to my friend who hates it when people accuse him of microaggressions

A few minutes ago I wrote a quick but sort of long reply to a friend on Facebook. He’s a friend I’ve known online for almost twenty years. He’s quite progressive and was always on the same side as me in the heated debates of Usenet in the 90s. He replied to a link I shared in a way that disappointed me, though. I felt like this wasn’t the guy I knew, so I wanted to know more. I told him how I felt about his reply, and it came up that he dislikes the term “microaggressions” because people jump on him for apparently using them. As I said, I just replied to him. I like my reply a lot, so I’m going to share it here:

I think liberals who feel “woke” or that they’ve got some better and deeper understandings about racism, including their own racism are eager to share their new-found knowledge. I think they do this in different ways and for different reasons. (Gonna stop saying “I think” and assume you know it’s there.) In many cases, they’re so riled up with a passion to fix things that they jump on any situation that they now see as problematic and begin accusing.

Accusing, rather than mindfully discussing, does a couple things. It gives the accuser a feeling of power, like, I CAN DO SOMETHING! and it’s energizing. The accuser also gets to distance themselves from their own remaining racism. THAT person is still racist and I see it because I’m SO not racist!

I also think that microaggressions are so pervasive, insidious, and crazy-making (they are a lot like Gas Lighting, if you know that concept?) that accusing someone of using microaggressions probably isn’t all that helpful. They’re really slippery and hard to pin down.

What I’d do, if I saw someone doing something that felt like a microaggression to me (for me, it’s a feeling or intuition, not a factual thing) I might say something to them about how I felt and how I think the feeling came from those words or actions. I’d definitely not accuse or shame someone.

If the conversation went on and the context made it appropriate, I might talk about what “microaggression” means to me.

So, when your fellow liberals jump on you for doing something that seems extreme or ridiculous, I suspect it’s mostly about their own need to feel better and empowered. But, if you are disturbed by their accusations, I also suspect (as I said about your reaction to the linked article) there’s probably some uglier truth for you in the accusations. I don’t think anyone can make you want to dig into it unless you are curious.

And, finally, it’s an unfortunate problem (among many) that people who are trying so hard to make our communities more equitable are actually just kind of fucking things up even more. Giving a bad name to good information.

books related to racism that have helped me

There are lots of sources of information out there on the Internet, so I usually resist the temptation to recreate the wheel. But, I’m going to go ahead and share a few of my favorite books that have informed my experience as a person who benefits from white privilege (because I pass as white*). These are books related to why I understand the #BlackLivesMatter movement is the our modern day Civil Rights Movement.

“What would you do if the Civil Rights Movement was happening today?” It is happening now. We must act with our neighbors across the country.

I won’t summarize the story/content, I’m just providing links for my white peers who are interested. There are many other books (I found great lists by googling “what white people should read about racism.” Here are a couple shared by women of color: 16 Books About Race That Every White Person Should Read18 Books Every White Ally Should Read) and resources online, of course. But here are a few that have helped me especially in the last few years:

Between the World and Me

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

How to Be Black

Homegoing

 

 

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* Because “white” is a social construct, I’m exploring what it’s like to talk about myself as someone who “passes” as white. I know there is a deep and painful history of “passing” in our culture for people who are born into black and brown families, so I’m not sure if I will stick with this phrasing; I don’t want to minimize those experiences as I pass as white without any effort. My thought is if I don’t just say “I’m white,” then perhaps I’m pointing out the fact that it’s really only because of our country’s foundation (slavery) that we have such a divide based on “race;” that identifying as white and being able to pass as white (without any effort and only positive consequences).

“The hoarding of wealth is violence.”

“The hoarding of wealth is violence.” I saw this somewhere on the Internet and can’t find the original source. I appreciate it because “greed” is a term that can be disputed; it’s so relative. While “hoarding” is still a bit slippery, it captures the kind of greed that crosses the line into violence.

The top 1% of the wealthiest people in our country fit into the “hoarding” category. Maybe more people do, but if we could force (yes, force, through legislation) the hoarders to share with people living in poverty (or something like reparations for slavery), a lot of our broken system could be fixed.

If-us-land-mass-were-distributed-like-us-wealth

#blacklivesmatter #staywoke #sayhername and listen

My column—about keeping the violence against black and brown people in the forefront of our discussions rather than focusing on police good deeds—has elicited a response I didn’t expect. Even one of my closest friends who is a police officer read my column as a condemnation of his identity. I know what he thinks because I actually turned to my two LEO (a term I just learned, that means Law Enforcement Officer, for those of you who also didn’t know) friends for help. After so many “after this you’ll be out of luck if you call 911” types of comments, I needed to confirm that the police would continue protecting me. Even thinking that question for a few minutes has me still feeling shaky. And, yes, they both confirmed that public opinion doesn’t sway how they do their jobs. The pro-police people won’t turn violent, said one.

As so many people continue misreading my column as one being anti-police, or as disrespecting LEOs, I want to restate the actual point: we are living in a world where the news of violence against black and brown people is only just starting to be understood in the white world. White people need to hear and not dismiss or gloss over the realities of mass incarceration, including police violence. We need to recognize our systems are built on racism and we need to work to change it.

12 Ways to Be a White Ally to Black People, on theroot.com
11 Things White People Can Do to Be Real Anti-Racist Allies, on alternet.com

 

(note: the term “ally” is distasteful to me and I recommend not using it. the point of these links is to give concrete suggestions of actions white people can take in the fight.)

What is Whiteness? (a linked NYTimes article)

I don’t usually focus on the fact that race is a social construct, because I think it can detract from the reality of our institutionalized racism. That said, I think if we white people read things like this and talk about the ideas, we could start some important internal and personal changes that might add to a foundation we need to help make structural changes in our institutions.

If you look at the #blackoutday tag on twitter it becomes really clear how race is a social construct. There’s no real way to “look black.” From the article:

Eliminating the binary definition of whiteness — the toggle between nothingness and awfulness — is essential for a new racial vision that ethical people can share across the color line. Just as race has been reinvented over the centuries, let’s repurpose the term “abolitionist” as more than just a hashtag. The “abolition” of white privilege can be an additional component of identity (not a replacement for it), one that embeds social justice in its meaning. Even more, it unifies people of many races.