What follows is a personal reflection, addressed as much to myself as to the Village. Make of it what you will…
Bill Maher said something grotesque last week, and social media blew up. In what has become a predictable pattern on Twitter (and DK and just about any other platform), people of color and allies said, “No. White folk can’t use that word.” White folk whined, “Hypocrites! If black folk can say it, why can’t we?” Persons of color responded, “Look it up…lots of explanations out there already”, while white people yelled, “No, YOU explain it to me!” And then there were the subtweets and discussions about whether using racist language makes one a racist, with never-ending cross-talk as individuals claimed conflicting definitions of racism. And so it went.
I chose to mostly ignore the arguments for several reasons. First, I don’t particularly like Bill Maher, don’t watch him, and don’t generally listen to him. Secondly, if I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that when issues of race and racism come up, listening to persons of color is important and necessary, so I didn’t feel I had anything to add to the “discussion.” Finally, I generally considered it just another moment of a loudmouth white guy saying something stupid, and really, is that anything new?
And then I read this tweet:
That fact there’s an uproar when a white personal uses the n word but none when some African Americans use it daily is insanely hypocritical
— Indivisible IL 16th (@IndivisibleIL16) June 3, 2017
and had this reaction:
Infuriating that an Indivisible account is being used this way; personal stupidity should be kept to personal accounts. https://t.co/V2q1WZ4zVK
— Sherry (@KossackDoReMI) June 4, 2017
That could have been the end of it for me, but then I received this comment from Aji, and suddenly, the discussion left the realm of the theoretical and became personal:
See, this is why folks like us don’t join Indivisible!™ or TehResistance™ or Revolution!™ groups. We know we’re not actually welcome.
— Aji Wings (@Ajijaakwe) June 5, 2017
To which I replied:
I’m learning something new every day. The fact that I’m astonished speaks to my own privilege.
— Sherry (@KossackDoReMI) June 5, 2017
And that’s when it hit me. Viewing the Maher remarks as just another kerfuffle, rather than as yet another assault on persons of color and in support of white supremacy, is a problem. It is not much ado about nothing, and people like me, white and privileged, must do better. This is not to say that I think every white person should engage in Twitter battles, but if we don’t, we at least have the responsibility to listen, learn, and act in our day-to-day life. To put it more succinctly:
Can’t believe those morans saying “oh, Maher just said a(racist) word, stop faking your outrage.” Nope. Maher appropriated Black pain. Evil.
— Rachel B (@VozdeRaquel) June 5, 2017
I’ve been reading Michael Eric Dyson’s Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, and he addresses this (and many other) issues. He says, after explaining whiteness as a social construct, a social inheritance “where European ethnicities got pulverized into whiteness” that,
I’m not asking you to let go of your humanity, but, in the best way possible, to find your way back to it. You can let go of whiteness when you see it as a moral choice, an ideology, a politic, a terribly fearful reaction to the thing it hates the most but can least afford to do without: the black people it helped will into existence. (p. 49)
When we stay silent in the presence of offensive or ignorant comments; when we refuse to question why our social groups, our churches, our Resistance are so segregated; when we attempt to exonerate ourselves by saying, “Well, yeah, some people, but not me, so it’s not my problem…”, we are, in fact, making the moral choice to embrace whiteness and all of the privilege that comes with it. We are complicit in white supremacy.
It is your obligation, beloved, to school yourselves, and other white folk, too, about the seductive, mythical, neutrality of whiteness, the belief that you are somehow American without a racial identity, without racial baggage. …Beloved, racism and bigotry are ugly, uncomfortable issues to grapple with. But if you don’t address them, you reinforce the privilege of not having to face up to the truth. (p. 204)
What if in the face of racially-insensitive comments, we choose, not silence, but dissent? What if our ready response is, “I don’t believe in making people the Other; I believe our common humanity is what matters.” What if we ask out loud why our spaces are segregated? What if we ask our churches to join in coalition with churches that are more diverse than our own? What if, within our own Indivisible groups, we ask why there is so much whiteness and so little blackness, and ask what we can to do to improve this imbalance? What if we learn to recognize that “it’s not my problem” is the language of supremacy, and instead learn to listen without defensiveness? Can we learn that participation is part of being an ally, but taking over and asserting control is not? Can we do better? I think we can. I think we must.
And now for your Twitter break…
A must read:
Adam Serwer on the myth of a noble General Lee is a great Sunday read: https://t.co/EgJOAR11sN
— Ashley C. Ford (@iSmashFizzle) June 4, 2017
I have to see this movie…
NO WONDER WHITE MEN ARE SO OBSCENELY CONFIDENT ALL THE TIME I SAW ONE WOMAN HERO MOVIE AND I’M READY TO FIGHT A THOUSAND DUDES BAREHANDED
— meg s.s. (@megsauce) June 4, 2017
— Indivisible Guide (@IndivisibleTeam) June 5, 2017
— Ani Sangye (@SangyeH) June 5, 2017
In case you are having a bad day here’s a dog sneezing pic.twitter.com/aHcW5Qx8Ni
— Cute Emergency (@CuteEmergency) June 3, 2017
And now time to get some coffee…
— Basset Hound Network (@BassetHounds_) April 20, 2017