It’s fascinating to find I have been told twice by two different people, who are perfect strangers to each other, in the space of a couple of weeks, that I ought to treat people with compassion and kindness (literally, those words) regarding my stance on racism. On both accounts, these white women had responded to something I had raised that highlighted my anger towards white supremacy and conditioned thoughts of superiority belonging to white people, whether this was on the police force (more precisely, in the States) or self-proclaimed crusaders who want to “save” a community that they aren’t, by ethnicity or even culturally, a part of. I won’t go into detail on either of these stories because the principle matter is these women’s need to tell me how I ought to treat people and that, without so much as saying it in such explicit words, my approach was not optimal, through the tone of their messages. And just to be clear, these were isolated incidents over two separate cases under the subject of racism.
There are several reasons this bothers me so much — the fact that I should be told, or rather, advised underneath a veneer of imparted wisdom as a response to issues I’ve expressed my anger over. Perhaps this is my personal take, but to subtly accuse me of opting to process and manage my feelings towards white supremacy and its insidious influence on the minds of white people as adverse to the correct way, that is, a colourblind approach where we treat everyone with the same measure of patience and empathy, is ostensibly tone deaf. In fact, I don’t believe that people who perpetuate hate and prejudice are even deserving of patience and empathy. In doing so suggests that people who commit these acts of extreme violence, or are affiliated with groups of people who do, or behave in ways that are entitled and insensitive, even have the capacity to respect the other party’s perspective and arguments, when in most cases, they don’t. If they did, they generally wouldn’t be committing them in the first place.
We all have room for error because we are human but there are a lot of us who are afraid to confront their pain and therefore, more willing to convert that suffering into something more tenacious and visceral — hate. As James Baldwin defined it, “One of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” (I thank Justin Simien for this reference from his article “Why did I name it “Dear White People”? ) And I’d safely contend that these very people do not hold the emotional or mental aptitude to hear out the opposition and instead, attempt countering it through methods of gaslighting, spitting fancy jargon to divert attention from the points presented at hand in the pursuit of sounding intelligent and therefore, more convincing, and even talking over their opponent. We know this because we’ve seen politicians do it on television, whether on interviews or debates or Question Time, never mind the people on ground level who lean heavily towards conservatism in basic discourse (we don’t typically see this in liberals but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen).
It’d be remiss not to address those who have abandoned the radical far-right ideology and actively worked on building relationships with the very communities and people who were the target of their hate and hostility and I will commend and condone their efforts. It evinces that people do have the ability to change if they allow it but sadly there is a vast populace that are unwilling and no amount of kindness or compassion will impact that. When it boils down, it’s up to the individual to experience that “aha!” moment or to open their mind voluntarily, rather than adamantly grip onto their rage and bitterness.
So when I am confronted with the same sentiment (that I should be kinder with my words and more understanding of those who benefit from the systems established for them) from those who live with that same privilege; who are sheltered from experiencing racism because that privilege protects them from violence and deeply-rooted prejudice; who need not worry that their pacifism will be inevitably met with any type of -splaining, be it white- or man- or whatever, because their privilege is what illustrates their calibre of respectability, earnestness and merit of humanness; who are likely not to be branded negatively simply from that same privilege; who are, have not and never will be, exposed to that form of antipathy and animosity because that privilege is exactly what shields them from ever being subjected to it, I lose my mind. Especially since marginalised groups were never, ever offered kindness and compassion in the past (and still to this day) when it comes to sharing their experiences and being granted the space to voice them. It again silences them and minimises the traumas they face, being subliminally told that to expend energy getting enraged, should they want to feel that way, is a waste and counterproductive or even less, unethical.
It ceaselessly riles me up that so very often, when I’m challenged on my conduct upon discussing cases of racism, the issue taken to heart by some who read it is it’s personal, as if they are solely the ones I’m targeting. My question to them is, Why it always gotta be about you? The tedious habit of dealing with white people who respond by centring themselves in a conversation that isn’t even about them, individually, is exhausting and irrespective of the crux of what it is I’m talking about. Whenever people feel as though they are swept up in generalisations such as “white people” and “men”, they feel it’s critical to say not *all* white people/men. When we consider, for example, all the unconscious biases we carry regarding men in turbans and beards, typically of middle-eastern descent, our associations with terrorism and violence are hard to shake because of the relentless depictions of men fitting similar descriptions as “dangerous” and “radical Muslims” in mainstream media. We know that not every Muslim man is affiliated to an organisation that incites violence in the name of God — if that were the case, we’d all be a lost cause — but why is it we continue to view this demographic as a threat? Our limited exposure to them through the news and propaganda, TV shows and content we consume on a regular basis, rather than on a human, relatable scale, are what augments our perception of these men — that they aren’t progressive; they’re impassioned and religiously driven men who aggressively impose their faiths on others and pose as potential harm to our civility, livelihoods and democracy.
So when we explore the subject of “whiteness” and privilege, we understand that there will be exceptions amongst white people who do not bolster the image of white superiority because they do not partake in the acts of terrorism to claim what’s rightfully theirs (the land, apparently, they live on or jobs that are being stolen by immigrants, for instance). Heck, you might even know a few black and brown people, maybe even call them your friends! So how can anyone accuse you of being ignorant to racism, both systemically and intimately, when you’ve done the reading, you’ve watched the shows, you’ve got friends from those circles? (I will go into detail in another post regarding this). The foundational premise is that these surface level interactions with the subject of racism does not negate your access to benefits which are denied to black and brown folk, hence when I am reminded that not *all* white people are racist or believe in the methods of obtaining that privilege through means of exploitation and at the expense of black and brown communities, it completely deviates from the core discussion. My issue doesn’t reside with you, a singular white person, hearing what I have to say but it’s worth checking as to why it so offends you, a singular white person, because it seems the key may lie in some puddle of truth that you do participate in reaping such benefits and that it is not something you’re particularly willing to sacrifice, no matter how much you believe you advocate for equality, egalitarianism and liberalism.
I am not black but that doesn’t delegitimise my passion for the anti-racist cause, nor does it invalidate the hurt, the fury, the distrust, the scepticism, the devastation or any of the emotions that stir deep in my soul when another black body falls, collapses or is crushed by the fist of white supremacy, systemic racism and structures designed by and based on colonialism because to me, “None of us are free until we are all free.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)
However I feel towards this cause and how I choose to express those feelings is my own, not anyone else’s. I appreciate the advice of those who believe they are also contributing to shaping our world towards a more progressive, harmonious one, but to implicitly tell me by threading in your messages a well woven lace of slight condescension, that my approach is not conducive because I am charging with full force, my anger in full view, I thank you, but no thanks. My anger is legitimate, it is valid and it is potent and if it scares you, if it threatens you then it’s worth asking why. If you truly feel our visions for a more inclusive society are aligned, and that the injustices transpiring around us are uncalled for and deplorable, then you should share the same degree of anger as I do. I reserve the absolute right to be furious because these injustices are inexcusable and despicable, and therefore, I, as a full grown woman who can make my own decisions have full agency to express my indignation. As Malcolm X articulates so exquisitely,
“You get your freedom by letting your enemy know that you’ll do anything to get it. Then you’ll get it. It’s the only way you’ll get it.”
If that means getting angry, then I’m getting angry. If that means shouting, then I’m gonna shout. If that means refusing to censor my words and no longer sugar coat what needs to be said, then I’mma tell you straight up what is wrong and why. We are tired of pacifying to the white moderate, we are exhausted from having to code our language whilst trying to explain why we need to dismantle the colonial structures by having honest-as-can-be conversations, so as not to offend or upset said white liberals who are so “woke” they can’t be part of the problem, and we are done with playing nice. It’s been decades, decades of disenfranchisement, of oppression, of discrimination, of being denied access to basic human needs and rights like healthcare, housing, education, jobs, careers, welfare. We cannot continue living like this and radical change starts with radical movement.
As an activist, my driving force is hope — hope for change in both people and our trajectory, hope to upend the societal structures to diversify and expand our outlooks, to practice acceptance and empathy towards others in the best way we can. My fuel is my outrage and my temper, and nobody has the license to police that, especially the beneficiaries of that oppression.