What White Queers Can Do To Combat Racism In Our Own Community
I wrote this short piece last year. Here in Australia, in my local queer community we can be pretty… backwards… when it comes to issues of race, particularly those intersectional issues impacting on Queers of Colour.
I wrote it because there were a few things happening at the time where there was lots and lots of white fail and I was going a bit buggy and I didn’t feel like there were enough white queers speaking plainly and frankly. I’m sure we’ve all seen it – derailing and denying and over-concern for the feelings of the white peeps being the failiest (in one particularly memorable incident – a blackface show being done and the event organiser saying to me, in the aftermath of the backlash: ‘I really did feel bad for those poor performers you know, they did the wrong thing but they got up with the best of intentions and just didn’t expect that reaction’. TO BLACKFACE! SERIOUSLY! THE FUCK?)
I’m posting it here because I am aware that Geeks of Colour in this community are finding tumblr to be a hostile environment for them. But also because I do feel that the piece below, with only the modifcation of a few words, can apply to many situations involving the privileged and the marginalised. Rather than edit it to be generalised for tumblr, though, I kept it specific to racism because I feel like that’s something that’s being once again minimised as an issue – and as a bit of a tap on the shoulder for me, as well. Lately I feel like I’ve been getting too swept up in the homo-and-whorephobia and need a little privilege check, need a reminder to keep this stuff in mind lest I start inadvertantly showing my ass.
Just another white girl chiming in with her thoughts on this extremely pertinent issue. Speaking out on these things is always difficult for me simply because as a white person I have to seriously consider if it is really my place to do so. I believe my place in the anti-racist movement is to stand in solidarity rather than to have a leading voice.
As such, I have kept the following as brief and to the point as possible.
Shut up and Listen
The most important thing any white person with a genuine interest in anti-racism should do.
Just shut up.
To the People of Colour talking.
They know their issues. They know what’s important to them. It doesn’t matter how much you have read or researched or thought, you will never ever ever know better than they do about their issues.
Too often PoC are actively silenced by white folk wanting to do the talking, so keen are white folk to prove their investment in anti-racism. This is utterly counter-active to the professed objective of any white person wanting to be a part of the anti-racist movement.
So stop it. Sit down, shut the fuck up, LISTEN and accept you are not the expert here.
Stand in Solidarity
It is not the role of white people to set the anti-racist agenda. It is not the role of white people to decide what is the most important issue to tackle. It is not the role of white people to have a principle voice in addressing these issues. It is not the role of white people to lead.
Well-meaning white folk often trample into the anti-racist movement and unwittingly domineer and continue to perpetuate our white privilege by attempting to set the agenda or lead the cause. This is because white people are accustomed to having our voices heard, we are accustomed to leading by default, we are accustomed to having our opinion deferred to, particularly when People of Colour are present.
Be aware of this. And stop doing it. Stand in solidarity as an ally – and understand what that really means. Sometimes it means accepting your voice is not the most important one in the room anymore.
This is a confronting one for white people and one I still very much struggle with. This is about responding to incidences of racism against POC, no matter how slight, subtle or covert and expressing disgust and a lack of tolerance for it.
In a tiny scene like the queer one where we face different types of discrimination ourselves, where a big part of our struggle against that is in our solidarity and unity, it gets even more difficult, especially when it may come to speaking up or acting out to people we respect or are friends with. We fear ostracisation and exile from our own niche community – we fear isolation. So we stay silent and, through our inaction, perpetuate racism in our community.
Furthermore, as white people, there’s nothing at stake for us if we remain silent. Our lives are not adversely affected by our silence. Indeed, if anything, we avoid discomfort and confrontation.
I freely admit, I fail at this one. I will try to fail better going forward.
It’s always easier to take action like this as a collective than as individuals. If we communicate, open up this dialogue amongst ourselves, we can find allies in our politics and stand together.
Don’t Get Complacent
We must understand as white people living in a racist society, our education will never, ever stop. It doesn’t matter how educated we think we are, how long a history we have in the anti-racist movement, how many POC friends we have, how many books we’ve read or protests we’ve attended or theory we’ve dissected or sociology we’ve deconstructed, white privilege will always be cushioning our lives. White privilege means we are very much used to be applauded and celebrated for the teeny-tiniest of achivements and progressions and expect this treatment all the time. It is far too easy to allow ourselves to be bolstered by this into believing we’ve done all the work we can and are now the perfect white anti-racist ally.
Racism permeates our culture to such a degree that dismantling our deeply ingrained preconceptions and notions is a lifelong task because these beliefs are constantly being reinforced in every facet of society. The work never ends.
Part of accepting that anti-racist education is a lifelong pursuit is accepting that sometimes, YOU ARE GOING TO FUCK UP.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, you will say or do something with racist connotations. As noted, racism permeates our culture to far too thorough a degree for it to be avoided.
When this happens, and you are called on it, rather than becoming hyper-defensive in your rush to deny your racism, STOP. Take a deep breath. THINK.
Deconstruct. Accept you fucked up, apologise (and actually apologise, don’t make a fauxpology:http://idealisticpragmatist.blogspot.com/2005/06/when-apology-is-not-apology.html ) and don’t do it again.
Also remember, the person calling you out is not saying YOU are racist. They are pointing out that you SAID or DID something that was racist. They are probably very aware that this is a symptom of your having been ingrained into racist ideology from birth and are pointing it out to you so that you can become aware of it because you have made it known you desire to be an ally. If you are serious about being an anti-racist ally, you MUST be willing to hear this criticism and take it onboard, or it is all just meaningless lip service.
Don’t Expect Cookies
So, you’ve acknowledged the existence of white privilege and that racism is a pretty big fucking issue. Well, whoop-de-doo, bully for you. You’ve become aware of something any Person of Colour could’ve told you at any point of their lives.
Speaking out against white privilege and racism, owning your white privilege, becoming part of the anti-racist movement, listening to POC – none of these things are magical powers.
The capacity to empathise with others makes you a decent human being, not a goddamn superhero.
POC fight a daily struggle against racism. You acknowledging it exists is not an earth-shattering cause of celebration. You are not doing anything remarkable or wondrous or noteworthy by owning your white privilege and expecting that you be congratulated on your amazing politics by every POC you encounter is really pathetic – and is once again pulling white privilege by expecting that the anti-racism movement be made about you and how awesome you are for taking part. Do it because you fucking care, not because you want pats on the back.