I’ve written extensively about my frustrations with white folks who mostly operate based on right wing thinking. But truth be told, there are whites on the left who are just as infuriating for their brand of liberalism that’s usually in the form of images. (Safety pins anyone?)
It’s gotten so ridiculous that even white people are sick of the bullshit. They know that most of the solidarity for marginalized people is all for show, a way of avoiding collective guilt and responsibility usually forced upon nonwhites. And they know how far from progressive those white folks actually are.
One such person is Eric Peterson, a writer and educator who wrote an open letter to white folks, particularly the left wingers, lecturing them to cut the crap and learn what being a true ally is all about:
Dear Fellow White People,
Since the election, I’ve been noticing a trend among my left-leaning friends on social media. It began with the wide sharing of an article called, “On ‘Woke’ White People Advertising their Shock that Racism Just Won an Election.” It seemed to suggest that if a white person thought that America was a place where an open and unrepentant racist (among other things, “sexual predator” and “xenophobe” come to mind) couldn’t possibly be elected President, then they haven’t been paying attention, aren’t as progressive as they claim, and should compound their feelings of despair over Trump’s victory with an extra dose of guilt regarding their failure to experience the lived reality of people of color.
I have also seen a rash of articles regarding the safety pins that allies of marginalized groups are wearing (one of which I shared on my personal page; it was called, “Dear White People, Your Safety Pins are Embarrassing”). The overall theme was that those who wear the pins to show their support were primarily motivated not by allyship, but by the desire for a get-out-of-racism-free card, and that the desire to walk around with a safety pin says more about an ally’s privilege than it does about the safety of those who feel newly in danger since Trump’s victory last week.
Before I say much more on the topic, let me freely admit that I take a certain degree of pride in my own “wokeness.” I’ve been working in the field of Diversity & Inclusion for some time now, and every time a person of color tells me how nice it is to “finally” have a conversation with a white person who “gets it,” my heart swells a little bit. With that in mind, here’s a few things I know about being white …
1) WE NEVER REALLY “GET IT.” No matter how many black friends we have, no matter how many blogs we read, no matter how “woke” we feel, we’ll never know in our bones what it means to walk through the world as an oppressed racial minority. Many of us are marginalized in other ways; I happen to be gay, and of course there are white people who are poor, or possess a disability, or are Jewish or transgender. And these experiences give us a window into the experiences of other disadvantaged groups — but looking through a window is not the same as being on the other side. If we want to come to some kind of understanding, the best we can do is listen and learn.
2) WHITE PRIVILEGE IS INVISIBLE BY DESIGN. One of the key dynamics of any kind of privilege, white privilege included, is that it eludes the people who have it. The fact that there are racial dynamics that never occur to us is one of the key luxuries that comes with privilege. So yeah, a lot of us were shocked that an objective racist (by his own words and actions, which can be easily accessed by a Google search) was elected President of the United States. And many people of color were not. That might be because we have a certain degree of privilege, and in times of stress, it disappears from view.
3) THERE’S NO ENDPOINT. YOU WILL NEVER WAKE UP IN “WOKEVILLE.” And the minute you think that you have achieved peak “wokeness,” you are almost as dangerous to people of color than someone who doesn’t believe that privilege exists. You want to be a force for good when it comes to racial justice as a white person? You never stop listening. You never stop learning. You never stop making mistakes. You never stop getting better.
4) SINCE THERE’S NO FINISH LINE, THERE’S NO RACE TO GET THERE. Because this is a journey without an end, there’s no white person on earth who is the “wokest.” We’re all incomplete in this regard. A white person posting something on his/her Facebook page meant to belittle other white people for feeling sadness and shock about the election, or to shame them for wearing a safety pin, doesn’t make that person better than any other white person who’s trying their best. In fact, if their hubris gets the better of them, it might be setting them back.
5) HUMILITY IS UNDERRATED. This is such an important conversation to be a part of. But conversations can quickly become debates. And if you’re a white person who likes to win debates, this is going to be a tough topic for you. This isn’t to suggest that we don’t need white people to teach others about what they know, but it’s never your job to teach someone how to be black or brown (Mary Matalin tried this with Van Jones on CNN this week; it didn’t go well for her). You’d be better served coaching your fellow white people about living in a diverse society — and even then, you can’t ever assume that you know more than the person you’re speaking to. Asking is nearly always better than telling in this regard.
And finally …
6) ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILLS YOU CAN MASTER AS AN ALLY IN SOCIAL JUSTICE IS THE ABILITY TO FORGIVE YOURSELF AND KEEP GOING. You’re going to mess up. As a white ally (or male feminist, or straight ally, etc.), messing up and learning from your inevitable mistakes is practically part of the job description. People will tell you that you’ve messed up often, and it’ll be tough to hear. And if you don’t know how to both a) really hear what they’re saying, and b) not let it eat away at your soul for months afterward, allyship will quickly become too great a burden to bear. If nothing else, there’s this: the fact that you messed up is proof that you’re trying. The only people who never mess up are the ones who refuse to try. As allies for social justice, we’re in for a tough couple of years. So be kind to yourself. If someone tells you that your stand for equality should embarrass you, listen to what they’re saying, don’t take it personally, and decide for yourself if it makes sense. If so, make a change. If not, keep doing your best. Either way, don’t let it scare you from the path that you’re on — the world needs you right where you are.