Being a black woman committed to social justice means I often have to navigate the perilous terrain of good ol’ fashioned American racism perpetuated by white folks. Add in a little bit of nationalistic xenophobia and alcohol, then you’re facing a powder keg of hate and bigotry that rivals KKK propaganda.
I live in a metro Atlanta suburb, a county that proudly proclaims its conservatism and its support for the GOP. And my neighbors are part of that consensus. Well, last weekend, I ventured over into their yards and spent some time with them.
Later on in the evening, the topic of their unnatural, intense hatred for President Barack Obama came up and the topic of immigration was also brought to the forefront. Basically, my four white neighbors tried to tell me that the “illegals” are coming to America, taking our jobs, getting free health care, education, food stamps and not even bothering to learn the English language. How dare they take the benefits we are entitled to?!
Of course, I had to speak out on such foolishness. I couldn’t sit by and what these four disturbed souls trash a group they’ve rendered The Other by not only refusing to learn more about the people who immigrate to this country, but also shaming and defaming them by repeating falsehoods, misinformation and outright lies. My neighbor, a stay-at-home mother whose husband is struggling financially, admitted she wasn’t ashamed to say their family recently got on food stamps. But, she implored those who “jump the border,” and implied immigrant women deliberately have their babies in America and sit around on their asses and collect her tax dollars to support themselves.
I eventually reached my breaking point and walked away from the offensive conversation. I’d never felt so assaulted and disturbed by anything like what transpired that night. Of course, earlier this week, she finally caught up with me and apologized. As expected, this wasn’t a real apology. She basically gave me her sob story as to why she has been “picking fights” with everyone, from her mother, sister and husband. She even said she got into with a friend, over “nothing.” Not only is she dealing with the bills piling up, but she’s been dealing with her mother’s cancer returning in her lungs and her father and step mother getting a divorce.
(Okay, as an aside: you are nearly 30 years old; your father’s possible divorce should not have a detrimental impact on your life, especially since you all aren’t that close.)
In a nutshell, she made the entire conversation about her feelings and her apology, not about coming to terms with how her words and feelings hurt me and my psyche. It’s as if my feelings on why I was offended didn’t mattered in the conversation. Funny how whiteness works…
Of course, I told her what she said was racist and she responded so innocently, saying, “I don’t feel I’m racist…I’m so sorry.” She never bothered to ask why I thought she was racist, what exactly she said was so offensive to me and what could she do to make sure she doesn’t drop racist bombs again. Not exactly ally material…
Her excessive apology was over the top and was annoying, so I ended the conversation on good terms. As good as they can be considering what all transpired.
The whole thing was draining because I’m constantly tasked with the option of either challenging racism and other forms of bigotry — which can lead to alienation and hurt feelings — or just sitting back and
tolerating ignoring folks’ hate. Which, I should note, could lead to alienation and hurt feelings as well. I’m tired of being asked or coerced to ignore my sensibilities and mental health all so people can complain and mock marginalized bodies.
I just get tired of having to deal with white people who act like they don’t see color or race, but turn around and complain about POCs sitting on their asses and not working. I’m sick of white people acting like POCs are the ones who have issues with race and talk more about race when their entire existence is built upon them being protected from the reality that race in fact matters.
I’m sick of white people trying to convince me to join in their bigotry when it comes to people of color who don’t look exactly like me. I’m tired of getting half-hearted apologies when they learn I won’t take their crap. I’m sick of white women showing me tears in their eyes whenever I rip into their fake, innocent facade. No, I don’t care if you start to cry when I challenge your nonsensical rant.
(As an aside, I am going to need for white people to not respond with any red herrings. Don’t have time to explain why they won’t work and are privilege inducing in nature. Would it be too much to ask that, for once, you just to listen and provide support if you call yourself an ally)?
Of course, me confronting this person marks me as the angry black bitch who makes everything about race and get so offended. How dare I make them uncomfortable by challenging their racist notions? How dare I deviate from my role as the good darkie and have the audacity to question the assumed position that whiteness is inherently good? The horror!
I get tired of the ways of white folks and whiteness when it comes to pressuring marginalized groups to accommodate and tolerate their racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, disablist language whenever it suits their needs. We are expected to ignore and brush off the many forms of microaggressions, and I’m tired of having to deal with it. When we don’t we are called obstructionists and accused of not wanting to serve as the de facto educator in mixed company.
In my brand of social justice activism, I’ve come to accept that I can write about shit all day long on this blog, but I would be fooling myself if I didn’t speak out against hatred being thrown at me in real life. I wouldn’t be able to reconcile how I’m able to challenge -isms, -phobias, etc., on the Internet while I remain silent on the bigotry coming from the mouth of the person physically sitting next to me.
I want to open this up to you all: how do you negotiate various forms of -isms while keeping your sanity? Have you addressed someone’s bigotry and had to deal with the subsequent fallout?