Note: This piece explores my relationship with white people in context of white supremacist violence. This is not about if white people *can* be saved. These are my reflections on humanizing white people in world where they dehumanize me. Also, Black people cannot be racist.
I contemplate if I’m capable of humanizing white people because I’m constantly unlearning my attachment to, investment in and obsession with whiteness and white people. I am constantly being violated by white supremacy and white people in my daily life as a Black fat femme.
In exploring my relationship with white people, I’m conflicted. I don’t think about white people often in my work because I choose to center my healing and my labor around Black people and our navigation, survival and experiences. But the way my morality is set up, sometimes I feel bad about cutting off my physical and mental self from white people’s humanity.
Let me be clear, though; my dilemma is around white people, not whiteness and the power of white supremacy. I will never center whiteness. Rather, my moral dilemma is about making space for white people in my personal and political capacity. This dilemma, though, is difficult to differentiate from my investment in whiteness as a power system.
Many Black people have relationships with white people in some capacity. But our romantic, loving relationships with white people are the most complicated to understand when we’re fighting against white supremacy on a structural and interpersonal level. From white partners to white parents, there are white people embedded in our lives in ways that challenge us to wonder how we balance our emotional labor towards them while fighting for our humanity and safety.
Whether we’re using our bodies as a site for learning and inflicted violence or using our limited emotional energy and labor towards our white loved ones to explain our seemingly unexplainable physical and mental trauma from white supremacist violence, we are constantly in struggle with these relationships. These are people in our lives who claim to love us but may not ever know how to love us.
In my personal life, I’ve had two significant relationships with white men that left me emotionally drained and questioning my worth. I realized that the love they gave me could never be enough, because they would never be able to fully empathize or affirm my pain and experiences. And often their love and affection was predicated on praising my Blackness, fatness and beauty under the pretense that I was exotic and more special than other women.
This fetishization was something I wore as a veil of self-worth, both within my relationship and outside of it. After a while, I needed white men to desire me. I became dependent on the power that came from my white partner and from how people viewed me as a second-hand recipient of white acceptability.
I felt that as a fat Black girl who was denied love so often, being given the opportunity to date a white man — someone who represented power, white beauty standards and dominance — made me more valuable to the world because I could get this white man to love me and display me publicly.
This logic seems so ludicrous and disheartening, in retrospect. Nonetheless, it helped to guide my decision-making around my investment in the white people in my life.
Still, I was a participant in my own violence in many ways within those relationships. I don’t blame myself for being a victim of racist partners, but rather I understand that my consciousness did not develop until after those relationships ended. I’m not sure if I would have ever come to consciousness about my worth and my Blackness within those relationships, or if those men would’ve been willing to learn how to hold space for my humanity while claiming to love me.
I often wonder how this balance works for others. I think about how difficult it must be coming to more consciousness about your Blackness after already investing in a relationship with a white person (marriage, having children, best friendship, business/legal partnership, etc.).
I think about how emotionally taxing it must be to have a white parent — to hold space for their guardianship and love while also critiquing their privilege, power and ability to affirm and protect you. Or the difficulty of holding space for white people in our intersecting communities (queerness, trans and gender nonconforming identities, disabled folks, etc.), where often our communities are not centered but we need resources in spaces dominated by whiteness and access.
As someone who has had to learn and is still unlearning how to radically divest from whiteness, white romantic relationships and white spaces, I still have concerns.
Some questions that arise for me are:
- Is it possible for a white person to truly love me or see my humanity?
- How can a white person hold my trauma while benefiting from a system that affirms the violence against me?
- Is it possible to trust desire from a white person you love while also divesting from white beauty standards and white affirmation?
- Can the social programming of white supremacy ever be undone enough for white people to see the depths of violence against our bodies?
- Can a white person’s sacrifices to dismantle white supremacy ever be great enough to trust them?
- Does love conquer all if love is often shaped through violence within white supremacist context?
- If Black people are still unlearning anti-Blackness while simultaneously surviving anti-Black violence, how is it possible to expect a white person to be conscious of this violence enough to love us fully?
- Is my ability to humanize white people something I should expect from other Black people living and surviving different trauma and experiences?
- How can I decipher between humanizing white people as spiritual wellness from investment in whiteness?
There are white people I love and care about, but it doesn’t change the fact that I believe most white people are not worthy of my empathy or my emotional labor (like this damn article). In general, I do not cry for white pain, white guilt, or white tragedy. All I’ve ever been trained to care about is whiteness and white people.
I do not give my energy to white spaces or white people unless I have to, for survival or for a job. I do not feel bad when I ask white people to leave particular spaces I’m in to make sure other people of color, Black folks and I feel safe to talk about our feelings. I do not feel bad when white people feel uncomfortable about my militancy in bringing up the sociocultural reality of anti-Blackness and violence against my body.
Mostly, I am unmoved by white people who are “allies” and do “good deeds” for my people. I am uncomfortable giving space, attention and money to white people who do what they’re supposed to be doing, whether it’s correcting their problematic cousins, reading radical books to learn about our violence or dismantling white supremacy at any given opportunity.
I don’t need to hear about it because we praise white people every day while we’re still dying in the street. I don’t need to see it posted on my timeline because I’m focused on my saving my people from a system of violence rather than saving white people from themselves. I reserve my tears and my humanity for my people because there is a need for the love, space, vulnerability, sympathy and benefit of the doubt we so desperately deserve.
And in so many ways, I feel like my emotional capacity can only hold my people. Maybe that will change, maybe it won’t. But I truly believe in recentering everything I’ve ever known about who to care about, who to make room for, who to empathize with and who to cry over.
Related: Hey, Black America: No One In “The Room” Will Save You. So Keep Yelling.
I often question if I’m truly surviving or if I’m doing something spiritually vehement by cutting myself off from compassion for other people. Am I adopting an immoral, dysfunctional ideology within my spiritual being by denying the capacity to love and hold space for another human being? Slavery, white supremacy and anti-Blackness did not just dehumanize us as Black people. This violence dehumanized white people before it ever dehumanized us. These systems created a religion of demonizing Blackness, immortalizing whiteness and revering violence as normalcy. This spiritual disconnect seems to be an affliction for all of us.
As a Black fat femme, I’m realizing that my spiritual being is not guided by my ability to make room for white people. Rather, it’s guided by coming to terms with how my spiritual understanding is influenced by systematic oppression. I am not a monster for not actively making room for white people in my personal and political capacity. But the energy I put into recognizing this dilemma shows me that I am humanizing white people beyond the levels white supremacy allows white people to humanize me.
This conflict is one that I have not come to terms with, nor have I reached any conclusions or answers. I want to continue to have critical dialogues about what liberation looks like for us as Black folks, but also what it looks like for our navigation of relationships and interpersonal politics with non-Black people, particularly white people.