This is a risky piece to write. Nerves are raw here in the US. I am experiencing many simultaneous feelings. I’m repurposing an original piece I shared on a social media platform yesterday, adding minor edits.
I’m not writing to anyone in particular. As usual, I’m sharing my sociology-minded lens to the trends I’m seeing across multiple platforms.
I’ve sat with my discomfort for 3 days. I could sit with it for 30 more, or the rest of my life.
I’m in a life phase where I’m breaking up with a lot of things. I’m not sure where this road is taking me. It’s risky to write during a transition I don’t yet understand. I may regret my words. I will accept them later as the clunky, awkward evidence of incomplete understandings.
But I do want to say something. I’m sorry in advance for discomfort this may stir. I hope if it does stir you, that something good (useful in your life) sprouts on the other side of that discomfort.
When I read criticism of Ruth Bader Ginsberg after her death, it came in the form of toxicity and I was activated by it. Agitated. Angry. I read, “She should have died long ago, that racist piece of shit.” I’m truly sorry if this is the first thing you read about some BIPOC feelings about her, as it was for me.
But here we are, in this together now.
While my social media feed is a solid 10 to 1 ratio of BIPOC leaders celebrating her legacy vs disparaging it, what is most upsetting to me is that I next saw a number of white allies rushing to make posts about her failings. And then, the next wave of white allies commenting on those posts. As if trying to “get ahead of something.” Like a CEO rushing to make a statement about corruption taking place in the organization that they’ve just become aware of.
In many ways, that’s great–with new awareness of the complete, complex wholeness of any human being, we have an invitation to learn. About how we dehumanize one another, breaking others into glorified or vilified pieces. About how we put trust in government and then walk away, when instead, we could be *participating in government.
And on the other hand, I think we are missing it.
Allyship is complex. White allyship is a messy affair. Many BIPOC people want white allies to speak up. And many want us to shut up and stop performing what is called optical allyship. It’s confusing.
I’m frustrated. And call it fragility, I’m ok with that–it means I am human, I am identifying where there is work yet to do, inside of me. I am bumping up against my edges. I am “doing the work.” If I sit in this world always comfortable and never activated by these topics, then I am faking it.
My goal as a white person is not to prove that I am never fragile. My goal is to manage my fragility when it is activated. Layla Saad has the best perspective on this and reading/audiobooking Me and White Supremacy has been crucial in understanding. With her guidance, I am able to more effectively disinvest from white entitlement.
As an “ally,” I follow many, many BIPOC leaders. It’s what I was asked to do in my early anti-racism learning journey…back when I knew literally nothing. I cherish the perspective this lends my ever-changing world view.
While BIPOC I respect are publicly grieving her, I saw other posts saying white women grieving her is an insult to BIPOC. This is our socio-political climate right now. If Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a racist piece of shit, maybe that’s because we all are.
I honor grief. The grieving process is incredibly important. I have been fortunate to hold vigil over the end of life for so many, and grief is pain. Pain and grief we do not attend to becomes something else. And usually it’s not good for the person, their families or communities.
And we are so incredibly impacted by one another. To see how we grieve in ways that make little sense, we need look no further than the collective cry of lament we make over any movie or music icon who dies. We ache to the core at the loss of celebrity life…in this capitalist country that shunts billions of dollars into an entertainment industry–money that could be repurposed just as creatively to meet our most vulnerable inhabitants’ basic needs.
And I could be accused of tokenization when I say “my BIPOC rich social media feed.” I’m aware. If I were to perform right now as a “good ally,” this post would sound very different. But this is an honest post, and that’s all it is. It is my thoughts and feelings, free of any role expectations.
The questions this has raised for me, that I want people to consider is: When we, as white people, make a post that is intended to be responsive to a BIPOC opinion or sharing of lived experience, did we first assess whether we are tokenizing on behalf of “good allyship?” Did we research all the complexity and nuance. Did we broaden our reading of BIPOC publications that speak of her legacy in the context of her collective actions, both celebratory and troubling?
Did we share the writings or words of BIPOC who have already eloquently shared their perspective of the whole truth? Have we looked to Colin Kaepernick for his own current thoughts on his 2016 interactions with RGB before we endeavor to speak on his behalf? (Should he even have thoughts on it or choose to make those public.)
Did we wait and take it all in before we jumped on the opportunity to be a “good ally?” I realize now many people have not heard also from Indigenous folks about some of her decisions that caused harm. Indian Times wrote about her passing.
Is it really so hard to imagine someone so beloved could have made mistakes that harmed Indigenous community in this country? It should not be, sadly. While many want that to change, it is a piece of our foundation that will require major renovation.
I saw the complaints. I researched the complaints. I sat with the expanded awareness. I sat with my anger, reactivity, and sadness. I sat with all the feelings. I still am.
And I’m mad at us all–for pretending any elected or appointed official is going to do it “right,” in a country that has been racist since it’s inception. Anyone who wants to argue about the use of racist as an adjective for the USA, I would suggest, needs to take that adrenaline response and look inside. Be as curious about that defensiveness as you are about which shampoo brand is best for your hair. Maybe your not very curious about either?
I think the point is…I’m mad. I’m sad. And I’m hopeful. I hope we are *all in transition, on our way to what I trust is a more comprehensive understanding of one another and our country’s path to healing.