This is a guest post by Dennis R Upkins, the author of Hollowstone. You can find him on Ars Marginal, as well as on The Chronicle, and of course on his personal site. This piece was originally published on People of Colour Organize and reprinted with the permission of the author.
The following are 10 conversations that I would be happy never to have with white peepul ever, ever, ever again. While there are countless others, these are at least 10 that I’m forced to endure far too often.
This has been touched on before, but as sure as the sun will rise, whenever POCs are sharing their views or experiences on being on the receiving end bigotry and denigration, too often the default white response is something shallow and patronizing along the lines of, “Racism is just bad. Racism is so stupid.”
Really? Thank you Mr.-States-The-Obvious. Do you have any idea how condescending that sounds? Talk about adding insult to injury. That would be like someone going up to a mugging victim and telling them, “Stealing is just so wrong. Stealing is so bad. People shouldn’t rob other people at gunpoint. That’s just…naughty.”
I don’t need a pat on the head and be told what I already know. What I do need is for white folks to lecture OTHER white folks on how racism is stupid and bad, wrong and oh so naughty. What I need is for white folks to do is tell their racist cousin why it’s fucked up for them to hold a racial grudge against all Asians because their grandfather fought in Vietnam.
What I need other white folks to do is remind other white people that Arabs and Muslims were ALSO victims of 9/11.
How about doing that.
2) You Should Stay And Fight For Change
As a POC and an LGBTQ, I’m treated as 3/5 of a human being in this country, on a good day. Living in the Southeast, well….a lot of people are especially bitter about that Civil Rights business.
Too often when I express a desire to relocate above the Mason Dixon line to an area where bigotry is at least tolerable (for me, the next POC’s mileage may vary for valid reasons), or move to another country where I can actually marry who I want or not get treated like a pariah for having brown skin, I can count on some speshul white person lecturing me on why I’m under obligation to stay in an area I would sooner see nuked from existence than reside in.
“But Neo, there were black people who stayed and fought for change after slavery ended!”
Yes they did. And God bless them for it. And I’m not taking anyway from their contributions and sacrifices. Obviously their mileage varies. But POCs are not the Borg. There were also plenty of POCs who headed up north and out west for better opportunities. That isn’t to say there wasn’t bigotry and fail up north and out west but as far as lesser of the two evils go, it was the preferable choice. Because people conveniently forget that for those who stayed behind, they also had to contend with Reconstruction, Jim Crowe, the Klan, Tuskegee, the pushback for Civil Rights, Jena 6, church burnings during the 90s and 2000s, do I even need to continue?
I don’t need to be told where I’m under obligation to stay and fight. I’m intelligent enough to decide that for myself.
If speshul liberal white folks feel that strongly that I should stay and fight for change, why don’t they do the heavy lifting and actually do it so I won’t feel the need to flee like Lot. Why don’t they make dismantling institutional oppression, a top priority or for that matter, a priority.
Because to be lectured about why I should stay and fight for change in a place by privileged peoples who aren’t facing the same bigotry or denigration, comes across as immensely disingenuous and very suspect.
3) I Don’t SEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE Race!!!!!
Oh yes, this one is a classic. The discussion of racism comes about, those of the Caucasian persuasion have to profess how colorblind they are and how race doesn’t matter to them at all.
Now to be fair, I can see how this trips up otherwise well-meaning and good-hearted white folks. They recognize that racism is wrong (and this puts them ahead of many) and genuinely believe that they are treating people equally and not allowing race to be a factor in their dealings with others. And God bless them for that. They’re at least on the right track.
However, we’re don’t live in a colorblind, post-racial society. I wish to God we did. The institutional oppression that is racism is immensely prevalent and ignoring the problems and the issues will not make them go away.
A lot of people believe that if you ignore racism or don’t talk about it, it’ll vanish. But when Racefail pops off again, we’re all scratching our heads wondering why we’re still dealing with this nonsense.
So yes, continue to judge people on the content of their character and not their ethnicity but also be cognizant of the realities that too many of us face and those realities is that we live in a very racist and hateful society and do your part to change it.
4) Being Expected To Take It
Stop me if this sounds familiar.
“Ho hum Neo, that’s just the way So&So is. And they’re not going to change, so you’re just going to have to accept how they treat you, even if it is demeaning. And you know, do it with a smile.”
“Well Neo, that’s just the way things are, yes we live in the land of freedom and democracy and equality but you’re going to be discriminated against. You just have to accept it. And you know, do it with a smile.”
Ummm…….fuck you? *smiles*
Anyone who thinks I’m obligated to simply take racism or being denigrated clearly doesn’t respect me as a human being and clearly not someone who is worth my time. And anyone who even suggests that I should put up with that crap, isn’t someone worth my time either. If you don’t tolerate being treated like a subhuman by others, you don’t get to qualify that for me and others.
Rather than demanding POCs to simply take it or “rise above”, why don’t white folks start shutting down bigots and demand them to stop acting like entitled demented sociopaths. Because if you harbor hatred towards someone because of their ethnicity, you’re a fucking sociopath. How about that for a change? And the fact that I’m having to take the time to explain why as a human being I shouldn’t have to put up with being insulted and demeaned and should be treated on equal footing as white people…..um….again….fuck you?
5) Conflating Racism For Classism
One of the most common tactics racist white folks will use to avoid getting checked on their privilege is conflating racism for classism as witnessed in this episode of bitchassness here. If they had it their way, they would have you believe that blacks were enslaved and endured Jim Crowe solely because they were poor and if they had enough money then they wouldn’t have to worry about bigotry or oppression.
Yes, these two often intersect, yes they often overlap. But racism and classism are two distinct issues. If it was simply about wealth and class, then Henry Louis Gates, a world renowned Harvard professor wouldn’t have been racially profiled and arrested by the police for entering his own home nor would there have been a coverup over the police report.
Barack Obama, another Ivy League educated black man and oh yeah president of the United States (and arguably the most powerful man in the world) has been on the receiving end of nonstop racist attacks. Now, if he’s enduring this level of racism (people still don’t believe he’s an American) from society, what chance does the rest of us have? Those of us who don’t have his resources, who don’t have the media watching our every move?
Yes, poor white immigrants and poor white people have suffered and do suffer and it is a legitimate issue that deserves to be addressed. No one’s disputing that. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. realized this and often reached out to poor white people. Because classism is an injustice, I don’t care what race you are. But it is not the same as racism. They have completely different dynamics at play. Both are legitimate but you can’t use the former to erase/dismiss/negate the latter.
So this whole mindset of I’m poor ergo I know alllllll about racism or have it just as bad or even worse than POCs is dead on arrival.
6) Erasing Racism From Racial Issues
Oh this is another failing that can especially be found among liberal anti-oppressionist white peepul. It’s no secret that when it comes bigotry, racism typically takes a backseat to these discussions. Bring up racism and racial issues and you can count on being shouted down with everyone tacking on ever other oppression, they’re personally invested in just to get out of dealing with their white privilege/white guilt.
Which by the by in regards to the concept of privilege, for those of you who have issue with the concept, READ THIS HERE.
In fact recently when I called out the racism that a WOC endured, I had some condescending white chick demand that I take white privilege out of the discussion.
Yes there is a thing as intersectionality. As a double minority, I’m acquainted with that concept quite well and this isn’t to say that other oppressions aren’t legitimate or don’t deserve attention, because they most certainly do.
But sometimes, it is about race. And sometimes, scratch that, often, white folks need to be reminded of that fact. Especially the self-proclaimed liberal white allies with a Miss Millie complex who suddenly think simply because they’ve read an essay or a blog entry written by a POC that the rules don’t apply to them.
7) Prove It To Me
A common ploy by conservative white people. Whenever racism is brought up and POCs share their perspective and their experiences, they demand proof. They like to set themselves up as Judge and God and we have the burden of proof.
“Prove to me that racism is real. Convince me. And if I don’t believe it, then it didn’t happen and it’s all in your head.”
And it doesn’t matter how many facts, figures, statistics, essays, dissertations, you could have Jesus Christ himself come down from heaven to testify and they still wouldn’t believe you.
So of course when you deem yourself their equal and not play their game of white supremacy circle jerk, suddenly they’re having a conniption. Because how dare you not grant them an audience or waste your time on them. How dare you think your opinion and experiences or more valid than whatever bass ackwards idea they’ve pulled from their rectum.
I’ve heard this argument too many times (especially from self-proclaimed liberal white peepul), that I don’t engage people who disagree with me because my brain can’t fathom the idea that someone may have a different or *gasps* opposing view. Because in the near three decades I’ve lived on this planet, I’ve never encountered anyone who disagrees with me. Yes being a black gay man in the South, I’ve never come across any opposition regarding my orientation or my race and have had to defend myself. Also apparently it’s written somewhere that I’m under obligation to engage, entertain, and be talked down to by any pissant who trolls my blog.
Or the common, “You just have a problem with my political beliefs.”
Asshole, I’m not a political view, I’m a goddamn human being. And fuck you for getting mad and taking exception to the fact that I have problem with someone believing I should be discriminated against. And if you have a problem with my contention with said issue, then it’s YOU who can’t agree with someone who disagrees with YOU!
I know the score, these folks aren’t on here to exchange ideas or to have a good faith discussion. They get off on seeing minorities angry and upset. That’s why they spew the bile they do online. So when you know the score and ignore them, that’s why they get pissed off because that lowly colored person just took their mighty whitey power away from them.
Because how dare I make the determination that some (white) folks aren’t worthy of my time and how dare I ignore them and go on with my life without allowing them stress me. How dare I not grant them an audience or waste my time on them. But this goes back to our bodies, minds, and our times not belonging to us any longer.
Being all uppity.
An outrage! An outrage I tell you!!!!!!
8) I’m Really Not The Angry Militant POC You Think I Am
I’m usually scratching my head on this one but apparently calling out white folks on their racism and we’re talking in the most polite tone possible = me being a rabid seething angry black man.
It both amuses and befuddles me how often I see some broad drowning in white woman tears attempting to pull a Rosewood bawwwwwing about how angreeee I am.
“HE WAS SOOOOOO MEAN TO ME. I’VE NEVER SEEN SOMEONE SO FUELED WITH ANGER. HE WAS LIKE AN UBER RED LANTERN. HIS ANGER WAS BLISTERING MY PORCELAIN SKIN. I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY THE MEAN NEGRO SAVAGE WAS BEING SO MEAN AND NEGRO AND SAVAGE. OH GODDESS, HELP ME. I’M SOOOOOO OH-PARESSSED.”
I’ll grant you that a lot of you mistake nice for soft but seriously white folks, I’m not the Militant POC that keeps you awake at night. The fact that you think I’m one just proves that you haven’t met a real Militant. While it’s true that I can certainly hold my own against the best of them, especially if my hand is forced and my back is to the wall, let’s be real here for a second, I’m a clean cut hipster black comic book nerd who regularly uses four syllable SAT vocab terms and stuff.
I make Will Smith and one Burton Guster look raw and gangsta. Of course most of you think Obama is too angry and militant and too dangerous, so I guess I’m in good company.
You better hope that I’m the most militant POC, you ever have to deal with because I’ve got brothers and sisters who will really give you something to cry about.
9) Self-Esteem Negates All Racism
Despite claims to the contrary in the previous point, this one WILL send me on a violent rampage.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been white-cited that I just shouldn’t care what others think and I should feel good about me regardless. Because feeling good about myself is all that matters.
It’s not unlike the other lecture I get too often. I should just stop fretting over racism and just live my life. Because clearly I can take a day off from bigotry and racism whenever I feel like it. Basically setting up the fallacious argument that racism is the resultant of low self-esteem or having a chip on your shoulder.
Variations of this bile can also be found in the form of “Racism is dead, and if POCs aren’t prospering, it’s because they can’t get their acts together.”
This is one of the problems I had with this Sesame Street video. I agree with Keeni84 in that yes it’s doing a lot of good for many young black girls and for that I’m eternally grateful. However, since the video has gone viral, the media has conflated the issue about this being a case that black women are ashamed of their hair simply because they have low self-esteem about who they are.
Riiiiiiiiiiiight, black girls are ashamed of their hair simply and their skin and their bodies only because they have low self-esteem. Because it’s certainly not as if we live in a Eurocentric culture that props up all things of the caucasian persuasion as the end-all-be-all standard of excellence. It’s not like we live in a society where black women lose their jobs on television (Look up Judge Ephraim from Divorce Court) or from corporate positions for wearing their hair too “ethnic.” So it’s not as if black women can simply wear their hair natural in this society and not catch hell for it. Let’s not forget it, it wasn’t that long ago when Don Imus called a group of young black women a bunch of nappy-headed hoes and was actually defended.
Furthermore it’s a catch-22. If you wear your hair straight, then you’re aspiring to be white. If you wear your hair natural, you’re being militant or granola or anything else than you choosing to express who you are in the manner you see fit for you.
Good self-esteem is not going to stop a bank from denying me a business loan because the bank rep has a grudge against black people. Good self-esteem isn’t going to Arabs and Muslims from being unjustly attacked by hateful racist mobs. Good self-esteem isn’t going to protect blacks and Latinos from being racially profiled and brutally assaulted by crooked cops.
Being a POC with great self-esteem does not negate racism. In fact, quite the opposite, it incites it.
Try being a POC who has enough self-esteem to work hard in school and earn straight A’s and see how much hell you catch for it. Try being a POC who is articulate, well-dressed and mannerable and see how often you get accused of aspiring to be white. Try being a POC who has enough self esteem in yourself to politely call out folks for committing racist acts and see how much rebuke you catch. Try being a POC who has enough self-esteem to demand to be treated with the same dignity and respect as your white peers or refuses to adhere to racist stereotypes and see how many times you get accused of being “uppity.”
POCs aren’t supposed to feel good about ourselves. We’re supposed to be self-hating, killing and murdering each other off, playing the role as the source of mainstream society’s fears/fetish/and ethnic entertainment. We’re supposed to be subhuman savages.
This all to say that when it comes to racism, having wonderful self-esteem will catch you unholy hell if you’re a POC.
10) Racism Is Not Happening In A Vacuum
To those of you who genuinely don’t understand why racism still exists or why people have such attitudes, or didn’t realize that racism was still a problem, the only thing I can simply ask is where the fuck have you been for the last 400 years.
Do you think it’s random happenstance that it took until the 21st century before we even entertained the notion of having a black president? Ask yourself how many POC dramas are on television? Hell ask yourself how many television series are on television where the POC is the lead protagonist and it’s NOT a sitcom and/or minstrel show? If we’re in such a post-racial society, explain to me how many commercials have you seen on television that features interracial couples? Probably for the same reason there was such a public outcry over NFL star Terrell Owens doing the Desperate Housewives spoof with Nicolette Sheridan.
In short, read this here and then come talk to me about how we’re living in a post-racial society.
So what are conversations I would love to have with white people?
I’m glad you asked.
The following are good-faith discussions I love having with white people. Conversations I have with my friends and readers and one of the many reasons why they’re the most awesome people on the planet.
1) Hey Neo, do you have any recommendations for resources. I’m really wanting to broaden my horizons but I want to make sure I get the right information.
2) I’m trying to contend with a relative/boss/co-worker who is quite a bigot because I don’t think it’s right for me to stay silent and do nothing. How should I proceed Neo?
3) We’re tired of POCs doing the heavy lifting in battling racism and we realize that erasing racism is just as much our responsibility (if not moreso) as it is POCs. We’re looking to launch a few protests and campaigns. How do you think we should proceed?
4) I’m trying to expose my child to other exceptional minority media which showcases and celebrates POCs in a positive light. Do you have any suggestions?
5) Hey Neo, I’m writing a story where the primary protagonist is a POC but I want to handle the character with respect and I realize that I don’t have the insight of being a POC because well….I’m white. You’re an excellent writer and a very intelligent guy. Could you have a gander and let me know what you think about the characterization and the story in general?
Here’s to less of the former and more of the latter. K? Thanks.