Fellow white folks, we need to talk.
Most of you would probably think I was going overboard if I went into a space that had a majority of people of color carefully dressed according to dominant community norms, rather than my usual clothes. You’d think it was weird or pathetic if I code-switched to address people according to the linguistic norms of that community in order to prove I belong or hide my feelings of being an outsider. You’d think it absurd if I addressed the issue of my race with constant disclaimers “hi, yes, I’m white. I’m really just like you though, just here for a soda. I’m not a cop, I don’t know any cops, I don’t plan to call the cops, I’m not here to harm anyone, yes hello, you all look like lovely people, just beautiful human beings, no I don’t have a weapon of any kind, yes hello…”
People of color in the United States enact countless strategies each and every day to try to protect themselves from entrenched prejudice and systemic discrimination – clothing, speech, what music to talk about liking with which people, how to talk about political causes, whether or not to call out discriminatory remarks or behavior, body postures to signal that they are not a threat, keeping hands in full view during traffic stops with the police…it goes on and on. All to reassure us white people that they aren’t going to hurt us, that they are humans going about their daily business.
It’s ludicrous, given that white people
are the ones who committed genocide against an entire race of people in order to steal a continent so they could build an economic system based on the forced labor of yet another race of people that they stole from yet another continent.
We (those of us white folks who want a just, nonracist system) should be the ones reassuring everyone else that we aren’t here to harm them.
So if a person of color in the US expresses bitterness about white people, or anger towards us, I’d better not hear you saying “Not all whites!” Make yourself trustworthy and just. Then make your community trustworthy and just. Then make the country trustworthy and just. Then make the world trustworthy and just. Until then, recognize that while OUR racialized fears are largely unfounded (and likely the result of our history and present of abuse towards people of color) THEIR fears continue to come true every day, on a scale from microaggressions to surrendering children gunned down by the police.