Trigger warning for my BIPOC friends; this is a letter to white peers looking for entry points into anti-racism work and includes racist language.
What game can I use to stand in for and explore the concept? I’ll try football. Our team has the ball, then your team has the ball. We run at each other, defend, tackle, all to try and get that ball and take ground against the other team and eventually score points. Anti-racists are one team, everyone who is outraged by anti-racist ideals is another team.
Just like with the sport, there are different levels of experience, skill, and focus within each team. Some people are considering a trade, etc. Nothing…nothing is incapable of shifting unless that is what we choose. Good enough to work with, I think.
A lot is changing. People are using the terms cancel culture and outrage as often as live, love, laugh these days, and sadly, they have totally diluted any meaning they used to have.
Some of us think it started with demographics-based quotas and hiring practices. Then we have the Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben controversy; now Disney and Dr. Seuss. It goes back to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award being renamed the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Schools and streets get renamed. Statues are being taken down (in some places). New state flags (Go Mississippi!) and team mascots. It goes on and on and on.
Football comparison: The anti-racist team is moving the ball forward–some of these moves are good, some are bad passes or fumbles…misses. Different special teams had different projects. Not everyone agrees. This is life and it’s not always easy to prevent harm…or “outrage.”
There has been consistent “outrage.” Some of us don’t like change. *They feel the ball is moving too fast. Updating *our culture is seen as “erasing history,” in some way. *They are attached to keeping the ball from moving down the field, advancing on *their ground. *They don’t see a problem. *They think the change is the problem. The people asking for the changes are called complainers. And *they are seen as the problem. This is called playing defense.
This didn’t start with these cultural shifts and updates. It started with the way we showed complete disregard for Black people, Indigenous people, Asian people, and all people with brown skin. For years. Decades. Centuries.
…How we’ve forced Black and Brown skinned people to play defense their whole lives. Even if You, personally, are adamant you did not and do not show disregard, disrespect or racism; you likely know one or many people who have, and some who still do. It’s real. We can be honest.
(And who can truly say they’ve never uttered a racist statement behind closed doors, in the privacy of their own home when no one was there to witness? Or inside the privacy of one’s own mind? We’re all taught them. We’ve all heard them. We’ve all repeated them, even if we didn’t *mean to.* Even if we were sorry we said or thought it. Even if we reacted to the racist impulse with shock that it lived inside of us. Even if we work hard to undo that conditioning. It’s there. It’s inside of us. This is a simple and honest statement. The least we can do is be honest.)
And you may have had a bad encounter with a person who could be described in one or many of these categories. And you may have allowed that encounter to mar your feelings about that entire category of people. You may have let that experience reinforce the stereotypes, sorting *them into “good ones” and “bad ones.” You may not have.
But I bet in traffic if you are a certain age, you look to see if that crappy driver is Asian. It stings to admit this, but imagine if you are Asian and people are staring at you in traffic to see if you’re Asian just because you made the same driving error they likely made a couple days ago, or will tomorrow. If you, right now, are saying inside of your mind, No…they are different. They don’t drive as well…
It’s an opportunity to reflect. We are all learning about ourselves and our country’s race-obsessed temper tantrums. We have an opportunity to do it differently.
One or a handful of negative encounters does not justify judgment of entire categories of people. It does not justify disregarding their requests to change how we do things here in America. It does not excuse the way we act confused when one Black person shares how they feel supported and another Black person says something different, even contradicting, about how *they feel supported.
It doesn’t justify how we might pick and choose who we listen to: marrying our understanding to one person who makes it easy for us and making stories about how the other person is difficult. It’s easy to throw our hands up and say, “I just can’t win.”
This doesn’t permit us to disregard, refuse, or deny another person’s pain. It doesn’t justify emotional abuse.
There is no winning. This is not football. It is an invitation to learn how to listen to each individual human with some degree of care. And maybe that’s the problem. We don’t care. Or can’t be bothered to care. Or aren’t equipped to care.
These overwhelmed, careless responses sound like: I just don’t want it crammed down my throat. And it feels a little like we are now playing defense. The other team has the ball and we feel threatened. Points might be scored.
I’ve heard the phrases “kissing boots” or “licking boots.” As in, I’m not going to lick *their boots. It means: to treat someone powerful with too much respect in order to get approval. (Merriam Webster)
Notice the words *power and *approval. Points.
But what about healing? Or the kindness and love so many of us preach about?
Repeating these careless statements is a decisive choice to move away from kindness, love and healing. It’s a way to say, I don’t need or want your approval; I’m not going to support you to stand in your *own power. You don’t matter to me.
It’s about pride. It’s a feral protection against the idea that someone wants to take something from us. It’s the idea that we have nothing to give. And it assumes people want to take from us, rather than have us stop cutting them down with our racist habits. It’s the best way to preserve the idea of “whiteness” as better. And it’s a sad, funny thing because to set down our defenses and join with others against something making all of us sick is very powerful.
Lately I’ve heard “outrage” in the form of racist bullying/belittling; sad backlash from people who have no energy to care. It sounds like: “Can we still call it black coffee?” (Yes, we can.)
It sounds like making fun of the word change from “Indians” to “Indigenous People.” They were called Indians because Christopher Columbus thought he had landed in Asia, specifically “the Indies.” Can we let it go? (And some Indigenous folks I know identify with the word “Indian.” And that’s not your business or mine; our best response might just be a nod or a “thank you for letting me know that.”)
We have the right to use language that suits us.
Just as you, and I, are free to be racist if that is how we want to spend our time on this planet. No one said you can’t be racist. You can.
We are all free to hurt as many people as we want to while we are alive, in ways that are small and bitter, but don’t cross the legal line. BIPOC friends and colleagues have taught me about death by a million papercuts.
This gripping onto old, racist ideals seems a little weird when you think about it that way, doesn’t it? We are all free to hurt people and act like they are being difficult because they don’t like it.
Because some of us don’t like change.
But some of us do. And some of us thrive when certain things change. And maybe, after the initial change, you’ll find you are thriving too, because those things that led to the change never really affected you in the first place. You were simply outraged at modernization. And change.
With more of us thriving, isn’t that a good thing?
On the other hand, if these changes happen and they actually disrupt our daily life, rubbing us wrong day after day, we have a beautiful opportunity to really investigate that question: Then, am I racist?
And if so: Am I happy being racist? Do I feel at ease in racist ideals? Am I thriving as a racist? Do I feel joy, peace, and ease as a racist?
If the answer is no, then What can I do about it? How do I start the process of healing from the racism my culture and country taught me?
It’s ok to trade to another team. The only things we need to cancel are racism and other forms of hate. People say anti-racism is a kind of hate. I think it’s ok to hate racism.