Below are my responses and experiences of participating in Layla Saad’s #meandwhitesupremacy 28 Day Challenge: Days 2-4
I’m working through these faster than one per day because I started like 10 days into her challenge.
Day 2: What Have You Learnt About you and White Fragility?
So, white fragility isn’t something that I relate to as much, but maybe that’s an indication that I have work to do here? I don’t really get upset when people bring up race and I feel comfortable talking about it. I try to defer to POCs on the topic, but I also make an effort to never ask them to participate or put them on the spot. I just want to make sure to listen when they speak. As a teacher and researcher, I work with a lot of ethnic literature and I read a lot of texts on race studies. I’m actually writing my dissertation on Xicanisma and Anzaldua—so I’m definitely in a different space from many white people in regards to race discussions.
I do have a lot of people in my life whose white fragility embarrasses me, including close friends and family members. I’ve unfriended and been unfriended because people’s white fragility is just too much. I don’t want to be around people or even reading the work of people who aren’t willing to take a closer look at how they interact with POC.
My first thought when I saw the prompt on White Fragility was one family member who continuously tells me “I’m not prejudiced, but…” It drives me crazy on so many levels and I know I’m giving into White Silence when I don’t argue with her. Just say the word racist and admit that maybe you are a little (or a lot). Everyone struggles with dismantling social norms we were raised with. The shame is in refusing to do it or acting like you’re a victim when people ask you to do it.
I hope that I’m not one of those fragile white women, but I know I can be sometimes. Anytime I catch myself about to say or do something that could qualify, I stop myself. I know that I am in need of constant conversion and constantly taking a closer look at how I interact with others. I hope that helps.
Day 3: What Have You Learnt About you and Tone Policing?
Man, Tone Policing. So, as a teacher who teaches a lot of ethnic literature to college kids, I have found my students will often start tone policing and I’ll catch myself entering the conversation without even realizing it. I really need to work on pointing out not only to myself, but to my students that what we’re doing is tone policing. I remember one specific time when I assigned a reading from An Indigenous People’s History of the United States and I let some of my students, who were very uncomfortable with the tone, make an argument about how the author’s message would have been better heard if they had used a less angry tone. This is a comment I hear all the time in regards to texts about race. But why shouldn’t these authors be angry? They have every right to be. This is their message and they can tell it the way that feels comfortable to them.
I think I used to discount what people said because of how they said it and I associated intelligence with grammatical correctness. I will sometimes still catch myself doing that and I’m so ashamed of it. I hate that we are socially trained to think that intelligence and language skill are the same thing and the expectation that people who are oppressed should just ask nicely for the oppression to stop. This. Does. Not. Work.
I still have space to grow in tone policing. I have noticed lately that I’m more likely to listen to the angry, bitter, and/or loud voices and discount the quiet ones. I’ve given into and accepted the stereotype of the angry, loud black (or Latinx, Indigenous, and others) woman and I’ve begun to expect that. I listen to the social justice warriors and the activists and the people shouting at rallies. I know that there are voices I’m missing because of that and, even worse, there are people who I hear that I think, “If they really cared about it, they would sound more angry.” No. EVERY story is valid and I need to hear them and not assume because they’re not shouting that they’re okay.
Day 4: What Have You Learnt About you and White Silence?
Of the three prompts I’m doing today (Days 2-4), White Silence has to be the most challenging for me to look closely at. I am so guilty of it. I’m a naturally quiet person, especially around groups of people other than my close friends or students. And even among close friends and family, I am silent when I hear things that make me rage inside.
I have often told myself that my silence is acceptable because these are people I could not convince. What point is there in speaking up to the people who watch Fox news 24/7? What can I possibly say to convince them that racism is more than just “disliking people for their skin color?” What can I possibly do to convince them that immigrants are human beings or that their pro-life ideals and their racism cannot possibly exist together? Should I speak up? I feel like I should, but then I get scared or I don’t want to fight or I want to keep the peace in the family or I feel like I owe this person because of some kindness they have done for me so I stay silent.
I’m incredibly bad at confrontation. When I talk about systemic racism and people try to shut me down, the only time I am able to respond with confidence is if the conversation is online. And even then, I will write and rewrite my response multiple times. I get scared to speak up or clarify my original point, afraid that I’ll misspeak or sound stupid or simply lose a friend.
I can remember one specific time when I was talking with a friend. He was a conservative Christian and at the time I was madly (and unrequitedly) in love with him. He brought up the topic and started complaining about how “social justice warriors” (a name that I proudly accept, but he meant as an insult) are talking about systemic racism and how that isn’t real. I sat there quietly, thinking about the lecture on systemic racism my director gave when we were covering the Xicana movement in one of her classes. I should have spoken up. I should have said, “No, here, think about it like this…” He may have listened. We were close at the time. But no, I was quiet because I didn’t want to argue and I genuinely believed he was more intelligent than me and would figure it out eventually. Over two years later and he still hasn’t.
I have not really had opportunities to stand up for a POC being harassed somewhere in public, but I have definitely had opportunities to challenge people who were being racist, both intentionally and unintentionally. I know that I have failed in this many times. I hope that my writing can make up for some of my silence and that I’ll speak if a person of color is ever being targeted or threatened in my presence. I hope that someday I’ll gain the courage to speak up even in a room of white people. I hope that I’ll speak up so that others know I disagree, so that the next generation learns how wrong this all is. Until then, I suppose I can rightfully be called a coward. I’m so sorry. I want to do better. I will do better.
I'll be back with more responses to the challenge soon.