It's not uncommon that you're quietly minding your own business on Facebook until the little sidebar scroll shows you that your friend commented on someone else's status, right?
Hmmm, I wonder what the status was, and what they wrote! Let me find out.... DUN DUN DUN.
That's how trouble starts. In this case, it was trouble, embarrassment, hurt, anger, growth.
So there I was chillin' on my couch during AB's nap back in her wee days and figured instead of doing all of the things I should have been doing: napping or catching up on life, I was going to mindlessly drone through my newsfeed.
I stumbled across my friend's comment on a status that had to do with some outrage regarding a white girl who wrote a blog about making Oakland her own so to speak, after having lived there for a year or what not. She details her first impressions and how she grew to love it and how she now feels a part of Oakland, Oakland a part of her etc. Anywho, that's the basic gist.
The contributors to this one specific thread were, I'd say about 95% black people, and from what I gathered (after), their anger had to do with the privilege of a white girl acting as though she could claim Oakland her own after a year, among other things... perhaps some issues with gentrification tossed in there as well if I'm recalling correctly. To them, they read it as a white girl picking and choosing the things that benefitted her about Oakland and then claiming she was so Oakland, which I think is where the problem began.
White girl here was like (in my head), the article wasn't problematic at all. All I saw when I read it was a story about a girl who had reservations and preconceived ideas about a city she then grew to love and find beauty in. K. That's what I read, or how I read it, so I was baffled as to such outrage over what seemed like a rather bland piece.
The comment that caught my eye in said Facebook thread/conversation was a woman saying: "White people, come collect your cousin." I've never heard of this phrase and little ol' me was like, how offensive! So of course I had to join the party and be like: WUT? To which the gal replied, "I guess I'm holding the keys to the library."
The "dialogue" that ensued was UGLY. I was unprepared. See, I rarely had conversations about race at all back then. I mean, I don't consider myself racist, so to me, there was no problem. Which is kind of the problem and I'll elaborate more on that later. The more I commented the more my comments were met with "stop playing the victim," "stop tone-policing," and a lesson on who can be considered racist and who can be considered to have a racial prejudice.
For example, I learned about institutional racism -- a pattern of social institutions — such as governmental organizations, schools, banks, and courts of law — giving negative treatment to a group of people based on their race. In this thread, when they were talking about racism, they were talking about institutionalized racism. I learned that when black people say they aren't racist (in this context) it's because they mean it from a perspective of who has the power. As a minority, even if they were racist, their views don't hold power over anyone in the same way the majority race does. In other words, they could absolutely hate white people with every grain of fiber in their being, but it wouldn't affect white people getting jobs, or living their lives because they are not in a position of power. So you phrase it as: they can have racial prejudice but it's not the same thing. I'm still learning how to say that in the right way, so hopefully I didn't butcher the point.
The thread continued for a few hours and it consisted basically of me, my white friend, and a whole bunch of black people who were schooling the fuck out of us. I mean, I didn't see it that way at the time. I was like: I want to learn and I'm trying to understand, and I'm not against you! But with each comment I wrote, what they heard was: I'm not willing to listen.
See, part of the problem with white privilege and being unaware of having privilege to boot, is that you don't even know of all the shit out there. I had no idea that tone policing was even a thing. Only in the last few years have I even heard of cultural appropriation and what it means. Even more recently am I even understanding intersectional feminism and what people mean when they say "white feminism." Me, with my own ignorance to my privilege was walking around for decades without having a clue on SO MUCH SHIT, because as a white person, these things don't affect me. So, when I entered this little thread with my "stop stereotyping white people" bullshit, I kind of deserved to have my ass beat. I see that now.
I didn't understand that then. I think I cried to my husband about everyone being mean when I was trying to understand and how they all needed to do a better job of their approach... which is laughable now. Why is it anyone else's job to cater to my preferred style of being informed? For real though. If I'm ignorant, why is it, in this particular case, black people's jobs to educate me on that ignorance, and if they are educating me in their own way... who am I to say: I don't appreciate how you're saying that? I mean, I was the asshat who inserted myself without invitation to their discussion and feelings on the article and attempted to basically tell them how they could and could not feel. I can understand why they were annoyed with me, didn't want to wear kid gloves to explain concepts they've been dealing with their whole lives, and didn't want to cater to me. Me. Me. Because why? Because it WASN'T ABOUT ME. I was not the victim! And instead of just shutting up and listening I kept attempting to defend myself, which gave everyone the opportunity to say, "white people always gotta be the victim." Which then made me want to defend myself more because I didn't get it!
It took me a long time after that situation to really understand what happened, or where I even went wrong. I kept thinking, I'm not racist, why was I being attacked? And it's not fair, and waaaaah me. UGH.
My point in writing this is that I learned that it's not my job to tell someone how or how not they're allowed to feel about injustices toward them, or about situations involving them, or about experiences they've had that aren't mine own. I don't get to tell you that you're overreacting when I've never been pulled over because of the color of my skin. I don't get to tell you how you should be having a conversation about race and racism in society when I wasn't even invited to the party. I don't get to tell you how you should feel after yet another blurry-lined shooting. I don't get to diminish your pain, frustration, and anger. I don't get to tell you what opinions you're allowed to have in response to an article just because my own perception is or was different. I learned how to pay attention to how different races are portrayed in the media. I learned that understanding my privilege is not about having white guilt. That's insulting. It's about acknowledging that there's still work to be done and we all have to step up to the plate, listen, and react together. The dialogue is out there. Tons of learning to be had but people don't like to get uncomfortable. It's inconvenient.
I learned that before talking, I should read. Read a lot. Follow conversations online about different situations and read the articles that analyze every perspective, written from people of all races and backgrounds. I learned that I should read the comment sections for different opinions and then research those. I learned that before I speak, it's my duty to inform myself to the best of my ability and that I need to be ok with being told I'm wrong or out of line if I am.
I learned that even though I don't like to feel embarrassed or foolish or wrong, that I've never once learned anything without a little stumble here and there.
I learned that I've never once been done wrong by listening.