Recently as we have been engaged in conversations around whiteness and blackness on twitter, Val Brown (@ValeriaBrownEdu), a leader in education, asked an interesting question to spark engagement:
“White people, what amount of compensation would you seek if you were forced to become black?”
The answers were pretty interesting (as well as the non-answers) if you followed along, and if you didn’t, I think this article from Sherri Spelic (@edifiedlistener) can help provide some additional context.
This morning, as I was reflecting on the question, after answering it multiple times and evolving each time I did. I was engaging with other white professionals, and someone asked “how can we do better?” The question was directed (it seemed to me) towards a black professional. It very well could not have been, but I was triggered because I know I personally have asked that question of my black friends and colleagues multiple times.
This got me thinking about how we as white folx go to black folx for answers a lot, and although this is good, it also creates an extra burden. What followed was a series of tweets to answer “how can we do better?” as white folx:
1: Listen to non-white voices as THE EXPERTS on inclusion and equity. Read authors like bell hooks, learn critical race theory. There is absolutely no emotional labor on Black folx for us to read a book. Or an article.
2: Second. When wanting to process racism; don’t go to your non-white friends. The emotional labor to help an oppressor discover their oppression is significant. We put our friends and neighbors in a tough spot to say “help me navigate my guilt over oppressing you.”
3: Go to your white friends. Dig into what you are thinking and learning with them FIRST. Discuss racism and the voices you are listening to. We are scared to do this because we know we will be challenged. The only way to develop resilience and capacity is to still engage.
4: Third; when a non-white person (look at me still centering whiteness because I’m too afraid to type black person) challenges you; STOP. Listen. Don’t react. Truly listen to the gift you are being given. Because they are taking a risk being authentic with you.
As a side note: At this point in the conversation, Val herself weighed in to present this nugget and resource on the issue of being called a racist.
5: Your response determines the likelihood of future interactions being real & honest. If you react by focusing on your intent over the impact of your behaviors, you send the message you are more important than the person sharing feedback with you. You cut off future honesty
6: If you react understanding the person is providing you helpful information and has chosen to do the labor with you to help you be less oppressive; you better appreciate that like nobody’s business.
7: Fourth; for those of us with kids; TEACH your kids to SEE race. To OBSERVE how people are treated differently based on the color of their skin. If you teach them to not see race; you hurt them from seeing the problem to be able to fix it in the future.
8: We were lied to. MLK Jr wasn’t giving us strategy. He was tell us where the end zone was. We wouldn’t coach a football team by telling them “ok! Go score a touchdown!” We’d strategize HOW to score a touchdown. (Sorry for the sports and centering my male-ness)
9: We’d keep an EYE on the end zone, but we would design plays (both offensive and defensive) to help us get there. Stop. Sorry in my last tweet for centering my cisgender-ness.
10: So. Work through our grief. The stages of grief are clear; denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Sadness. When it comes to race in America, these are the stages White folx need to go through if we are going to work together to undo our Ish.
Another side note.
Stop for a minute. Note my mistake in tweet #10. Donna-Marie Winn (@DonnamarieWinn) pointed this out and asked “what about the fifth stage of acceptance?”
I literally couldn’t get past the depression stage. When I wrote this tweet, I repeated the idea of depression with the idea of sadness. I am struck by this and I am chewing on if this where I’m at in the process, or whether I needed more coffee at the time. It is likely both?
11: Please. Please. Please. Don’t ask our black friends and neighbors to be our grief counselors. Let’s work with each other to help us through our grief of discovery at the systems we’ve been trained in.
12: Take the red pill. Stop erasing data to keep us comfortable. Lean into the discomfort about race. Do you want to know the single most empowering thing I’ve discovered on my journey?
13: I’m racist. And every day I work to dismantle internally the cancer inside of me. I’m not afraid (not fully; cause I certainly don’t want to be a bold racist either) when someone calls out my racism. THAT. IS. THE. POINT.
14: If I am not wanting to be a racist; I should live my life and let life chip away at my racism, so that when I get to the end of my life there’s as much racism chipped away from the masterpiece that is me. I can’t do that if I avoid the sculptor…
15: Or the tools of the sculptor. When someone points out my racism (or sexism, or homophobia) I know it’s an opportunity to protect that part of my sculpture or to allow that part of me to be chipped away. STOP. PROTECTING. REALITY.
16: There is literally no way currently to live your life without being taught to be racist. To ignore the experiences of people who aren’t you. To always center our own feelings and emotions.
17: Just stop. Listen. Engage with other racists. Share your learning and processes with other white folx. It’s ok to be a good person and embrace when someone calls you racist. Unless you ask your friends to all be perfect, you should be ok with this flaw we are working on.
18: Finally. Full stop. Realize this. Everything in my thread here? It’s a choice. We can ignore the topic of race for weeks on end as white people. We CHOOSE as to whether we engage on the issue or not. And we will be ok if we ignore it. We won’t be hurt.
19: Except the hurt that comes with pushing amazing people away from us. In the end we get to choose to deal with it. THAT. IS. RACISM. THAT IS PRIVILEGE.
20: Because our black friends and neighbors? They don’t get to choose to deal with this. They are required to deal with this for the most part on the regular. Chew on that. Because until that changes, we aren’t done. There is work to do.
21: Hopefully this makes sense. To close I want to acknowledge the many black voices who have helped me understand this. NONE of what I have shared just now comes from me. It comes from others. Please don’t give me credit for this; it is no credit to call out my oppression.
22: Yet people WILL listen to me more because I’m a white cisgender heterosexual male. This is the definition of the colonization of education. And how we need to work to decolonize.
23: Now that I am done my long mansplaining thread (which I realized in probably my sixth tweet, but continued anyway) I’ll leave it for others to engage.
24: I’ll also call out what I did as whitesplaining. But sadly we white folx need whitesplaining in order to listen because of our racism.
25: See white folx? I survived. I called out MY OWN racism, sexism, cisgenderism, and said I was both mansplaining and whitesplaining. You can (and should) call out your own stuff. It’s an effective tool to show others we might be open to others calling us out.
In closing, as white folx, we need to engage on the issue of race. We need to understand and sit with the question “White people, what amount of compensation would you seek if you were forced to become black?” We need to understand there are mutliple ways to interpret the question, but they generally fall along a continuum between "what payment would you demand upon becoming black?" and "how much would it take to get you to care about black issues?" If we center our whiteness, we will likely answer it by counting the cost of our privilege. THIS PLACES VALUE on our privilege. If our privilege has ACTUAL (physical, emotional, financial) value to us, then we won't give it up quickly, will we? Until we understand what we should VALUE is removing that privilege, the conversation can't even begin when we talk about undoing the system. The truth is our privileges as white folx (or heterosexual, cisgender, male folx) are a HINDRANCE and a BURDEN to a better world and more equitable society rather than something to be paid for. This is the essence here.
Thank you to Val. In addition, thank you to José Luis Vilson (@TheJLV) for pushing me to go deeper on my answer. Without them, this blog wouldn't be published. If you are white, I encourage you to support THEIR work, and not my own. All I am doing is listening. And boosting signal because sometimes white folx won't listen to black folx.