One of the most unsettling things about having a platform where you discuss racism often is learning just how truly indifferent certain people really are to the oppression people of color face. Of course this isn’t unique simply to one group of people. I deal with people of all races and creeds coming to me and telling me that the things I discuss are silly and frivolous. “Just get over it” is a really common phrase I hear when discussing systemic racism. I’d love to pretend that I didn’t understand this and honestly the pathology of the people who feel this way is quite fascinating to me, but I know why they feel the way they do: They don’t care. Not only do they not care, but it’s more comfortable for them not to. In one of my previous blog posts I discussed how I felt when I really came to understand what racism really was in America. It was upsetting to me. It made me feel a sense of disgust for my country and for so many of the things around me. Being woke is a struggle because you start to see supremacy and oppression in almost everything. While you’d like to think that maybe, just maybe, you’re over reacting; the truth is that you really aren’t. You’re just hyper-aware now and it’s hard to enjoy anything when you are. So It’s easier for so many people to simply maintain the status quo of oppression and supremacy because it’s easier to do that than it is to actually criticize what’s presented to you. I think for white men, this is especially true.
White men in America benefit the most from the oppression of people of color. Where men of color are looked at with suspicious eyes, white men are the default. When narratives are written, unless it’s stated otherwise, the character is assumed to be white. While it’s easy to dismiss this observation of pop culture as a silly observation unworthy of consideration, it’s one of the most obvious examples of white supremacy in America. Whenever we have narratives that include more than 3 black characters, it suddenly becomes a “black” project. It’s not ever just a project, it’s a “black” project. But we don’t have the same reaction to projects with a mostly white cast (like most media). That project gets to stand on it’s own and stand alone. It simply is what it is. Its genre, without a need to specify. White men have the benefit of being seen as individuals, where as men of color are almost always qualified by their race. When you ask a white man about harmful stereotypes about white men, you won’t get anything that comes close to the stereotypes used against men of color. “They think I’m racist”, “they think I can’t jump”, “they think I can’t rap”. Things that are, honestly, quite trivial. But in the face of grave injustice against people of color, they will hold these stereotypes up as comparable, not even realizing just how offensive this is . I think being white and being a man in this country who is truly aware of how white supremacy has harmed not only just people of color, but also white men, is a challenge. I can understand how some white men struggle to understand these issues without feeling a sense of guilt. I never host these conversations or write these articles to make white men feel guilty. I don’t think that’s a very productive emotion. I would, however, like for more white men to be aware of how they benefit from the history of racism in this country that has maintained white supremacy and to become critical enough of themselves that they realize that regardless of how progressive they feel they are, they can be and are, still racist. That would require them to be more hyper aware of their actions and as I’ve said, that can be hard, especially when you feel like you’re being framed as the bad guy.
But don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel sorry for them, i can’t. Who I feel sorry for are the young children of color who learn at a young age that they will never be seen as an individual, but will always be qualified by their race and that to many people, that qualification is negative. As a woman of color, I know how this feels. I know how it feels to be uniquely aware, as a child, that you live in a society that views you as negative, by default because of your skin. That sees you as more likely to be guilty than innocent. You are never given the benefit of the doubt and even when you’re tolerated, as soon as you step out of line, you can feel the muttering of “I told ya so”. This is how most children of color learn to hate themselves and they will usually go far into adulthood before they’re able to step away from themselves long enough to realize that this is what society tells you, but it isn’t true.
By now we’ve all heard about Ahmed Mohamed, the 14 year old Muslim boy who built a clock for school who was arrested after they suspected that the clock was a bomb. The story is heartbreaking on many levels, but for me personally, I’m heartbroken by how the brilliance of a young man is viewed with skepticism and doubt because of his religion and his skin color. Watching the video of him after being arrested gives you a look into what he experienced being profiled at such a young age. If you look up information about his case now, however, you’ll see a slew of media outlets making light of what happened to him, some even claiming that it’s a hoax. You have to ask yourself, though, if they thought he had a bomb, why didn’t they evacuate the school? There are so many people giving the benefit of the doubt to the school’s Principle and the Teacher who reported him, but Ahmed doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. Children of color rarely do.
For the past few months of drama on my Facebook page, I ask myself over and over again: “Should I give white men the benefit of the doubt?”. I mean, my partner is a white man. I have to drag him from time to time, but for the most part, he’s very pro-black and very invested in fighting against racism. Part of me deprogramming how I was socialized is recognizing how I have an impulse to defend white men, often to my detriment. To be honest, I’ve been asking myself if white men, as a group, really deserve that.
Running the type of platform that I do, I see so much. I see so many things and a lot of it hurts me. I saw this photo above and to be honest, it hurt me. It hurt me for several reasons. It’s an almost perfect example of how I’ve seen so many white men handle conversations about racism: it’s all a game. In my experience as someone who hosts many conversations about race and racism, white men very rarely enter into my space to learn or to gain understanding. They always enter my space to win. To conquer, to defeat, to debate and to counter. They don’t care about my lived experiences, they’ve got rebuttals and faulty, uninformed arguments they often refer to as “logic”. They have a strategy, a plan, a pre-written check mate that they’re dieing to use on me. For white men these conversations are often entertainment, for me, it’s often a place of great pain. To think that someone heard this story, purchased tickets to a convention and then thought this was the most appropriate thing to wear in light of what happened is just… disappointing to me. While I’m critical about the taste of this costume, I think it also demonstrates a degree of cognitive dissonance that I also often see in these conversations. What I do learn from a lot of my white followers who reach out to me is that because of the bastions of whiteness they are often brought up in, there are just some things that they really don’t know. Some social graces that they don’t quite understand. And it’s not necessarily out of hate, but out of ignorance in the truest sense of the term. Then again, I have to stop myself from lending that too much validity because I have a hard time not seeing malice in something like this. If I’m being real, I think he knows what he’s doing, but he doesn’t care. One of thing that I have learned by having a white partner is just how racist things really get when people of color aren’t around. I live in Orange County, California. Where I live, it’s mostly white and very much a WASP-y type area with very few people of color. My boyfriend works with the people in this area and is always telling me about the casual racism that he hears when he’s dealing with his clients. When he was working in a restaurant, his co-workers were surprised that he had a black girlfriend and one of them even stated that he had “jungle fever”. From what he tells me, it’s very bold, but I’d never know it because it just doesn’t happen around me. I’m not trying to insinuate that all white people are that way, but it’s very clear to me that because so many white people do live in areas where they rarely interact with people of color, that some of these conversations just aren’t had. I have heard “nigga” so many times out of the mouths of white men with back turned caps in Orange County. It’s hard for me to believe that these people don’t know what they’re doing or saying.
When I posted the photo of the Ahmed cosplay to my facebook page, this was one of the responses:
“Seriously. … people dress up as osama bin laden and hitler and shit and yall worried about him basically lookin like flava flav…. wow…He gets to meet the president… he knew he was innocent. .. he wasnt mad now his life is changed for the better… learn the facts… and what if now the police are scared to make sure there isnt a bomb because people like you and a bomb goes off killing god knows how many people …..Im glad they checked him out… and even more happy on how they apologized and pay for his school help him invent ect… shit you can harras me anyday for a future of opportunities”
As people of color, we are expected to stomach and swallow the abuse we experience and celebrate the ways in which society seeks to amend their wrongs. Suddenly we should be happy that Ahmed was profiled because now people are supporting him for publicity and offering him things. We should be thankful for slavery, because at least we’re not in Africa. We should be thankful for racism and discrimination in America, because at least there’s Affirmative Action. They never want to address the cause, they simply want us to celebrate the “good” that’s come out of it. And often times, the “good” that comes out of it still benefits them.
The indifference of White Men makes me extremely uneasy, but I’m coming to never expect that they’ll understand. I tend to judge people on a case to case basis. I like to let everyone define themselves. However, I am never surprised when a white man struggles to see humanity in a person of color and what I’m learning in life right now is that it is not my job to prove my humanity to someone determined to see me as otherwise.