“Oh no,” I think to myself. “It’s happening again.”
I look around at the others I’m with and wait for someone, anyone, to say something. But all I receive in response is blank, innocent stares.
Screw it I guess I’ll have to say it, I think as I prepare to present myself as THAT girl once again. I turn to the person completely oblivious to their previous statement and attempt to explain why what they said was offensive.
Not racist. Offensive.
I can see their eyes widen in shock and discomfort as I began to explain my feelings. Their mind raced to figure out how to get out of the situation.
Their lips were eager to prove that they were not being offensive.
Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a renowned author and academic who works in whiteness studies, would consider this reaction to my statement what she has come to label as white fragility, “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” In her paper discussing this concept, she explains that many white americans have a lack of “racial stamina” because they are not forced to think about race unless it is in situations like these.
People of color consider race as a part of their daily lives. When white people are confronted with race, they often feel like they are the ones being attacked and in even broader terms, like their system of order or dominance is being threatened.
How could I possibly even think people were racist if they were friends with other black people? How could I think they were being racist if racism is so wrong?
How dare I suggest that they said something racist when I have clearly seen them tweet #BlackLivesMatter before? I must be absolutely crazy to believe that 3oo years of racism, discrimination, brutality and anything America has ever done to black people may have the tiniest influence on how they view people of color and why what they said was offensive.
Once again, offensive, not racist.
Although this scenario has happened many times throughout my life, my most recent experience is what really made me start thinking about this defensive shield white people reach for when they find themselves in these situations. A few months ago a video went viral on Twitter that featured a white woman attacking an Asian woman on the subway for what seems to be no apparent reason.
As the white woman tries to kick and hit the Asian woman, she is also spewing racial slurs at her. When I saw this video I was so horribly disgusted that I sent it to a group chat filled with predominantly white people and asked if they had seen it.
One particular friend responded saying, “Omg yeah that was hilarious. That woman is crazy.” I immediately texted back “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”
After I sent this, my friend sent me a text saying he was offended and wanted me to apologize. This led to an argument where I felt like I did not need to apologize for what I said and he felt like I was attacking him for no reason.
His defense was centered around the point that he was not being racist and I had handled the situation incorrectly. I was focused on trying to explain to him that I didn’t think, nor did I say that he was racist.
The point that I was attempting to make was that laughing at that video instead of acknowledging the deep racism behind it is ignorant and insensitive to the struggles minorities face everyday. This scenario was very unique to me, as it was the first time I was not defending my own race and was still presented with the defense of not being racist.
Prior to this situation, I believed that some of the defense came from people being scared they offended me. But when I was taken out of the equation, I still found myself having to reassure a white person that I do not think they were a racist.
As a child I was unsure of how to handle the never-ending ignorant comments that came flowing out of some of white classmates’ mouth like: “I got a tan and now I am practically your color;” “You’re not like the typical black girls;” “You don’t know this rap song? Haha I’m blacker than you.”
We can’t forget about the infamous, “Why do you talk so proper?”
I got all the ignorance before I was even old enough to fully understand what ignorance was and the role race placed in my position in society. But no worries, I most definitely came to understand this position with age.
As I learned, I grew more frustrated feeling like I was unable to defend myself against this prejudice. However towards the end of high school, #BlackLivesMatter took over Twitter and I was finally able to see that black people everywhere were sick of ignoring these daily microaggressions we felt forced to ignore our whole life.
I believe Donald Trump was the breaking point for many black people, as we realized that there was no point in silencing ourselves to create “civil” environments around white people when they clearly were not worried about doing the same for people of color. Racism became a thing we could not ignore.
Since it was not being ignored on the media and in the election, the fear of causing uneasiness amongst our white peers was replaced with on obligation to do just that. Black people were not alone in this fight against racism.
Millions of white Americans were just as pissed about Trump’s actions as we were. At college it seemed like every single person was walking around with a “F*** Trump” shirt and a “BlackLivesMatter” pin attached to their backpack.
I believe white people, especially young adults, were shocked to discover the depth of racism in this country, even though it has been a topic of discussion that many people of color have been pointing out since before the Civil War. When Trump officially won the 2016 election nearly everyone I knew, black and white, were infuriated that people had actually allowed that man to take power.
People took to social media and protested with their speech in anger about the man who was supposed to lead the land of the free.
However since the heat of the election has settled and I have still kept up with trying to acknowledge the realities of race, I have seen that many people are still very uncomfortable with the idea of racism if it is right in their face. This was not too shocking, as many white people like to believe that racism is an individual act and not something systemic and permeating American culture.
However what I have found shocking is how defensive people get when I acknowledge that something they said was offensive. They are shocked to be associated with “that” part of America and instantly aim to separate themselves from it.
People are so eager to prove themselves as not a racist when all I said was, “Hey that was offensive.” They want to live in this bubble, floating above a world of racism and racist people, look down and go, “Now those people are bad people, not me.”
Well I am here to pop that bubble.
Even if every single member of your family is a die-hard Obama loving liberal, you have most definitely been exposed to some form of racism in your lifetime. Remember the table in the “Mean Girls” dedicated to “unfriendly Black hotties?”,
I have thought about it my whole childhood. How about one of the only episodes featuring a black person in “Sex and the City” consists of a black brother and sister.
The brother is a music producer with a pimp-like image who takes a rebellious Samantha to her first hip-hop club to introduce her to his “crew”, who are all wearing what could be described as thug clothing. And then the sister, the chef of a soul food restaurant, ends up fighting Samantha at the end.
Don’t even get me started with the numerous amounts of all-white sitcoms that will have one character or episode with a person of color, usually layered down with the stereotypes the audience is expecting.
Not a big fan of T.V. and movies? Even without the media, your daily lives are ingrained with systemic racism.
Consider the fact that you have been around a majority of white people your entire life. At home, at school, in the workplace, at the mall.
Have you ever taken the time to consider the lack of diversity in your home life? And if you have taken the time to consider it, have you thought about why you don’t encounter many black people, or people of color in general?
When I am trying to explain to people how their particular statement is offensive, I could take the time to connect the dark history of African Americans’ past. I could go in depth about the extreme physical and emotional brutality of slavery.
I could explain how people were taken from their home lands by strange men, piled onto an overcrowded and unsanitary boat and forced to cross the Atlantic unsure of what was to come of them when they reached land.
We could talk about how when young black children grew, they had to come to the understanding that they were property before anything else. I could explain how black girls and women were repeatedly raped and abused by their masters, taunted by their master’s jealous wives and were forced to continue slavery through their own bodies.
How about the way black men were tied to trees and whipped until their back dripped in blood or how slaves preferred death to a life of captivity?
I could go into detail about the work of white scientists attempting to prove that black people were not of human origin. They aimed to prove we were more similar to monkeys than humans, to justify enslavement.
Or, we could talk about how these men used “science” to come to the conclusion that people with white skin were the superior race, how the idea of “white people” was unheard of until they put the ideas in people’s mind, leading to this concept of white supremacy and a “pure race.” Y’all remember Hitler right?
I could discuss the amount of money America made through the enslavement of blacks and how generational wealth remains in the hands of these enslavers’ descendants. Or we could talk about how these enslavers were willing to start a civil war at the threat of losing their “property.”
I could bring up life after the 13th and 14th amendment, the failure of reconstruction and all of the things free black people were promised but never got.
How about the Jim Crow laws that forced free blacks to enter a new system of slavery, or how the extreme violence in the south, such as the KKK and lynchings, forced blacks to flee to the North and West in fear?
I could explain how blacks moving to northern cities caused the white people to flee to the suburbs, where they could make sure blacks were not living anywhere near them by not allowing them to buy homes. Or how about them being excluded from numerous apartment buildings because of their color, one of these buildings belonging to the man sitting in the White House?
I could examine the U.S. government’s role in an attempt to demolish any person or group that appeals to black people’s desire for racial equality. I could mention the extreme efforts of the FBI to suppress the Black Panther Party, leading to the assassination of Chicago leader Fred Hampton while he was sleeping in his apartment.
Or how about Martin Luther King Jr., America’s favorite symbol for this “post” racial era, was on the FBI’s most wanted list? I could bring up numerous leaders of black America’s past and show how they were terrorized by the government, forced to run away to a different country or murdered.
I could show studies proving that black women are more likely to have their pain ignored in a hospital as opposed to the treatment of white women. I could pull up statistics about the extreme incarceration rates of black men compared to white men and the racist tactics of cops that lead black men to getting arrested or even killed.
I could point out copious amounts of racial images we have been exposed to throughout our lifetime through books, tv, music, and more. If I was really desperate, I could take the time to tell all the stories of racism I have encountered in my life.
BUT WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO DO THIS?
I understand that due to what I chose to study in college, I have a deeper understanding of race in this country but it does not take a genius to see that racism has never stopped being a part of how this country operates.
I am not asking you to learn every single thing there is about racism, although it couldn’t hurt to read a book or two about it, nor am I asking you to give in and claim yourself the next alt-right leader.
I am asking for you to step back and look at the bigger picture. I want you to try to understand how colonization, the history specific to this country, and the role your race has played in that history might have led you to the thoughts that inspired your comments.
Think about why you felt comfortable saying the things you do. We are living in “the wake” of slavery, as black studies scholar Christina Sharpe has labeled it, and this wake has caused a great deal of strife for blacks, and other people of color.
Maybe you will realize that I am not in fact calling you a racist, but trying to help you move beyond these racist thoughts into a world where you can see things for what they are and strive to change them.