So now I know.

Recently I had an issue arise in which the support of others would have been helpful.  So I e-mailed a select few, briefly explained the situation and asked a few questions.  I was hoping that a few of them would add their voices to my concerns.

The short list included people whom I know well enough to have had over to my house, including one white person who has been over numerous times.

I got one response.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but the response came from a Chinese American.  Who incidentally is probably the person I know least well on the list.

The thing is, I knew when I was writing the e-mail that I was taking a risk.  I talk to white people about being “kicked out of the club.” It’s the moment that they realize that speaking up about race or racism distances them from other white people.  It’s when they find out that other white people won’t necessarily support them when they raise issues of racism.  I have tried to be empathic with them as they struggle with the perceived loss they suffer when doing what’s right means being ostracized.

I try to have compassion because the Now Me knows how the Then Me felt.  The Then Me often didn’t speak up.  The Then Me was somewhat passive aggressive.  The Then Me would quit a job rather than deal with repeated acts of racism, even when those acts weren’t directly aimed at me.

Then Me realized this was suicide.

Then Me knew that typically nobody would speak up if I didn’t.  And Then Me knew that I couldn’t live a lie.

So what are the risks and rewards of being anti-racist?  I feel funny writing “risks” (I was “taking a risk”),  just as I wrote “perceived loss” a few paragraphs ago.  I wrote that white people suffer a “perceived loss” when they are ostracized by other white people, because I would like to believe that it’s not a loss when you find out who other people truly are.  Or when you find out who you are yourself.

Then Me was a silent person.  Now Me has a voice.

I realize that this voice means that sometimes I will not Win Friends and Influence People.  Recently I was introduced by a MTALF (more than an acquaintance, less than a friend) to a white person who talked on and on about how people in her community invest in their children and are involved in their education.  The implicit, unspoken message was about Those People who are not.  I waited while she talked about how great it was that parents volunteered and they showed up at school performances.

And I said, “It’s a function of wealth.”  I added a couple of quick, short sentences about working in the public schools in poor communities.  (One of the schools had a nearly empty library.  A beautiful space with only about a quarter of the shelves filled.  A print encyclopedia from 1957.)

Well, that was a conversation-stopper if I ever saw one.  It obviously made the white people in the group distinctly uncomfortable.  And then the subject was abruptly changed.

Now Me thought, “Ha ha ha ha ha!”  afterwards.

Okay, I admit it.  Sometimes I just feel so relieved to speak my truth that I could care less about how it is received.  And I know that if people are put off by discussions of race and racism, I probably didn’t want to be their friends anyway.

It’s a little more difficult if you have already begun establishing that friendship.

A friend and I once discussed how sometimes you can be in the company of a white person whose company you enjoy.  And the subject of race comes up.  And you’re frantically thinking, “Oh please, don’t say something stupid!  Don’t say something stupid!” Which kind of belies the notion that people of color are always looking for racism.

It is perhaps easier to float a little social fantasy in which the white people you encounter share your anti-racist views.  That little fantasy can exist only until the subject comes up.  And then you know.

The reality is that I was never in the club to begin with.

And now I have a better idea of who my friends really are.

So why do I feel like a part of me would rather not know?

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24 thoughts on “So now I know.

  1. I think most white people have to lose some friends to start getting over that fear. I know I was nervous saying anything race-related around my friends because some of them wouldn’t get it (well, a lot of them wouldn’t get it, but most of those would be open to hearing about it and learning – the people I’m referring to are those that don’t get it AND get all upset/defensive about it). Then I lost a few friends who decided that I was getting too “PC” or something, and after that I just stopped caring. I came to the place where I don’t give a shit if people don’t want to be my friend. Maybe at some point they’ll start learning on their own and we can be friends then; if not, then there’s plenty of more enlightened people to spend my time with, rather than someone who’s constantly going to be upsetting me by saying stupid things, and also making me ashamed of myself by proxy.

    Although maybe I’m lucky that I do live in a somewhat more educated area (Toronto) – there’s still a lot of racism, but it’s not like I’m the only white person in my area who’s open to learning about racism, so it’s possible for me to find friends who are learning about this as well. It might be different if being open meant that I didn’t have any friends at all IRL. I might be shyer about it then. I’d like to believe that I’d prefer to be a complete social outcast rather than accepting injustice, but I have no real way of knowing unless I was actually in that situation.

    The reality is that I was never in the club to begin with. And now I have a better idea of who my friends really are. So why do I feel like a part of me would rather not know?

    Maybe because when we’ve made an emotional investment (of time, of trust, etc) in people who we thought were more enlightened than they actually are, when they fail us it feels like we’ve lost a lot more?

  2. Because you’re human and it hurts to trust over and over again and be hurt over and over again.

    I wish sometimes that I’d never developed any kind of political consciousness, but most of the time I feel like it’s better to understand and to live my truth. It fucking hurts a lot though, and it’s hard on family and friend relationships.

  3. Thank you for this post.

    It sucks to be disappointed in folks, double sucks to have that anticipation of disappointment when you have already come to enjoy another’s company (“Oh please jesus don’t let them say something stupid.”). In my experience with speaking out, it feels a hell of a lot better to have that conversation than to say nothing and not feel like an ally. Better to be disappointed in someone else than myself no matter how friggin’ hard it is.

    I’m hoping Future Me will have a much easier time with all this.

  4. I admit I currently have no white friends, and an not ashamed to admit I’m totally ok with that. And it’s not that I’m consciously against developing friendships with white people (however, I also don’t believe in creating friendships just to prove your diverse.) I’ve had white friends, but the issue is that race was always a factor and that created an uncomfortable feeling for me. Whether it was making their racist jokes and it being cool because I was like their voucher or just not being able to relate to issues regarding race. So when I hear of white people being uncomfortable by race I have to laugh because I don’t think they really get it. I’ve been told it’s because I’m too sensitive or reading into things too much blah blah.
    Bottom line, I believe as humans we make conscious decisions to foster and develop friendships/relationships with people who we can relate to and are comfortable with.

  5. Though I have many friendly aquaintances of colleagues who I have a friendly relationship with, I have very few white friends. I’m not ashamed of it, but I am saddened by it. This blog couldn’t express any more clearly the reasons why. It’s hard to open yourself up to that kind of rejection.

  6. *sigh* I feel you. Too disheartened lately so say much more than that. People can be so disappointing.

  7. “Oh please, don’t say something stupid! Don’t say something stupid!”

    oh yah. i know this far too well. so many people i know have said something truly stupid in my presence and i always have to decide if i’m going to “eat shit or ruin the afternoon”, as it was put on shakesville. and it sucks doubly when it’s someone you thought you could really like, or even someone you DO really like. i know i’m just reiterating thoughts you’ve already had, but i just wanted to express my sympathy and support.

  8. So why do I feel like a part of me would rather not know?

    Because it’s painful and isolating. I’m not sure there is a more awful experience than having people you know and care about disappoint you.

    I have this friend who is SO CLUELESS (thankfully, not malicious, just clueless and that special brand of defensive that we white people seem to carry around in our genes) about race issues and gender issues and GLBT issues and it gives me a low-grade headache whenever I try to talk to her about it. And sometimes I think about just cutting my losses and never talking to her again, because it makes me feel guilty that I’m so close to someone so patently stupid about social justice and what it really means for people that aren’t white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, monogamous Christians that want to marry one opposite-sexed person and have a kid or two.

    But at the same time, she’s been someone I’ve known and loved since I was sixteen and it would feel like carving out a piece of my own heart to cut ties with her.

    Sometimes, it feels like it’d be easier and I’d be happier if I wasn’t aware of all this and could just live in Clueless Land. But…that’s my privilege talking, and I don’t think that’s really who I want to be.

    So then comes this horrible line-walk where I have to choose what I can talk about with her and people like her, and what I can’t, and where I have to carefully plan out privilege-checks in advance because I want to try and pour a clue into her/their brain(s), but I have to find the most non-threatening way to do it because I don’t want to have a fight. And it’s so, so TIRING that I wish I could wave a magic wand and just make the whole white/heterosexual/cis-gendered/WHATEVER world stop being clueless and hurtful and privilege-blind, and I can’t and I hate it.

    Sorry. As per usual, I don’t really have a point. It’s just that this really spoke to me, and…well, you’re not alone. And I guess this entry and the comments on it mean neither am I.

    I just wish it was more comforting.

  9. I have a friend who went in blackface this Halloween. I wasn’t at the party. I just saw pictures posted on facebook a few days ago. I haven’t figured out how to approach her, beyond, “What the hell were you thinking?” I doubt it will do any good. I’ve been down this road before. She’s one of those people who thinks it’s edgy to be offensive as long as she doesn’t consistently target a particular group. She just laughs at my taking offense at her misogynist language – such as using words for female genitalia to refer to weak men. We’ve been friends for a long time but she has crossed that line with me.

    That said, I hope someone would say something to me if I said something offensive. I hope someone would decide I was worth the investment. I know I was brought up in a racist society and I am working to unlearn that racism. I still get defensive when I am called racist, because I don’t want to be. But it tells me that I still have a blind spot about my privilege. I know the desire to dismiss someone rather than explain why it’s wrong: after the hundredth time I’ve told a Christian that something is offensive to Jewish people and why, I just want to walk away. Every so often I complain to my partner that no matter how great a straight person is, there is always that moment when I realize they just don’t quite get it. I imagine with racism it’s even more so, because you get all these white liberals trying to convince you they aren’t like that, or that they’re the real victims. No one can tell my religion or sexual orientation upon meeting me for the first time.

  10. I am actually relieved when racism comes up. Or should I say I take it as a sign that someone trusts me.

    Even when it comes in the form of “…yeah well, what about…”

  11. “, I knew when I was writing the e-mail that I was taking a risk. I talk to white people about being “kicked out of the club.” It’s the moment that they realize that speaking up about race or racism distances them from other white people. It’s when they find out that other white people won’t necessarily support them when they raise issues of racism. I have tried to be empathic with them as they struggle with the perceived loss they suffer when doing what’s right means being ostracized.

    I try to have compassion because the Now Me knows how the Then Me felt. The Then Me often didn’t speak up. The Then Me was somewhat passive aggressive. The Then Me would quit a job rather than deal with repeated acts of racism, even when those acts weren’t directly aimed at me.

    Then Me realized this was suicide.

    Then Me knew that typically nobody would speak up if I didn’t. And Then Me knew that I couldn’t live a lie.

    So what are the risks and rewards of being anti-racist? I feel funny writing “risks” (I was “taking a risk”), just as I wrote “perceived loss” a few paragraphs ago. I wrote that white people suffer a “perceived loss” when they are ostracized by other white people, because I would like to believe that it’s not a loss when you find out who other people truly are. Or when you find out who you are yourself.”
    __________________________________-
    Thanks for writing that, Resistance.

    The loss to me can sometimes mean feeling like I belong nowhere. The gain of having a voice, feeling like my life has purpose, and the comfort of blogs like yours help a lot.

  12. Wow, so much in this post. I read it last night and again today. My oldest daughter, and also her partner, have both learned hard lessons with formerly very close white friends – these friends were also part of the LGBT community, and thus had been given a bit more trust, the assumption being they knew something about prejudice.

    When I first came back from years overseas, an anti-racist friend told me she’d gotten to the point where she just didn’t have white friends, and honestly couldn’t expend the energy to try anymore. (my friend is seen as white, her mom is British, father was Sicilian, friend is part of the queer community, and lived in the Black community for years) At the time, I thought that was pretty extreme, and thought my friend had taken a one-way ticket on the bitter express. I was like, hey, we’re all individuals, that’s a blanket approach, and you’re friends with ME, aren’t you? She was just like, OK, you keep doing this anti-racist work, you’ll see.

    And I did. Something happens EVERY TIME I’ve gotten to know another white person here. Maybe it even happens more quickly than it does for my POC friends, because other white folks say stuff right in front of me, that they wouldn’t say in front of a POC.

    Every one of my friends of color have told me that they’ve developed a wariness of white people, because 99% of the time, their white friends end up doing something that hurts deeply, and then have no understanding of what the problem is. Friends tell me that they have to see a whole lot from white people to extend trust or friendship — they say, like you did above, it’s a RISK.

    You wrote, “I wrote that white people suffer a “perceived loss” when they are ostracized by other white people, because I would like to believe that it’s not a loss when you find out who other people truly are. Or when you find out who you are yourself.

    I liked this sentence, this is a really important truth. I think people may feel the “loss” of it not being easy anymore once you can’t go back to being oblivious, to ignoring. It’s nothing like POCs have to deal with, more like it’s a small window into racism, but it means everything changes. Once you can see through that window, it’s all of a sudden tiring and maddening and heartbreaking without the blinders, to see it all the time, to try and actively step up and work against it, to not look away. To know that you CAN’T be friends with certain people anymore, to know you HAVE to step up, speak up. To know others have taken a RISK on you …

    I think the perceived loss is often the ease of life that comes with ignoring racism, as well as the “loss” of a former “friends”.

    Thanks for writing this. I need these reminders.

  13. You wrote, “I wrote that white people suffer a “perceived loss” when they are ostracized by other white people, because I would like to believe that it’s not a loss when you find out who other people truly are. Or when you find out who you are yourself.”

    I liked this sentence, this is a really important truth. I think people may feel the “loss” of it not being easy anymore once you can’t go back to being oblivious, to ignoring. It’s nothing like POCs have to deal with, more like it’s a small window into racism, but it means everything changes. Once you can see through that window, it’s all of a sudden tiring and maddening and heartbreaking without the blinders, to see it all the time, to try and actively step up and work against it, to not look away. To know that you CAN’T be friends with certain people anymore, to know you HAVE to step up, speak up. To know others have taken a RISK on you …

    I think the perceived loss is often the ease of life that comes with ignoring racism, as well as the “loss” of a former “friends”.

    Thanks for writing this. I need these reminders.

    _____________________________
    More Cowbell,
    I loved what you wrote, especially about the risk Resistance writes about, the risk that PoC take with us, thank you for that

  14. Total co-sign on js718! I’m not going to play the ‘diversity game’ with my life and personal relationships. Think about it: in all of the white people of the U.S., how many do you think are devoted anti-racists? Now cut off a fraction, and these people live in your town, city, etc. So the odds every white person you might have developed a bond with is an anti-racist, or somewhat educated on race issues? Slim. I’d rather not invest the energy at this point.

  15. You’re one of the lucky ones, Resist Racism. What about those of us who live in a 99% white neighborhood with most of their friends white? You have an option to ignore white people. I’ll have to be Emerson to do so. You have a cushion of friends and family members to fall back on if you get ostracized by a couple of European Americans. Use that opportunity and continue engaging them, so that they’ll at least know what racism is about.

  16. Pingback: Quoted: Resistance on Club Membership | Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

  17. you know, very strange things happen vis-a-vis race abroad (i live in spain). i had a old spanish man, with whom i’m very familiar because he makes my coffee every morning and asks about my parents every time he sees me as he met them back in march, engage me in a conversation about how our neighborhood was going to shit. why? because all of the asians are taking over. soon, he said, the entire hood would be chinatown and horrible and he’d leave long before that happened.

    honestly, i didn’t know what to say. this is a man i thought, from the way he treated me, an unmistakably black girl, would never say this kind of thing. but that wasn’t even the worst. the worst was that he expected i’d understand where he was coming from. maybe he thought because he also told me that every time he sees beyoncé on tv he thinks of me, i’d overlook how incredibly racist his statement was.

    the biggest question now is, do i stop giving him my business??

    beautiful piece, by the way.

  18. @heather

    me too. exact same situation. sigh….

    :(

    Thank you, Resistance, for posting and opening up your heart.

  19. I guess for me, growing up is realizing that I can’t be an ally SOMETIMES, when it suits me, because maybe some really great POC assume the best of me despite all of the disappointments they’ve had with white people over the years. Being an ally means not only do I own my white privilege in my African-American Studies classes, and not only do I have conversations about race and racism and privilege with my wonderful and supportive manfriend, but also that I stand up for what’s right with other white people, even when it isn’t “convenient.”

    I’m almost at a point where it doesn’t hurt my feelings (much) when I don’t get invited out again to hang out with those white people, or when someone says something offensive and then rolls their eyes in my direction and says, “Oh, here comes the PC police,” or something like that. Almost.

    The hardest part, I think, was having a conversation with my boyfriend about the fact that being with me means that when we hang out with our white friends, there will be awkward moments. Turns out, he said, “I’m proud of you, actually,” so that was nice. But see? No one has to feel awkward if they don’t express racist sentiments. Period. End of story. And no one gets a free pass on the racist bus just because we’re women and feminists, or fat, or LBGT. Doesn’t work like that.

  20. I hope the author of this post realizes that the black authors of this blog fundamentally hate you. Don’t believe me?

    Read their article: Why I Hate White Anti-Racists

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