Over the past few years, I’ve become extremely passionate about the subject of racism in America. In large part that is because of going to college and taking Black Studies courses that shocked me to my system. When my father suggested to me as a teenager that I take Black Studies courses in college, I was annoyed by the idea. I was raised in the 90s; a time where every kids television show had a diverse cast of almost every color. I was taught in school that acknowledged race is racist. I learned that specifying or recognizing someone’s race is racist and well into adulthood this is what racism meant to me. Then I took a writing course in College that was specifically about lending voices to people of color who were trying to create their own narratives about being a person of color in America. I didn’t take the class because I thought the subject was necessary or good. I took the class because I thought it was going to be easy and that since I was black, I was bound to get a good grade. In the space of a semester, this class started to make me uneasy. Not the writing bit, the writing bit was fun and I’ve always been complimented on how I write. The parts of the class where we discussed the history of racism in America… that’s what made me uneasy. Learning that what I learned in public schools was watered down, white washed and downplayed made me upset. It made me upset because I slowly came to understand that I’d been told half truths. I can’t say that I was lied to, but I wasn’t told the full extent of the truth and that angered me.
On my platform, i try to have informed conversations about racism that relate the fact that these things aren’t taught in schools. I don’t even remember reading about the Pequot massacre that gave America the reason to celebrate Thanksgiving. I don’t remember reading about how the same church where Dylan Roof shot 9 black people had been burned to the ground by white supremacists in 1822. I don’t remember reading about how the war on drugs started largely as a way of attacking Chinese Americans. I didn’t remember reading about how the Irish became white through supporting anti-black unions and how they and several other groups assimilated into whiteness; or even further that whiteness is a legal construct. I didn’t learn these things in school. I didn’t learn the full extent of racism in this country and as and adult I now know that I didn’t learn it because how could I grow to become a patriotic adult if I knew all of the dark and divisive things that America has done to people of color since first stepping foot on this continent? We are fed a version of history that allows us to know some of what happened, but never everything because the truth is too painful and would cause too many people to become critical of how great of a country this actually is.
What I have learned bringing this conversation to people is just how unprepared people, especially white people, are to have this conversation. It is so much easier for everyone to simply maintain the status quo of what we’ve learned and to never really challenge ourselves to know the truth or to understand our history to prevent the same things happening in the future. The post below is what inspired this post.
I have a lot of white followers and I love them for the most part. For some reason, my white followers are a bit surprised when they follow me on Facebook and see how often I discuss racism. While yes, I am a feminist, I am a woman, and I am transgender, before I am anything I am black. My blackness has always been a part of me that has been recognized before anything else and it’s always the things used against me when someone wants to be petty. Frankly, the issues I face as a trans person are a thing of the past for me. I would be completely dishonest if I sat here and tried to formulate some sort of oppression I experience as a woman who is read as cis in most situations who’s had her name and gender marker changed legally free of charge. I live an extremely privileged life as a trans person, but I’m still a black woman and I’m that above all else. So what I discuss when I’m having a stream of consciousness rant ,as I usually do on facebook, will probably relate to that. And I understand how a white person wouldn’t want to hear that, but I’ve worked since a teenager to build my platform to where it is now and before I want to uplift and empower any of the numerous groups I embody, I want to support, uplift and promote black women. This disappoints my white followers who usually perceive me as firm yet patient. And honestly, I am patient.
I patiently sit and explain myself over and over again to white people who enter into my space with disrespect and hatred on their lips. I have dealt with racist microagressions all my life and I’ve accepted them as a part of my reality so much that I can’t take them seriously; but I call a white person a “white person” and suddenly, I’m the racist. What I found fascinating about the comment above is that they came to me and prefaced their point by saying that they loved and supported me and then proceeded to attempt to invalidate my positions and my message. She said that I’m right about so much, but I’m wrong about racism. A white woman who will never walk my walk decided that she was an authority on what is and isn’t an experience of mine. I think most people can understand and see what’s wrong with that, but this is actually a very common pathology that I see on my page. The white experience in America has given so many white people this sense of entitlement that I think most people of color can see is really inappropriate, but I’ve accepted that your average white person simply doesn’t see it. I wouldn’t dream of telling someone what their life is about, but all too often am I told by white people on my page how my life must be. All too often these white people feel that they have some degree of superior knowledge that I must respect and listen to. All too often they come to me and tell me that I need to conduct myself a certain way if I’m to be taken seriously. Of course I have thousands of followers, a nearly fully booked speaking schedule and currently make my living having these conversations, but they are still convinced that I need their advice and their direction if I’m to be taken seriously. There’s this thing I’ve noticed with so many white people where they feel like my validity begins once they acknowledge it that I am valid. What I seek to do as a black woman and as so many other things is to communicate that we need no one to be valid, our words are precious and positions justified. We do not need to qualify ourselves to majority groups. Trans people do not need the seal of approval from cis people and black women do not need the seal of approval from white society. So I make sure to communicate to these people that I don’t need nor do I want their approval or agreement because I will continue to be great with or without them.
What I’ve learned having this platform and what I’m having to constantly remind myself of is that not everyone is ready to receive the message. I waste so much of my time trying to break through to white people and to help them understand what to me are relatively simplistic concepts. I create videos, I create animations, I write, I draw pictures, I do everything I can to break through to them but they simply do not want to hear it. So I’ve stopped holding out home for them because some people are determined to keep things how they are. Fortunately, I have a lot of white followers who really value me as a resource and every single day I get a ton of emails from people that I’ve helped understand these conversations more and more. I can’t waste my time with people who refuse to hear what’s being said and will tell me to instead see things from their perspective. When you’re Black in America, you’re taught in many ways to cherish the white perspective over your own. To make yourself small so that the white perspective can flourish. To appeal to whiteness as a means of pursuing success in life. And frankly, part of deprogramming anti-blackness is realizing that you don’t have to sacrifice your humanity for the comfort of white people. They will disregard my perspective to reinforce the mainstream narrative. White perspectives are rarely denied or rejected. They’re alway seen as default and valued even within a black space. You can’t say the same about black perspectives and as a black woman with a voice, I refuse to stop speaking about what I want to speak about because white women would prefer I support and think about them. There will always be people out there that support what you’re doing. Criticism is great and it’s healthy, but I’m learning to recognize the divisiveness in these comments that want me to, once again, recenter white narratives above my own. This is my platform. This is my story. And I will tell it how I please and I don’t care if Rebecca doesn’t purchase a copy.
Frankly, these conversations are very emotionally taxing for me. It’s very painful to simply list of historical fact and then hear them say “ok cool, but get over it” over and over again. I’m learning to accept that some people will never break out of their ignorance because they don’t want to. I can’t really blame white people for not wanting to deprogram something they benefit from.