Let’s talk about race baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be. Ok let me stop. So, you guys know I talk about racism (and other “isms”) a lot. I’m
not sorry. Once I experience something more often and consistently than I experience racism, I’ll talk about that instead. Dont’ hold your breath.
In talking about “isms” I hear many different comments from members of the oppressing class. For those who aren’t hip on the lingo, when speaking about race, white people are the oppressing class. If we’re talking sexism, men would be the oppressing class and so on. Which would make people of color, women, etc. the oppressed class. Moving forward. When a member of the oppressed class shares their experience of whatever “ism” they deal with, there are a few things that members of the oppressing class need to keep in mind and a few phrases to avoid.
1. “I’m so sorry you had to deal with that.”
Well, you know, I didn’t HAVE to deal with that. The whole situation could have easily been avoided by people just not being bigots. Nobody HAS to deal with racism or sexism or homophobia. We’re simply FORCED to experience it.
Furthermore, why on earth are you apologizing? Did you oppress me? Did you call me “nigger?” Did you make it so I earn significantly less than my male counterparts? Just don’t apologize for things you didn’t do. It’s disingenuous and makes you sound guilty. Don’t be sorry. Be as mad as I am. Fight the oppression as much as I do. Nobody should sit back idly apologizing for injustice. You should get up and do something about it. Apologies can’t bring back the dead or raise my salary or make up for four centuries of slavery. “I got sorry greeting me at my front door. You can keep yours.”
2. “That still happens in 2014?!?!”
Yes! The passing of time won’t change the hearts and minds of bigots. The passing of laws won’t either. And let me tell you, those laws don’t mean squat if the person who’s meant to enforce them has bigotry in their heart. Hey Mr. Policeman. Sure, you may not see Black men strung from trees at family picnics, but there are still plenty of cowards out there who wish they could hang a jigaboo or two. And there are definitely still men who wish they could back hand women for speaking in public. A lot that still do in private.
More than anything, replying to a story of discrimination/oppression/injustice with “That still happens?” is stupid because, the internet. How is it that people don’t read all these stories and watch all these videos posted? Especially since racism is the social injustice trend of the decade. The media has been profiting off of the murder of Trayvon Martin and the like. If you are flabbergasted by the fact that my coworker touched my hair in 2014, you’re just an idiot.
3. “I totally understand because this one time…”
The worst thing a member of the oppressing class can do is compare an isolated incident to the every day experiences of members of the oppressed class. Men, when women tell you about getting harassed on the way home from a bar, don’t bring up the one time a drunk chick slapped your butt at a party. White people, when a person of color talks about getting called “nigger” by a random white guy on the street, don’t bring up the one time a group of Black girls called you a dumb white bitch.
No form of harassment or discrimination is ok. Nobody should be treated unfairly for any reason, especially for reasons so far out of your control like race and gender. However, you cannot compare one or even ten isolated instances of bullying to multi-generational, systematic, institutionalized oppression. Getting denied access to the hood because you’re a “dumb white bitch” is not the same as getting denied a loan from the bank AND needing said loan because you grew up poor because your parents grew up poor because their parents grew up poor because their parents were the children of slaves.
Look, I don’t want to hinder your desire to be involved in conversations about “isms.” Your involvement as a member of the oppressing class is absolutely necessary. However, if you’re going to truly be an ally, you need to be mindful of how you contribute to the conversation. The use of the aforementioned phrases as well as several others will have you looking more foe than friend.