The Problem with “Not All White People”
STFU and Let Me Tell You
As a member of an oppressed group, I know that some spaces are not for me. I am all too keenly aware of the fact that there are some things I will never experience and, therefore, can never comment on adequately.
However, privileged people seem to find it difficult to assume that their voice is neither universal nor as valuable or productive as others.
This is not discriminatory. It is fact. To these privileged individuals it might seem as though the world is suddenly askew and this fabled oppression, exclusion, and privilege they hear so much about is becoming real — no matter how diminutive or inconsequential.
This impulse to equalize oppression and the slippery-slope consequences are tempting for anyone who errs on the side of:
“We are all equal.”
Yes, we are all born equal, but we are not treated as such. It is said treatment that we seek to address in these discussions. The problem with your derailments is that they always devolve into hypotheticals. Here I am in real life and you want to talk theory to me.
To this, I would generally like to say:
Kindly FOH please, m’kay, thanks.
I am by no means the most oppressed person evar. Nor is any random white person the most privileged person evaarrr. People are not just one thing. I am a Black, woman, of the developing world, but I also have privileges that help me out a lot.
If I persevere in spite of my circumstances, that does not mean the circumstances and oppression never existed. That does not mean there is a level playing field and I will only shout foul when I stumble, in order to get a free pass.
Oppression is not a complete suffocation of the victim, merely a series of obstacles.
We question why the obstacles should be there in the first place, but we persevere in spite of them. Not because they don’t exist.
The relay race of Blackness is a long and arduous one, but many of us are imbued with a sense of purpose that can only be mandated by a troubled lineage that wishes to burst forth in glorious ancestral vindication — if not through us, then through our children. So why must I speak of the Olympics when I specialize in the 5k? Why must you explain how you too have to run a 10 metre sprint while discussing obstacles on this leg of my race?
We are all human. We are all aware of individuality. But no matter how many times I or any other racial commentator explains systemic racism versus individual prejudice, the argument is always the same:
If this were reversed and about Black people, this would be racist.
Ugh. This is not rocket science. There is a gulf of trust when it comes to white people and racialized language. Like a dangerous toddler who saw the tikki-torch at the barbecue and set the house on fire, we are now on edge when the toddler is near a flame. And now I feel the need to clarify that this is an analogy and not a condemnation of all white people as infantile idiots.
It is a matter of trust that raises hackles when white people speak about people in racialized terms. Because we know better than to think that racism is over, that the impulse for social arson is not lingering. Look no further than the everyday world where white people are still over-represented in positions of power and privilege.
The facts are simple. If all people are equal then we should see meritocracy work to allow a representative amount of people into places of rank. However, when we turn on the news and look at rich nations versus poor, there are colour-lines. Same for crime, poverty, education, medical care, beauty standards, and so much more. It has simple but devastating consequences. When times get rough, we are always the FIRST ONES HIT. ALWAYS. This is real. life. The least we ask, then, is that you do not rub it in.
White Supremacy as terminology has been co-opted by its most extreme branch, as a safeguard for its more pernicious roots. White Supremacy is not just an underprivileged white man in a hood standing on the final bastion of privilege left to him: alpha male aggression and whiteness. Rather it is quite simply what it says on the tin. The Supremacy or sustained and ubiquitous superiority of white people— either in nature or engineering. I should hope that you shrugged off the first suggestion of ‘nature’ and nodded at the latter.
The basic tenet is this: If white people tend to have the better things in life, then White Supremacy is at work and it is wrong. But if you think people have different outcomes because of “culture” or the “nature of certain types” or whatever other anthropological or scientific racism claims you want to draw upon then fine, stand firm in that, but know that it is:
If you don’t believe that and think children are mostly blank slates whose environments impact their outcomes, then you are forced to acknowledge that there is a problem and listen to what the danger is in order to report back to your fellow white people to help fix your group’s problem with race instead of policing my language. Conduct a little triage and stop their gushing wound before you band-aid my scratches.
But we all know which one is easier to do…
Because when you rush in to ensure black people are aware that good white people exist when we are trying to establish safe spaces to assess the cancer and discuss its excision from our lives, you’re not helping. You’re distracting.
When you await your congratulatory cookies after proclaiming how not racist you are, you’re not helping. You’re distracting. When we discuss the faceless monster that is prepared to KILL BLACK PEOPLE and you “Ahem!” to say that once upon a time Irish people were slaves so let’s all get over it like the Irish did, you’re not helping.
You are distracting from my real life consequences in order to give theoretical footnotes to a discussion that has less immediate impact on your life than mine.
I remember once speaking about the implications of slavery on Jamaica with a fellow Philosophy student. He dismissed it saying:
“Who cares though, that was so long ago.”
I mean. This boy studies Plato from nearly 2500 years ago but he thought the institution that financed the middle class that championed the Enlightenment up until just 200 years ago was old news.
And this is always the dismissal.
People who quote a document written 300 years ago declaring liberty for all except the blacks and vaginas dismiss an institution that set up a chain reaction worldwide with social issues so complex that social scientists can merely document its various iterations only to have them rebuffed as “race-baiting” and excuses for laziness and hand-outs.
To be frank, no one cares about your personal feelings about racism as a privileged person because you are either a contributor to the system or you are not. But in the meantime, I still run the risk of being killed indirectly or directly by said system. Why am I wasting time discussing how I shouldn’t generalize white people for your feelings’ sake? How else am I supposed to speak of a system of internalized biases set up against me? What is it, fairies and elves who put black people at a disadvantage? Or is it everyday people, invisibly linked to a system that feeds and confirms biases? Every. Single. Day.
It is the invisibility of it all that is most insidious. And I think that is why the white-commentator is so vocal.
Because he fears that the cross hairs will land on his all-too-visible self. So he screams, he shouts, he begs:
Not all white people! Reverse racism! You’re keeping racism alive! Don’t stereotype! You’re the real racist! What privilege? You need white people on your side! You are driving us away, you’re only shooting yourself in the foot! You’re race-baiting! Stop playing the victim! Get over it, it was so long ago!
But it was not long ago. It was yesterday, and today, and tomorrow. And I am trying to get a grip on how to navigate it.
So why must you shout?
Why must you cloud my thoughts?
Why must I think of your lone voice, when so many stand voiceless and vulnerable? When so many faces do not show their struggle. When you can only hear their pain in the silenced voice that waits for you and so many others to finish screaming,
Not me! Not me! Not me!
Because if you pipe down, maybe we can find out who or what it actually is.