…and “coming together” or “stop the hate” ain’t it.
The Baby’s lovely bipap machine had Alex and I up at 4am this morning and then I flopped around in bed for an hour and a half, blowing my nose and feeling an impending allergy attack coming. I finally got up at 5:30am, determined to go to yoga, but then on the way, I started to feel my gall bladder pain and didn’t want to risk an ER visit, so I went to Starbucks instead, where I sat, without children attached to my body or asking me approximately one bazillion questions, and drank a frappucino while I browsed facebook.
On the way home, the morning DJs of a local Christian radio station were talking about Obama’s tweet in response to the Charlottesville nightmare, which has set a record as being the most liked tweet in history.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…” pic.twitter.com/InZ58zkoAm
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017
What followed was a really misinformed discussion about the tweet and what it suggests the solution to our current racial upheaval should be. I finally slammed the radio off when one of the men tearfully (not joking) shared a story about how he gave a tennis ball to a Haitian orphan “with no mommy or daddy” on a short term mission trip and he realized that this little boy “just needed love”. (What the? HOW DOES THAT HAVE ANYTHING REMOTELY TO DO WITH ANYTHING? Why did God have to reveal to you that a child needs love? Did you think that Haitian children somehow didn’t need love? Anyway, I digress.)
I have noticed that white people love to say, “Love will win” or “We just need to come together” or “Stop the hate on both sides”. White liberals/progressives/Christians, in particular, really dig this idea that kumbaya will solve this.
Here’s the problem with it.
Let’s say, for a moment, that you have been repeatedly kicking someone, who did nothing to instigate the kicking. You are not kicking them in self-defense. You are kicking them because you are in power and you are a butthead. The person finally gets tired of you kicking them for no reason and they punch back. A third person, an observer, now says, “You guys just need to make peace.”
Do you see how that third person’s judgement is unfair? The person being kicked lashed out precisely because they were being kicked. While, sure, they could have chosen to continually be kicked without resorting to punching, I think we all can understand how frustration and anger could build and that lashing out is a natural, human response to being kicked repeatedly.
That observer’s response to that situation makes it sound as if both parties, the kicker and the kicked, have a responsibility for what happened. It’s addressing the punch and the kicks as if they are equal. It gives equal weight to the offense taken by the kicked and the kicker. (i.e. the kicker complaining about being punched is the same as the kicked complaining about being kicked).
And they are most assuredly not the same.
For the record, the “kicking” that occurs to marginalized people is not limited to groups of Nazis terrorizing a city. It includes:
- unequally funded schools
- unequal access to healthcare
- being forced to attend a school that is named after someone who enslaved your ancestors
- State violence (via the police and immigration officers)
- Voting restrictions and disenfranchisement
- seeing people who look like you absent in politics/media
- not having access to loans for businesses or home ownership
- being forced off your ancestral lands and then having corporations build pipelines, with the government’s blessing, through the lands that you still hold on to
- poor government assistance programs that keep people stuck in cyclical poverty
- being penalized in your job for not adhering to cultural “norms”, like choosing to wear dreadlocks
- poor media presentation that presents your group of people as a stereotype, with no depth
- always having to represent your group instead of getting to be an individual (i.e. if one Muslim does it, all Muslims must do it)
- laws and policy that make it legal to discriminate against you
- being racially profiled in public all the time
- being asked to continually educate and “show grace” to the people that are oppressing you
- having your culture be turned into a parody, a costume, or a business
- continually being blamed for being stuck in poverty
- being told that you’re playing “the race card” or “identity politics” when you bring up how systemic racism affects you
- having to defend why you deserve basic human rights
- working with people who make jokes at your expense (and then get gravely offended if you call them out on it)
- And much more!
I am not going to tell people of color (or any marginalized person) how they should respond to oppression. Some build bridges, some don’t. It’s not my job to tell POC (people of color) what they should do (or that they should do anything). One of the hosts this morning advised listeners that they should go out today and “love someone who hates the color of their skin”. For the love. That is so tone deaf, I’m surprised dogs didn’t start howling. He is clearly NOT talking to white people there, so he’s telling people of color that they need to go hug someone who hates them.
White people, that is not our job. It’s not helpful. It’s not brave. It’s not right.
Most of us are not Nazis, right? When we watch the violence in Charlottesville, we do not see ourselves in the faces of screaming, torch-bearing men. We are observers of that violence.
Post-Charlottesville or any race-based conflict, telling POC and white supremacists that they need to “come together” is definitively NOT the answer. Obviously, white supremacists aren’t going to do that, so that lays the burden of solving this issue on POC.
It ain’t their problem to solve.
If we feel the need to insert ourselves into the situation at all, then we need to:
- realize that we are part of the group doing the kicking. Whether we mean to or not, we benefit from the kicking (see chart below)
- confront the kicker, preferably before the next punch
As a white woman (especially in the Southern Christian tradition), I have been socialized to avoid conflict at all costs. It’s much easier for me to tell two people that they should make peace (no risk for me) than for me to confront someone and tell them to quit being a racist asshole (or I can do it nicely). Regardless of how I do it, they might yell at me! Or hurt me! Or fire me! Or be mean to me!
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that white liberals/progressives/Christians see racism is an issue. I’m glad that they are feeling empathetic and that they are paying attention.
If you’re feeling prickly about this post, please know that I am not trying to kick you. We need you.
But, if you really want to make a difference, touting platitudes that place the blame for racism equally on the backs of the oppressed isn’t the way to do it. And I know it doesn’t feel like platitudes to you. Jesus sure does talk about loving our enemies. The problem is when we decide that it’s more important to tell other people to love their enemies instead of us rolling up our sleeves and worrying about whether we are doing so. If we say that we hate white supremacy, then our enemies are abundant. Confronting my racial biases and trying to figure out how I can love people better by using the right terminology or fighting unfair laws where I live has made me feel more human. I don’t want to see anyone consumed by hate. I want everyone, including white supremacists, to feel truly human. By confronting white supremacy when I see it, I am loving people, even if it makes them angry or uncomfortable.
I once went to a yoga class and the teacher caught me staring at a guy who was doing a headstand (How could I not, right?). She told the class (and pointedly looked at me) to “Keep your eyes on your own mat.”
People of color, including Christians of color, are talking about their response- whether to punch or not. Believe me. They don’t need our input. We can trust them to do what God is telling them to do.
No, we need to keep our eyes on our own mat. We need to stay focused on the kicker. We have got to get better about calling out white supremacy where we see it. If your boss consistently passes over your coworkers who are POC for promotions, if your local police department stops and arrests POC disproportionately, if your dad doesn’t acknowledge the personhood of undocumented immigrants or gay people, if your state legislature is literally voting on a law that makes it legal to run over protesters who are standing in the street, then you need to be brave. That’s where we need you to expend your energy.
And, yep. It’s uncomfortable and risky and hard and far too easy for us to brush off, but that is why racism has been so persistent. There will always be a handful of true buttheads who are vocal and loud about their racism. But the vast majority of us remain silent about all of the ways that marginalized people are being kicked, which makes us complicit in the kicking.
Let’s speak up (in the right way to the right people).
(As always, I’m here to help. It’s not on POC to educate white people about racism. Some of them want to and that’s great, but no one owes it to us to explain their oppression. If you have questions, want resources, need support, I want to help you.)