Tl;dr I need to work harder to include anti-racist work in this blog and in my life. As a start, here are some of the things I’m thinking about and working on in case it is helpful for other white folks. I hope I can keep growing and getting better as I take on this work.
Note: This post is specifically for white people about how we can be more active and effective in anti-racist work. People of color, you are welcome to read it, but I do not expect you to put any emotional labor into this. This is me and other white people trying to figure our shit out without doing you harm.
So, I recently took a class called White People Challenging Racism: Moving from Talk to Action. I highly recommend it to any white person in the area – check out the organization here.
I need to completely own it – I’ve been super wary about talking about race on this blog, and in my life, because I am so terrified of making a mistake.
But, of course, what that means is that I’ve just been bopping along in my angry queer rants without ever making it explicitly clear how much race plays into everything I write. Yes, I am an angry queer, but I am an angry white queer and so, I am allowed to perform anger. I still put up with a lot of bullshit because of my anger, but that is never because I am white.
That needs to be explicitly clear here, and everywhere else I share my opinion.
I like to think I’m a good white ally, but, the truth is that I’m probably not. So, for me and other white folks who want to be the good white ally, here are some things I am working on in myself, both small and large, which may be useful for all of us to hear:
- Not interrupting. Living with my family, I learned that the only way that I would be heard was if I interrupted and basically outshouted my family members, so it’s now a habit. Except, when a white person interrupts a person of color, that is no longer me saying “I want to be heard”, it’s me saying “what I have to say is more important than what you have to say”. I’m working not to interrupt at all, even with my family, and to cut myself off and apologize when I do.
- Talking to other white people about race. This is challenging because many white people in my life are work colleagues, some of whom are supervisors and managers. But it is really important to do, not just because it helps white people to Not Be As Terribly Racist, but because it’s a form of prevention. If I can have a conversation with a white person about racism now, maybe that person will be less likely to ask a person of color to perform emotional labor.
- This is also about challenging White Fragility before it becomes harmful. Us white people are super sensitive to conversations about race because we never have to do it. If I talk about race with another white person, we’re both challenging our sensitivity and, hopefully, becoming a little better at managing conversations about race.
- Embracing discomfort. The result of my particular brand of White Fragility is running away. I defend myself and avoid ever being challenged for my racism by simply running away or avoiding the conversation. I like to think that I still learn from the encounter, but then I think about what I want from my cis allies. When they run away, all they’re telling me is that they aren’t willing to face the problem. If they stick around, even when making giant mistakes, I know we’re going to get somewhere eventually. I’m trying to stick around a bit more and embrace my own discomfort in being called out and challenged2 in discussing race.
- Encouraging and supporting people of color in leadership and decision-making positions. Sadly, I don’t often have the power to do this, but one of the things I’ve been working on is building my personal lists of local trans artists of color and local queer artists of color and local people of color who are good at XYZ thing. That means that anytime anyone asks me for a recommendation, I’ve got a name at the tip of my tongue. It means that if someone asks me to do something I can’t do, I can refer them to a person of color. If (when) I am in the position to do so, I can use the list to hire and consult with people of color in my work. If I am in a position to speak with white people in leadership and decision-making positions, I try to ask how people of color are involved in their decision making process and (if it is relevant), why there aren’t people of color with decision-making power.
- Listening to people of color when they speak. This also includes reading anything they write. I love blogs because it is someone making a choice to share something. I know that I’m not demanding emotional energy from a person in the moment. They have written that when they are in a position to write it and have left it for me to read when I am in a position to read it. But beyond blogs, when people of color have something to say, it’s my job to sit the fuck down and listen, whether or not I’m in a position to hear it (this goes back to the not running away thing too).
- Consuming and supporting art made by people of color. I’m actively trying to prioritize going to see shows by people of color. I also make it a point to watch movies and tv shows by and centering people of color. Unlike some of the other points here, this is EASY and it’s FUN because artists of color are damn good at what they do. Have you watched Dear White People yet? Luke Cage? What about Crazy Rich Asians? Black Panther? Away from the big names, what about incredible queer artists of color such as Black Venus, Kit Yan, and Billy Dean Thomas? Queer artists of color get so much less visibility, but the work they are making is so worth the extra effort to find it. I could wax poetic about that forever.
I want to end with that point because it’s so easy to look at anti-racism work and go “that’s SO HARD and takes SO MUCH WORK” and yes, that’s true, but it can also be an absolute joy. Yes, fighting racism is about arguing with your racist family member over Thanksgiving (UGH), but it’s also about positivity, it’s about celebrating success, and it’s fun. I find that so energizing and am trying my best to hold onto that when I find my energy flagging.
So, that’s a list. There’s probably about ten thousand other things to do and things to think about, but that’s what I’m working on now. It’s hard, I haven’t figured it out yet, but I am working at it. But I hope the list looks a little different in a year as I grow and keep doing better.
I think the most important thing I’m learning is that I’m never going to be perfect, and that’s ok, as long as I keep getting better, apologizing for my mistakes, and moving forward. I want to include anti-racism as an underlying theme in this blog. I need to do better. We all have to.