Kiese and Tressie both wrote for, to, and about those of us who carry Blackness with us everywhere we go. The thin white woman beside me folds her legs all the way up and gathers her knees to her chest. Her elbow is in my way and it nearly pokes me. “I’m so tiny,” […]
How “Good” White People Silence People of Color Every Day
“Good” white people uphold and support white supremacy because they are unwilling to see their own roles within systemic racism.
Back on the tail end of 2016 I wrote a status update on Facebook which read something to the effect of, “When POC speak on genocide they are talking about subjugation and murder. When white people talk about genocide they are talking about mixed babies.” This is, of course, a reference to the idea of “white genocide” as discussed in white nationalist circles. My white friends — who are not white nationalists — were pissed.
The thread turned into 200+ comments deep of mostly white people defending that they don’t mean that when they talk about white genocide, that the status was offensive — but what about my individual marginalization? Even though I stressed that I was speaking about white nationalists, all of these people could not get over how offended they were and spent all night literally #notallwhitepeople-ing on my page. And this is the story about why I never wrote about “white genocide” or how the offense of “good white people” helps to silence the voices of marginalized POC.
That violent pushback against the concept, that was aired in my own space with people who I knew, had garnered such hate and vitriol that the idea of writing a full piece to educate people — knowing that backlash from people who did not know me would be much worse — was too much. The idea of the comments that would be to sent me and knowing that I would be facing it alone wasn’t something that I was willing to put my mental health through.
So I didn’t write it. I stayed silent.
In 2018 the concept of white genocide as a racist dog whistle is much more well-known. It has seen some coverage in big-name outlets and none of the people who were upset with me for my comment then would be so now because they are more familiar with it. But consider how much time that the concept had to grow and fester because there was no coverage a year or two ago. I’m not a huge voice but I am a voice and white offense silenced me.
White offense or discomfort is the specific reaction that white people have to discussions of racism in which they are not specifically excluded from the offending group. This knee-jerk reaction causes them to lash out in anger, derail a conversation and shut down all conversation around the original issue. The arguments tend to focus on what good people they are and how it’s not fair that the offending statement didn’t make it clear that it wasn’t all white people.
This reaction helps the bottom line of white supremacy because that system works best when no one talks about it. It THRIVES in silence. Although none of my friends are white nationalists or supremacists, and none of them believe that interracial relationships should be stopped, their actions directly protected and supported white supremacy.
What would be a better reaction to a situation where you feel like something offense has been said? The first step is to resist that knee-jerk reaction, especially if it is someone you know and have a relationship with. Remember, we all view everything through our lens of bias. This colors everything we interact with. Understand that the issue likely looks a lot different from their point of view.
Secondly, ask for a fuller explanation or do some research on your own. Google is free. If something is said that rings wrong in your head, then chances are YOU are missing some key information that will help it make sense. If someone had looked into it, they would have been assaulted by thinly veiled, white supremacist propaganda. No one asked me what I meant.
Thirdly, remember that everything isn’t about YOU but, as a white person, if you are white, then you, unfortunately, are part of a system that oppresses and marginalizes people. It is not your fault, you didn’t do anything wrong but this is the culture we all live in. Oppressed and marginalized people do not have the time and energy, while speaking on the forces that put us in those situations, to exclude good white people. We would be here all day getting nothing done because EVERYONE has a reason why they’re not the problem.
Here’s the thing: All white people are not actively racist but all white people live in a culture of white supremacy and their actions potentially help to uphold that culture. Taking up space to talk about how non-racist you are upholds white supremacist culture and centers whiteness. Placing your offense, your hurt feelings, before the discussion of the racist issues centers whiteness and upholds white supremacist culture. These acts stifle discussion, silence education and uphold white supremacist culture.
White nationalists and Nazis don’t need to be present in every conversation around racism to argue it. The layer of protection that is provided by white supremacist culture is such that people who would be appalled to be associated with such groups inadvertently do the work for them. It does not have to be that way, you can recognize your own offense, your own knee-jerk reactions, and pull them back before they work in the service of a culture that you don’t believe in.
Being offended and uncomfortable is a natural part of life. But before you lash out, sit with that feeling, deconstruct it. Understand why you are offended by the statement or action. Take time to understand the statement or action. You may still be offended and you may have to say, “Hey, this was not ok!” That’s fine! Join the discussion by adding a nuanced point of view, perhaps your issues can be addressed through further education around the subject. But never assume your initial reaction is the correct one, especially when faced with brand new information. Your bias plays a part in how you see things and must be actively overcome. Don’t do white supremacy any favors because something hurt your feelings.
Featured Image: Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash