How it began
A couple of weeks ago I came across a post in one of my Facebook groups about a new show on HBO called Insecure. It’s in it’s second season and is written by and stars Issa Rae, a millennial black woman. It’s about her experience being a black woman in LA and the part that was up for discussion was that someone had found the fake website for the fake nonprofit that Issa works at called We Got Y’all.
I had been reading the recaps on Awesomely Luvvie, but hadn’t actually brought myself to watch the show yet. Downtime for watching TV is getting easier to come by, but it’s still not in ready supply and I don’t have a ton of brain space for a new show.
I finally started watching it last week and it is hilarious and poignant and interesting right off the bat. I watch an episode every few days, so I’m only up to #3.
I had this sort of humbling realization while I was watching it: There are whole parts of black culture I know absolutely nothing about.
I sort of eyeroll at that one, but I had always had this perception that because all of the proclivities of white people are not only known but readily commented on, then other non-dominant cultures must be fairly transparent also.
Then I watched Insecure and learned about the intricacies of dating in the black community, heard words used in particular ways (I had no idea what the expression “come thru” meant before Insecure, not that I have a context to ever use it), and the weird interplay of pass/pressure the token black woman in a white organization feels.
At the same time I read a series of articles on the current political and social climate including this doozy from Ta-Nehisi Coates on The Atlantic. It outlines in almost painful detail how we got to the point where Donald Trump could be elected President. All of it is stuff you’ve likely read before if you’re a politically-minded liberal, but having it laid out from start to finish in such a deep analysis was overwhelming. I had the desire to stop at many points, but kept going anyway, like when I eat rich chocolate cake and have had too much and not enough at the same time.
Finally, my friend sent me this article about the rise of white supremacy in the suburb of Seattle we live in. I had seen some of this attitude show up in the interactions I had had at the local coffee shop or at the library, but this codified it for me in a way I was not expecting.
I posted this article in two of my online mom groups. One had a really thoughtful discussion about the impact of raising our kids in this environment including POC moms’ describing their experiences with this sort of behavior. Some helpful scripts got laid out for how to handle the common refrains we hear from folks who don’t recognize systemic racism and the patriarchy.
The other online mom group removed my post because it named a politician explicitly. I didn’t know this was part of the guidelines, so I posted in the group saying “Hey mamas. I posted an article in here a bit ago about racism showing up in Burien. I posted it because I have been told by friends that we live in a “blue bubble” and don’t see much of the problems experienced in other parts of the country. I live right on the edge of White Center and Burien and feel gaslit when I am told this since my experience is so different. It was removed by admins because it specifically called out some political figures, which is against the guidelines. I posted it publicly to my FB page if you want to click over and read it and will gladly send it on to anyone who would like to see it.”
Fortunately/unfortunately, I got a lot of responses. Most of them reaffirming or supporting the notions of the articles and a lot of comments about the silencing behavior of the administrators around this issue.
All of this has collided together to cause a little stirring in me. The stirring that comes from things in your blind spot becoming visible.
Ok, so I didn’t know about Black culture, I didn’t fully understand the implications and history of our country that made Trump president, and I didn’t know the truth about white supremacy in my own backyard…what did that say about how I might be contributing to systems of oppression? How might I be upholding white supremacy? How might I like white supremacy? How much was I willing to change? Do I even know how to change?
I think this is truly a process of awakening, one that I don’t think I’ll ever have enough of.
It is, appropriately, uncomfortable.
I was already aware of how I might pass judgment on someone based on their gender expression, skin color, ability, but I didn’t know how I might actually like the ability to do that. Not in a super villain hand wringing kind of way, but just that I might enjoy the privilege that comes from others’ oppression and recognizing how ok or not ok I am with that.
Hint: So far I’m not ok with it.
So now I’m doing a little more internal work than I was before. (Oh, good. More.) I used to be a liberal who posted my Jezebel and Vanity Fair articles with pithy comments. I would gently, though secretly gladly, point out concepts that caused oppression for others. Recent example: I got cursed out by a woman in a FB group who said she thought it was “unprofessional” for teachers to wear leggings. I commented about policing women’s bodies with a casualness that only comes with a sense of superiority. I also felt superior when I clicked the “Report” button after her bullying tirade.
I mean, I’ll still do that. But my hope is that I can continue to do the difficult work of not only saying “Hey, you over there! You’re being oppressive!” but do the even more difficult work of examining my behavior and changing it. And not only examining my behavior, because I think we can easily get complacent with just acknowledging oppressive tendencies, but also maybe examining how I like or benefit from the oppressive behavior. This is the part of the equation I don’t think white people talk about enough. We talk about OTHERS who like white supremacy, the others who carry swastikas and wear hoods, but rarely do I hear white people talk about our own conscious or unconscious desire to uphold white supremacy.
So, that’s what’s been up lately. I’ve realized I’m a racist beyond just a cursory naming in hopes of actually dismantling some of this stuff.