You Showed Up For Sexism. Now Show Up For Racism.

racism
Self

Don’t quit. Racism ain’t gonna end itself.

If you were on social media last week, your feeds were heavy with women who have brought attention to the issue of sexual harassment with the “Me too” campaign. Behind every tweet and status update were untold, heart-wrenching stories of violation, broken trust, and betrayal.

In response and support for the #MeToo campaign, I composed a Facebook note which went viral. With over 2,400 likes and 1,500 shares (accredited and not), clearly, something about those words resonated.

What I did not say was: these words were taken verbatim from a program I developed to teach white people how to be allies to people of color, swapping out racism for sexism.

In the same way that every single woman you know has been subject to some form of sexual harassment from childhood on, every single person of color has been subject to racism from childhood on. For PoC, racism is not the aberration, it is the norm. Ask any PoC and you would hear stories echoing stories in an endless cacophony of oppression, dating back generations.


RELATED: An Angry White Man's Perspective On Being Black In America


The betrayal women felt as they posted their stories and heard the clear statement of silence from men they considered friends, lovers, colleagues, mirrors what PoC feel every single time one of us is slain at the hands of those charged with the authority of law:

When we watched Eric Garner choked to death on the street as he gasped over and over again “I can’t breathe”

When we saw ​Philando Castile bleed to death on Facebook live

 

 

When we saw police jump out of a car and shoot ​Tamir Rice in under two seconds

When ​Sandra Bland was taken into a custody from which she’d never return (because she’d been hung in a jail cell) over a routine traffic stop

When we watched police run into a Walmart and kill ​John Crawford for carrying a BB gun (in a state with open-carry laws)

When we protest, ​requesting only that you not kill us, and we are met with vociferous opposition. Peaceful public gatherings somehow merit shock troops. Colin Kaepernick took a knee, and the NFL rent itself asunder.

We die in the streets, and we bite our tongues until the taste of iron flavors every word we speak with blood, at the overwhelming silence from people we believed were our friends, in the face of our oppression.

We’ve lost track of the endless list of names. Every time we see a story of a noose being left on someone’s chair, or the N-word being scrawled on someone’s door —  which we accurately perceive as a prelude to physical violence — we feel it in our bones. And we are crushed but entirely unsurprised when the cycle of injustice continues.

And your silence. Quietly. Kills us.

We watched millions of women and their allies turn out worldwide to protest a president who is a known sexual predator, and we wonder: if those same millions had marched when Trayvon was killed, would Tamir still be alive?

If almost every PoC you know has had to deal with racism in some form, far more white people than are willing to admit have been guilty of racism at some point in their lives, yourself included. There’s a reason PoC step forward into the light and whites don’t step forward with them.


RELATED: 13 Horrific Photos That Prove Racism Is STILL A Problem Today


When millions tuned in to watch The Handmaid’s Tale and were horrified at a dystopian future they thought might be unfolding in real time 2017, it was in full ignorance of actual American history: willful erasure of a time when one hundred percent of the bodies of black women didn’t belong to them, where their names were taken from them, their families destroyed, where men were entitled to take sex from them in the most violent ways imaginable, where the children they bore to their rapists didn’t belong to them, where babies born of hate and brutality were given a deed of property instead of a birth certificate.

That already happened here. Slavery gave birth to peonage, which evolved into Jim Crow, which bore the industrial prison system.

If every woman who posted #MeToo — and every man who rightfully came out in support of them — could understand that it’s a fraction of what PoC go through in our country every day, maybe they’d start to see racism for what it really is.

The problem is: white supremacy advantages some to the detriment of others, the same way the interests of those who protected Harvey Weinstein for so long were served by looking the other way. Like sexism, racism is omnipresent for PoC.

Now, imagine being a brown woman.

The same way most men were silent, most white people will be silent, because silence is easier than dealing with the guilt of tacit complicity.

As my friend Gretchen Kelly wrote in her most excellent essay “Dear Men, This Is Why We’re Tired,” (which I highly recommend you read) you have no idea how f*cking exhausted PoC are. To quote her, substituting gender with race:

“Emotional labor is unseen. It’s the energy [PoC] spend managing [white people’s] feelings and emotions, making people comfortable, or living up to society’s expectations. The demeaning remarks. Belittling our intellect or experience or our right to be in the room. Talking to us like we’re children when we had to grow up at the age of 3 or 8 or 16... the assumption that we don’t know things when our knowledge of things unspoken would make your blood run cold. And still having to coddle your knowledge because we need our job, or our kid needs to play on your team, or we need our car fixed, or insert any f*cking reason because [we are fucking] tired.

It’s getting threats online. And every [PoC] you know who blogs or is involved in activism online also gets threats. It’s the fact that your friends have a detailed protocol they follow when harassment and threats become serious, and they’ll share it with you like it’s their grandmother’s [mac and cheese] recipe.

All of this makes us feel some kind of way... Tired. Angry. Frustrated. Fed up.

It’s the drip drip of everyday [racism] that is more on time than the trains and more relentless than [frat boys with a tiki torch].

It’s the exhaustion of not being believed. Of knowing that even the good [white people] may not believe our experiences until it’s corroborated by at least a dozen other [white people]. It’s the time we have to spend assuring [white people] that we know they’re not all like this. Again. And feeling equal parts sad and angry that it will take a whole chorus of us to explain it because one PoC’s words have never been enough and in these moments [white] feelings are more important than the shit we’ve lived with and the shit we’re still reeling from. We have to press pause to explain that we know it’s not all [white people]. We have to hold off on what we’re trying to say about [systemic racism] — that’s pretty f*cking important by the way — to massage [white] feelings. Again.

It’s the fact that when the [Jeff Sessions] of the world are exposed, we still have to moderate our tone and keep our emotions in check or we’ll be labelled [as angry brown people].

It’s the deafening silence of every [white person] who doesn’t call out another [white person] for the [n*gger joke]. Because every time you laughed or didn’t call [them] out or didn’t step in to intervene you became an enabler. Your silence makes you complicit.

It’s seeing that things don’t change. That these stories echo the stories of [Abner Louima]. It’s seeing that in [400] years the only thing that’s changed is [white people have] to pretend to care.

Some of the things that happen to us are inconveniences. But because they are so tied up in the big things and sometimes they are hints of the traumas we’ve collected, they register. Because they all live on the same spectrum of abusive behavior they aren’t easily dismissed.

What your bro sees as a joke, is our memory of what we’ve experienced or what our friends have whispered to us. Our lives and the onslaught of bullsh*t we put up with is your punchline. Even the small things take up time and energy. They make us pause and assess. They make us document or take screenshots or vent in private conversations with [other PoC] so we can not snap at the next [white person] that crosses our path because we’re tired.

[We are] tired of laboring under all of this.

This is a sickness of a culture that sees [PoC] as commodities. That sees us as punchlines. As unreliable witnesses to our own experiences. It’s the emotional toll of watching [white people] shake their heads but say nothing. It’s the emotional work we have to do to not be bitter or angry or hardened. It’s the multitude of ways we are co-opted by the society that encourages it, enables it and even glorifies it.

[White people], if you’ve been wondering why we’re in your face about it, why we have no more tolerance for dismissals and deflections, no more sympathy for your shock or surprise, why we won’t soothe your dismay or feed your ego when our bodies have been slandered, this is why.

Because we’re [so goddamned] tired."

White people, you’ve failed. Collectively. Own it. Apologize. Do better.

If you are angered at this attempt to have an open dialogue on institutional racism, if you feel attacked by knowing words you emphatically supported when you thought they were about sexism were initially written about racism, you’re probably the reason these words exist.

You cannot change a problem you refuse to acknowledge. All oppression is based on complicity. It isn’t enough to simply not be racist, you have to be actively anti-racist. Institutional racism would not be able to oppress PoC without the tacit support of white people.

With all of this being said, let’s try this again. Here’s your chance to demonstrate that you are a person who actually cares about PoC:

It’s past time white people assume the burden of dismantling systemic racism. If you’re wondering what you can personally do to demonstrate that you’re ready to do your part, here is the ally list as it appeared in its original form: 10 concrete steps you can take right away to help change the culture of white supremacy:

1. Listen to PoC.

Genuinely listen, without judgment or prejudice.

2. Listen HARDER.

3. Don’t insert your narrative.

4. Remember that you’re an ally, not a savior.

This is not about feeling good about yourselves.

5. SPEAK UP when you witness racism.

Take a stand, get in the face of a racist. Remember, silence is tacit approval.

6. SPEAK UP when no PoC are around.

Your racist friends need to hear from other white people that their behavior is intolerable. Remember, jokes are often a prelude to violence.

7. Do not expect PoC to educate you — educate yourself.

8. Do not expect PoC to trust you.

Trust is earned and PoC have a right to distrust white people, even and especially white people they know. Expect resistance.

9. It’s okay to make mistakes.

10. Don’t quit.

Racism ain’t gonna end itself.

Remember, if you stay silent when PoC are abused, it’s no better than if you are a man who says nothing when women are harassed. You’re complicit, and contributing to a system of oppression.

If you’re ready for this to end, if you’re willing to do your part; if you sign off on this, please consider yourselves: The Collective Of White People Dedicated to Ending White Supremacy.


RELATED: Why Being "Color-Blind" To Race Is Willfully Ignorant (And Racist)


Jackie Summers is an author and an entrepreneur: founder of JackFromBrooklyn Inc. and the creator of the award-winning Sorel Liqueur. A native New Yorker, he served as an Executive Editor for the Good Men Project. His work has appeared in Plate Magazine, Salon, Brooklyn Magazine, BestLife, and Alcohol Professor. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Author
Expert