I’m tired of white women writing about racism

The research has been done. We know the facts. We know that the social construct called “whiteness” was created to make sure that the richest white men stayed rich and got richer and the rest of us would be beat down by their greed. We know that living in a brown-skinned body in the United States means you are in danger of violence on personal, emotional and state-sanctioned levels every single day.

We also know that we white people will come to some new awarenesses about structural racism, and then we will rename it and it will morph into something we can tolerate and nothing will really change. That is the history we have repeated since the first white abolitionists did the good work of helping slaves get some semblance of freedom. Periods of “ah-ha!” for some white people that fades away as soon as we can find a way to make ourselves feel better.

We don’t need more research. What we need is change; not only “difficult conversations” or book clubs. (We white people educating ourselves is good and important, but it is not enough.) We don’t need to find new language for the same discussions (see white privilege morph into white fragility, etc.).

I’ll be honest. Writing for this blog has been a challenge. I believe strongly in the idea that we white people should take up less space when it comes to racial justice work, including sharing information on the Internet. I’m annoyed by and tired of white women like me publishing essays and posts about our experiences related to racism.

How can I write about racism without centering on whiteness? What does that even mean? How can I be white and not center on whiteness? How can I write in public about racism without asking for the spotlight (the spotlight I don’t want, and think white people shouldn’t have)? There must be some use for my words on this blog, or I wouldn’t be asked to write here.

Changing the systems. What does that mean? I return again and again to this document Tema Okun’s “White Supremacy Culture.” Not only did it help me recognize how much of everything around us and within us—my culture, my family’s culture, my family history, the institutions we participate in—are ruled by white supremacy culture, but it also has “antidotes” under each description. This document is one of my touchstones. When I feel helpless to change the behemoth systems, I remember that on a personal level and within the organizations where I work and worship we are changing. Without a road map, we are trying to break out of and destroy whiteness. [BGIM note: At this time, Rhea Boyd, M.D.’s tweets are in protected mode so there’s a good chance you probably won’t be able to use the link immediately to the left effectively except to locate Dr. Boyd’s account and perhaps request access so that you can read the very excellent thread Heather links to. In the meantime, you could also read The Social Construction of Whiteness: Racism by Intent,Racism by Consequence or Abolish the White Race for some related thoughts]

Changing the systems also means building a caring society instead of a society built on greed. Healthcare, housing, education and employment for all; workplace regulations that provide sufficient wages and family leave policies; protection and expansion of voting rights; abolishing all prisons and police; moving from a me/them to an “us” way of life; saving the Earth from the environmental crisis (I suspect a sufficient “Green New Deal” could address all of these issues).

But I’m still stuck, writing this blog post. I’m still writing about me and my experience. And, yes, offline I think it’s fine that I do that when I’m with other white people. But online? How can I be useful in our shared struggle for liberation? How can I not be just another white woman who thinks she’s got something to say about racism? As I said to Shay (using the most popular metaphor in white women writing about racism circles these days), I feel like a kindergartner trying to write about calculus. I’m tired of listening to (people like me) try to tell us what to do, taking up space. Black and Indigenous people of color are the experts, and I’d rather listen to them.

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Buttigieg’s mediocrity reveals racism in his supporters

There’s a phrase that comes to mind when I consider Pete Buttigieg: “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Of course, the phrase has a complicated history; I don’t mean it in the way it was originally used. When I use it here, I mean that Pete Buttigieg is milquetoast mediocrity and I am confident that white people’s support of him is based in racism.

Why do I think white people’s support of Buttigieg is based in racism? For two reasons. First, he is not well-qualified for the position of the president of the United States of America. He’s only been a semi-successful mayor of a relatively small city; he’s had no federal experience. And, second, his policy ideas are so “centrist” they’re practically Republican.

Why are those reasons racist? Here’s where the soft bigotry of low expectations, or maybe “dancing backwards in high heels“ comes into play. We white people have extraordinarily high expectations for candidates of color. Na’ilah Amaru, policy strategist and Iraq veteran, said it well, discussing Kamala Harris leaving the campaign, “…women of color understand from our own lived experience: We must be twice as good for half the opportunity—and even then, that may not be enough.”

The fact that he is even being considered a serious candidate with so little experience is an example of how low the bar is for white men. The current president is another example, of course. The candidates who are people of color all have so much more experience than Buttigieg, but the bar for them is higher. Most of the candidates of color also don’t have the connections to global consultancy firms like McKinsey & Company for fundraising opportunities (most of which are closed to the press). So, yes, supporting Pete Buttigieg is racist because he’s not as qualified as most of the other candidates and apparently that doesn’t matter to you; for you, it’s enough that he’s a book-smart white man.

The other reason that supporting Buttigieg is racist is because his policy ideas are almost exclusively non-threatening. Nothing he is suggesting requires radical change in our white supremacist systems. He doesn’t support Medicare for All and he wants to increase military spending, for example. Here’s a good example of how wishy-washy and not-radical he is, when asked about a wealth tax: “I think we certainly need to consider a higher marginal tax rate for top income earners. Maybe it doesn’t have to be as high as it was historically, but we should at least admit that when it was higher, the American economy was growing pretty well. We should consider a wealth tax.” Notice that he’s not saying we should do it, only that we should consider it but not at too high a rate. That’s how he talks about anything approaching actual change. He uses lots of subtle cues to appease more conservative or wealthy voters.

I will also freely admit that I don’t trust him because none of the Black people I know on- or offline trust the guy; there’s plenty of press coverage about his lack of support among Black voters. I don’t think all Black people are always right, but the overwhelming dislike of this candidate by Black people is something I take seriously.

Plus, racism is rampant in South Bend. 26% of the people in South Bend, Indiana are Black but 0% dollars of the government contracts have gone to Black-owned businesses. There is a consistent lack of support from Black and Latinx voters in his small city. Referring to Buttigieg’s “1,000 homes in 1,000 days“ project, “[B]lack and Latino residents panned the aggressive blight eradication project that put local homeowners at the mercy of inflexible bureaucrats, did not incorporate community voices and concerns as much as it should have, and cast the pall of gentrification on those neighborhoods.”

The fact is, I can’t prove that you like Buttigieg because he’s white and doesn’t threaten to radically change anything. I’m sure you have reasons that make sense to you. But as Rafia Zakaria writes in “Why is Kamala Harris gone while Pete Buttigieg is still here?“ “while there is no direct evidence (there never is) [emphasis added] that a combination of race and gender hastened the end of the Harris candidacy, it is true that all the front-runners left in the democratic field are white.” I believe the same reasoning holds true for why I’m confident that white people’s support of Buttigieg is racist. As Gabrielle Gurley of the Prospect says, “Contemporary problems cannot be willed away with an earnest demeanor, good intentions, and a plan named for a fabled abolitionist by someone who has shown himself completely unqualified to sweep away the detritus of the country’s original sin.”

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Crying over spilled water? It’s more than that when it comes to interracial interactions

Last May, I attended an event called “Telling the Truth: Exploring the Heart of Cross-Racial Conversations.” At this event, Shay Stewart-Bouley (our own “Black Girl In Maine”) and a white author named Debby Irving modeled for the audience what it is like to discuss issues related to race across racial lines.

The weekend before this event, Shay and Debby had been hired to speak at the Seattle Equity Summit. Before she and Shay went on stage, Debby was sitting in the audience with a little plastic cup full of water sitting at her feet. The water spilled in the hubbub of people moving around. She did not clean up the water or even acknowledge the spill to the person next to her before she went on stage. When Debby was on stage with Shay, that Black woman who had been sitting next to Debby publicly called her out for her water getting on her personal belongings and framing this as racist.

At the May event, Shay and Debby talked about the experience they had in Seattle. Shay explained how disappointing and infuriating it was to be let down, once again, by another white woman. Debby explained how it had taken her a while to come to understand her thoughtless behavior as “racist.”

Now, spilled water may seem a small thing, but it is bigger than that. The issue isn’t that spilling the water was racist per se. As I understand it, the impact of Debby’s thoughtless behavior with the glass of water was more than that one action. It was a whole history of white women treating Black people as less-than. Her actions were racist not only because they were inconsiderate to a group of mostly Black and brown bodied people, but because it was yet another example of white women expecting people of color to clean up after white people. Also, a presumption that “mere water” isn’t a big deal (and yet what might have been in the other’s woman’s bag that might have been ruined by moisture—this is something that hadn’t occurred to Debbie in that moment or even in the hours and days following having her actions labeled racist).

The fact is that it is easy for white people to disregard the feelings of people of color, particularly Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC). Doctors routinely assume Black people have higher pain tolerances and employers routinely assume people of color won’t “fit into” their workplaces or won’t be as good at a job as a white person no matter what their resume says otherwise. And this is an example of when an entire group is complicit, because most of us white people do things like this often without thinking about it. Cutting off non-white people more readily in lines, for example, or making assumptions about them.

Now, sure, you can say that treating white people as a monolith and talking about how we are all a lot like Debby in thoughtless racism is wrong. You could argue that Shay, for example, shouldn’t be seen the spokesperson for all Black people or that Black people shouldn’t be judged by the crimes of a minority of other Black people because Black people are not a monolith. You would be right, but there is a distinction to be made here: BIPOC move in a world that not only assumes the worst of them, but also holds them responsible for every tiny mistake they (or even others like them) might make.

To point out the racism of white people even in seemingly small actions and indicting the whole group, to a certain degree, isn’t some kind of “reverse racism” here. White women like me haven’t had to fear negative consequences of our racist behavior most of the time. The fact is, if I am thoughtless in public it is safe to assume I am supporting white supremacy. I am a part of the group that has consistently behaved in racist ways, so my behavior carries the history of my group. This awareness helps me as I practice being in the world in more thoughtful and considerate ways.

One of the reasons I recommend you hire Shay if you need a speaker or a consultant on issues of race and related social issues is that if you’re anything like me, you know we white people need a lot of practice being with Black people and many other people of color. We need to shed our fear of making mistakes; we need to break free of our desperate need for approval, too. We need to realize that as a group, white people have indeed made a terrible system filled with racism and we need to own that, as well as to stop blaming other groups for the damage and hurt they incur from that system.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

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