirms the reality that we all inhabit, and if you try to argue against it, most whites will find this extremely threatening to the racial status quo they know and love.
So they just want reassurance, that racism is okay, police brutality against blacks is a necessary evil to keep things status quo. When you don’t give them what they want, and even worse point out their racism, they become very, very defensive.
If you can decipher people’s motives, (do they truly want to understand or do they want to be reassured about racism not changing to their disadvantage) you can successfully pick and choose which conversations to have. As soon as I see someone trying to steer me into the reassurance conversation, I shut it down. I do not exist to allay white peoples fears, and yet because I am light skinned they often assume that I do. Besides they are wanting something from me that they are definitely not entitled to, a rubber stamp of approval on their racism. They will never get it. But I don’t bother trying to challenge them, because that’s a losing battle that I would never win.
I do challenge blatantly racist rhetoric on social media, not because I can change those minds, clearly I can’t, but to get a different perspective out there.
I don’t mind having conversations with whites who want to learn more, and truly want to understand. It is exhausting, though, as when it comes to race relations, I’m doing calculus and most whites (with the exception of Tim Wise) are learning addition.
I hear black people saying, “this is not my job! I have my own pain to manage! I can’t deal with theirs, too!”
It’s a valid response, and the response of most blacks I know, with few exceptions. But who is going to build those bridges if we don’t? And don’t we have so much to gain by building them?
Building better bridges requires an understanding of where the disconnect resides. Most whites largely want to know that they are going to be okay, during this time of racial upheaval and turmoil. (Self interest) most blacks want whites to recognize that we are not okay and haven’t been so for a very long time, and that is the cause of all of the racial upheaval and turmoil. (Self interest)
The bridge can be built on a better understanding of the self interests. The systems are hurting all people, albeit not equally. Yet and still, institutionalized racism has always hurt white people, in ways they don’t quite understand.
I’d posit the opium crisis is an example, because the same treacherous solutions that were proposed to black communities when the crack epidemic hit, are the same ones being rolled out now on predominantly white communities.
These are very destructive solutions; and yet in order to understand why, whites would have to truly, genuinely and honestly listen to the lessons learned by black Americans who lived through the crack crisis; and of course, they are entirely uninterested in doing that, because the whites in rural communities facing this crisis are often about as racist as they come.
It is much easier for them to deny that there is systematic racism that destroyed many urban black communities, than it is to admit it, and to also admit that these same systems are coming for them, because capitalism requires a new set of drug customers and sadly, they are it.
To admit all of that would require some drastic changes and shifts in the way they see reality. And like I said, no one is particularly interested in embracing a new reality. It is pretty painful, and usually it has to be forced upon them. That is happening to most White Americans as we speak and they don’t like it one bit.