Anne (netmouse) wrote,

Skip trying to prove you're not racist

- because it's not about you.

Since before I went to Wiscon, I've been meaning to respond to something tlatoani said in response to a post of mine about the fans of color speak out day May 18:

I'm listening, but that's all I'm doing. As a white guy, it isn't my place to get involved, and many of the participants in the discussion have made that quite clear. What seems to irritate them the most is well-meaning liberal white people who feel the need to prove how non-racist they are. I see their point, so I'm staying out of it.

This comment rather spectacularly misses the point of what I've seen a number of people post, so I wanted to address it. Slowly, and hopefully clearly.

There are a number of contexts in which "liberal white people who feel the need to prove how non-racist they are" are in fact very annoying to people of color who are trying to talk to them (or others in their vicinity). Here are a few:
  1. Someone has tried to point out that this LWP (liberal white person) said something that came across as racist, or otherwise echoed with white privilege, in a way that bothered them. LWP fails to examine what they said and instead derails into proving how non-racist they are.
  2. LWP's friends also speak past the statements of POC to try to prove how non-racist the LWP is.
  3. Some POC has started to speak up about an issue that is troubling to them. The issue in question touches on something (perhaps a book or an author) that is very important to a LWP, who proceeds to try to explain why a) the issue doesn't really exist in the book or b) the item in question doesn't bother them, so it shouldn't bother anyone else, and c) the LWP knows their perspective is informed and they are non-racist, so they feel they have a more important opinion than the POC. POC tries to reorient discussion to their own experience. LWP asserts how non-racist they are.

In all those cases, a LWP who feels motivated to prove how non-racist they are gets annoying, but not because the white person is trying to be non-racist; rather because the white person is avoiding facing forward into the real issue and listening to POC by derailing into a conversation about what a non-racist person they are. And this is not actually the conversation anyone wants to be having. Here, listen to Jay explain that.

I've seen some POC go so far as to say that it looks like what white people fear the most in any conversation is to be called racist. So that if someone says something you *said* was racist, you feel the need to respond to the implication that you are racist, and react to that, before you can possibly listen to point the other person was trying to make.

If you find yourself reacting this way, you should definitely stop. Try harder to listen, go off and have your tearful reaction to being called out on your racism elsewhere, whatever, but skip listing all the reasons you are not racist.

Partly because, well, we're just about all racist, really. Studies show that. Our perceptions, our behavior; all of these things are influenced by race and the color of someone's skin. At one point in race discussions I commented that I thought that without race, there is no racism, basically reflecting the concept that since I do not believe in a biological basis for definitions of race, it does not exist for me (so, the implication goes, how can I be racist?). But the truth is I am. For all that there is no biological definition for it, and the social constructions keep changing race is real as soon as people make decisions on the basis of race. Which we do all the time. It's real only because people believe in it, but you can say the same thing about the value of money. Both have a deep impact on how the world works despite the fact that their values are socially constructed.

I'm not making these posts about race in an attempt to prove how non-racist I am. I'm making them because I am trying to do something to change how the world is. I post about these things in part to let fans of color know that I see them, I hear them, and I think they matter. Do they care about my opinions? I don't know. But I'm hoping some of the people who read my journal might care enough to consider acknowledging these people too. Not to try to prove something about yourself, but to try to reach out to others.
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