Recognize the Harm You Do
Earlier today, I watched a Black woman whose work I respect and admire and it’s sitting in a bad place for me.
Usually, I just get angry about it, respond, and move on. Today, I’m sitting here kind of upset about it. I’m upset because a Black woman with a strong presence in geek culture publicly supported white supremacy by claiming that calling out racists is a witch hunt. It hurts because I know she’s experienced things, but instead of fighting it, she’s opting to blame the victims. She is occupying a space where she is a victim of racism but can decry other people’s experiences and call them false and I honestly don’t know how to reconcile that.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. I’ve seen Black people do this for years. I didn’t really do it because I’d completely internalized the message that my problems were because I wasn’t good enough instead of the very real prejudicial and racist treatment I’d accepted as normal. I blamed myself for every issue I had at my jobs, in my relationships, restaurants, clubs, whatever. Since I was the common denominator in those situations, it had to be me, right?
It couldn’t have been because of how Blackness is represented in the media, could it? It couldn’t be the way our society demonizes and criminalizes Black people, right? I live in a world where I’m resisting by existing. Ain’t that some shit? I’m navigating relationships with people who feel the need to grind me under their shoe at the slightest indication that I think I’m equal to them. And I’m never supposed to talk about it. I’m never supposed to acknowledge its existence and impact on my day, my health, my life. I’m supposed to pretend that racism, this thing that impacts every fucking aspect of my life, is a figment of my imagination, despite the very real possibility that white people can and will kill me because of my skin. That they will justify my murder, co-sign on any ill-treatment I receive because refusing to bow before whiteness is perceived as “resistance” and disrespect and therefore deserves extreme punishment.
It’s really interesting to learn that white people think they have literal control of your mind and body and will exploit them for their own gain without thinking about it. And it’s super fucked up to have a Black woman who lives this experience to dismiss the experiences of other Black people – to watch her minimize the power of racism and the horrible impact its had on Black people’s lives, our lives, as some kind of witch hunt. To watch her defend and protect whiteness, white people who have never had to answer or atone for the crimes against humanity they perpetrated for hundreds of years; white people sitting on their stolen land, in homes built on the graves of millions of Black and brown people slaughtered and forgotten. White people who right now think they are oppressed and victimized by merely stating their gruesome history of horrific violence against others. This is who she defends, and it hurts to see it.
The day I stopped speaking to my in-laws was the day I realized that I was expected to justify my humanity to them.
I’m not sure how I didn’t see it before. I guess I was in willful denial, rejecting their racist comments as childish ignorance. Or maybe I let the physical distance between us be an excuse for not confronting them and holding them accountable for their bullshit. I only saw them maybe twice a year so our encounters were infrequent. They’d attended a few holidays with my family and it was obvious his mother was afraid to speak. In truth, anytime his family visited our turf, they were surrounded by Black people, brown people, LGBTQIA couples, and so much liberal thought that they had to feel isolated. They only ever said their casually racist comments when I was alone with them, when they had safety in numbers. At the time, I didn’t see the pattern, but now that I have years of distance, the picture is much clearer.
It was a passive aggressive post about the murders of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile that made me realize that for them, Black people would always be the instigators of their murders by white people or police. It was in that moment I understood that no matter what I said or did, I was less human because I was Black. That my integrity and humanity was always in question. My ivy league education didn’t matter. My grad degree didn’t matter. That my parents were both highly educated and held professional positions didn’t matter. We were Black and that was enough for them to dismiss us.
I meet white people all the time who use my education to validify their positive opinion of me. I watch them rationalize having respect for me or deferring to me because I’ve passed some whiteness test. And, yes, sometimes I use that privilege to occupy specific white spaces. Because I’m already too fat, too Black, too femme, too confident, too informed, too comfortable in my skin for many white people. I don’t care what they like, what they want, or if I make them uncomfortable. Ok, that last one is a bit of a stretch cuz for my personal safety, I have to gauge how white people are responding to what I say.
And that’s the trick to this. When you are occupying a space that is predominantly white, you are constantly doing threat assessment and keeping them comfortable enough to work with you. That usually entails a lot of ass kissing, which is something I don’t get down with. I don’t fucking defer to people. I have issues with authority. I will challenge you if what you say doesn’t make sense. My S.O. had to learn this shit the hard way, but he fucking learned. I question everything, especially social hierarchies because they are rooted in oppressing people like me and fuck that.
So, when I see a Black woman doing the work of white supremacy, belittling and dismissing Black people who call out racism, and using her body as a protective foil for whiteness, I get it but cannot support it. I get it because I’ve had numerous people try to shame me into excusing/forgiving my SO’s racism or working on my relationship with my in-laws. I’ve had Black people encourage me to relax my stance and be more open to their questioning my humanity. Of course, they didn’t phrase it this way. It was more, “you should try to get along. They don’t know what they’re doing. You need to educate them,” despite the fact that these are fucking grown ass people and they know what they’re doing. The expectation is always for me to compromise my self-respect and my pride to share spaces with white people and this expectation exists in interracial relationships. It’s an expectation to which I refuse to submit. No Black person should. And if this is what people are demanding of you in your relationship, fuck that relationship. Your humanity is not debatable. EVER. Nor is your truth, which is that america is fucking racist.
I don’t know why this artist is undermining the fight against racism. I don’t know if it’s because of her white partner, her job in a predominantly white industry, or if she actually believes that horseshit. I don’t know her journey and why she’s saying the things she’s saying. What I do know is that her words are harmful to Black women…to Black people. I know that she is engaging in an anti-Blackness that is harmful to her. Whatever her reasoning, I hope she manages to figure this shit out before she’s in so deep that she can’t distinguish the oppressor from the oppressed – although it feels like it’s too late for that. I guess I hope that she recognizes the harm she’d doing before she does too much…before it becomes something she can’t fix. Because Black people are continually being harmed by whiteness and we need more heroes not villains.
Supporting white supremacy makes you a villain, regardless of how you slice and dice it. Don’t be a villain. Change the narrative. Promote anti-racism and destroy white supremacy.
Break the problem. Don’t be the problem.