I wrote about the experience and received an outpouring of support. Friends and strangers alike helped report the really disturbing tweets. People emailed and left messages of support, and shared my post on their facebook accounts. It was even written up in the parenting section of the New York Times’s website.
But all of this attention had some unintended consequences for some of my friends.
I am blessed to be in relationship with a tribe of strong and smart black women . . . women who are doing the work of anti-racism every day, and who are very vocal in telling both their own stories and the stories of others who have encountered systemic racism. They’ve been fighting this fight for years, both publicly and privately (because when you navigate life as a person of color, you don’t get to just take a break from racism by closing the computer screen.) These women have strong voices and have sounded the battle cry to fight racism over and over again. And much of that has been met with complacency, silence, or even outright denial. They’ve been ignored. They’ve been questioned.
They’ve been asked to produce proof.
And then here is a white woman, having what is really her first major encounter with direct racism, who is immediately believed, championed, and supported.
It was hurtful. It wasn’t my intention, and it wasn’t the intention of my supporters. But the contrast of our community’s reaction to my own story of racism vs. their own? Was painfully clear. I was immediately believed. There was swift outrage and action. And that has not been the case for them.
This whole incidence was started by white supremacists, but what it revealed was the more insidious nature of racism. Sure, blatant racists are a problem. But these people are outliers. White supremacists are a dying breed of ignorance, and are disdained by the general population. The more pervasive form of racism in this decade is not idiots on twitter shouting the N word. It’s the subtle but ever present elevation of the white experience over the black experience. It is the sympathy and support afforded to me, as a white woman, that is not always offered to people of color.
I want to be clear: I’m not scolding anyone for supporting me in the midst of this harrassment. It meant more than I can ever say. The support I received was hugely encouraging and really kept me sane in the midst of an insane ordeal. However, I do want to encourage everyone to take inventory. If mine was the first blog post about racism you ever shared on facebook, why is that? If you supported me, I am so grateful. But I will also ask that you make sure that you are supporting people of color, whose stories are plentiful and who have dealt with far more of this, both online and off. When you hear their lived experiences, offer them the same lack of skepticism that was offered to me. Believe them. Hear their pain. And be outraged with them.
Several months ago, I came across a photo of a painting that my friend A’driane Nieves did. It was shortly after the Sandra Bland incident, and I felt that the painting so strongly embodied the silencing of black bodies, and in particular black women, and the pain inherent in that. I wanted to have in in my home, both because I think it’s a beautiful work of art, but because I wanted a daily reminder of the solidarity I want to extend to my black sisters, so I reached out to A’driane to see if I could buy it. Ironically, this painting arrived at my house in the midst of this whole ordeal, and just as I was processing the pain that this had inadvertently caused to some of my friends, including A’driane, who were kind and brave enough to be vulnerable with me about their perspective and experience.
This painting means even more to me now.
I realize that blatant racists are an easy target in the fight against racism, but they aren’t the main target. The main target is much more subtle and insidious . . . it’s racism without the racists. It’s the system of privilege that makes my tears more synpathetic to white people because of the color of my skin. It’s the pervasive and subtle everyday racism that people of color live with every day. Let’s push back against that.
To learn more ways to engage in anti-racism work, check out Black Lives Matter, The Southern Poverty Law Center, Color of Change, Public Allies, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Black Youth Project, and Dream Defenders.