I won’t cosign your racism, even if I’m not the target of your bigotry

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?

5 comments on “I won’t cosign your racism, even if I’m not the target of your bigotry

  1. You write well, I’m listening. No red herrings, I promise. I just wanted to share this. I had a similar argument with a fellow white woman recently – we were debating the Trayvon Martin case – with me talking about history and hidden bigotry among white people who call themselves Liberals and I tried to make the same argument as you have made here when she blurted out “May I remind you that you are NOT black and don’t know what you’re talking about.” And this was from a very white woman, a self-proclaimed Liberal Democrat in her 50’s, college educated, who believes President Obama promotes racism of blacks against whites, and suggested that he provoked the Trayvon Martin murder because he said “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” She actually said that. I was stymied. I still am. I don’t know where to go from there other than far far away. But I can’t walk away. So I stay and fight.

    If this woman had been black, I suppose the conversation would have gone in another direction. I don’t know what direction, but I would have hung in there. Hopefully without stupidity falling out of my mouth.

    I totally get that your experience is not my experience, but, may I please join the discussion? I’ve been having that fight very loudly since childhood. I seem to take all bigotry personally. And I think that’s a good thing. Perhaps you might write something someday about what we crazy beige-y people of no-color can say or do to help make this a better place to live. That white woman – I’ve known her since high school – who felt the need to remind me that I wasn’t black is something else again. But she also thinks Glen Beck got a raw deal. We won’t go there.

    Excuse me for interrupting, And I’m still listening.

    1. R Laurie, I know this post is old, but on the off chance you’re still listening I thought I’d give it a shot. I know you weren’t hoping to hear something from me, but I’m going to jump in. Lady, the OP’ s post was not about you or your batty friend. I’m sorry, from what you describe, she is. Your response WAS ‘all about you’. You could never have a ‘similar argument’, do you not understand those?? There are a million reasons why. I don’t grasp even half of them, but off the top of my head, allow me to remind you that your ‘opponent’ saw you as somewhat equal. Obviously, the OP’ s company did not. Best case scenario, in my opinion, is they were hoping to use her to validate their evil and/or to ‘keep her in a cage’ as ‘they’ see her as an exception for whatever reason. OK, that’s just the tip of the iceberg here, both arguments were radically different and by you not even considering that aspect, it shocks me. Secondly, I’d like to point out that you let your ‘friend’ shut you down, you accepted her ‘well you’re not Black’ comment. You don’t have to be Black to care about justice. Is it somehow acceptable for some people to live in an unjust society? That’s what your friends comment implied. And, sadly your lack of response was complacent agreement, at the very least. It sounds like your friend is a bigot and a bully. MOST IMPORTANTLY, and why I felt compelled to respond to your comment is to say this, you just read a post which makes many excellent points, one of them being it is not right to expect this person to educate you, yet you don’t read from a point of trying to understand another, but see her writing as a reflection of you and then you double down on that and ask her to educate you!!! In a future blog of HER’S that you will once again see yourself in and not her. I don’t get it. Anyway, the only thing I remember the author asking for is input on what others in her situation have done. I can not add anything to that conversation, but to say I wish her safety and peace. This group of people are dangerous and stupid. I wish she did not have to put up with their abuse and she could ignore their existence. Unfortunately, the world we live in harbors this evil. It takes a lot if courage to confront it when you’re a target of that evil and they try to make you an accomplice by pretending they are your friend. I admire your strength and wisdom. Sometimes the most effective message is to disengage as much as possible.

  2. i dunno, i never had sanity which is part of what makes disablism the main ism for me. cissexism and antisemitism are the only other ones that directly affect me, although i am also hurt by anti native hatred that silences me when i speak out because my partner is too tired to handle the inevitable “you don’t look like a [insert slur], show me your tribal id” and everything else, which then makes me a “white knight” because no, yeah, genocide is so foreign and exotic to me.

    I’m listening, & i have a lot of love for you (I’ll never forget the first time j met another blogger who uses the term “disablist” for starters) & i want you to be healthy and happy.

    lately I’ve been coping by kind of exploding at my intersectional followers. i have a lot of rage in me from being abused over my disabilities and differences and disbelieved and gaslighted, and i turn it outward onto my tumblr followers. because it’s not just a casual thing that everyone says disablist slurs. how can i forget that every single one of my classmates took sides in the battle to abuse and/or protect me from day one? everyone either helped the bullies, tried to be my less abusive mob, intervened for justice, watched for fun, did nothing or actively blocked it out because it was unpleasant to think about my existence. those ppl didn’t just disappear. we all remember them.

    so i basically assume that if someone isn’t happy to learn what they can change and truly sorry they brought me back to all that pain and added on to the heap, they’ve raised a battle flag against me and i either engage or tell them all about why i don’t have time to fight over whether I’m a full person. but i know that isn’t always an option and that privilege and consequence can vary.

  3. Only with one white person I really cared about have I tried to explain problematic behavior. It was and continues to be disheartening, enraging, and wholly necessary both for our relationship, and for me personally (speaking as a decolonizing Chicana who is still trying to understand the lattice of contradictions that is my privileges and oppressions, and how I can continue to challenge white supremacy).

    Otherwise, bigotry just gets a caustic remark and an eye roll, which usually serves to nip any sort of challenge in the bud, while still getting to release some of my anger/disapproval. I have crazy amounts of respect for people that call out that shit and try to educate, that’s fucking exhausting.

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