In this post, I wrote about problematic white people at the Očeti Sakowiŋ camp. Certainly this does not apply to all white people, there are plenty of thoughtful, mindful white people who get it. As with most people who manage to do the right thing, they get to be unsung heroes, because it’s more important to talk about people who are serious problems, big ol’ roadblocks when it comes to any sort of social progress. I have no doubt there are plenty of times when white people feel as though they are constantly picked on, but it’s desperately important to understand that there are many good reasons for that.
Here in uStates, and in way too many other places in the world, people have been brought up and raised in a drowning pool of colonial kool-aid. Colonial thinking is extremely bad, it’s bad for everyone and everything. It’s destructive, dismissive, disrespectful, condescending, and unthinkingly arrogant. It’s short-term thinking, which is the very worst kind. There’s no looking to the past, through the present, into the future. Colonial thinking does not allow for a time bridge, or the importance of all generations, past, present, and yet to come. Look at the photo up there ^. Look at that child’s face. Every child’s face should reflect trust and happiness. That so many children, all over the world, know fear, distrust, and suspicion at such young ages is wrong on every possible level. That so many children, if they are not white, are viewed as sufficiently mature to be a threat, therefor, it’s okay for them to be gunned down by cops and citizens. Wrong. So wrong. That’s racism run amok, when you target children and think it’s okay to do that, for those children.
I know I’m not alone in being very tired of the fact that in spite of everywhere, in every way, every. single. thing. is made better, easier, softer, kinder for white people, yet they still manage to complain if the sugar-coating on a bitter pill isn’t thick enough.
I have mentioned, so many times, that I’m half white, and it’s that half which shows on the outside. When I’ve been at the camps, frinst., and someone is speaking about wašiču, and not in a nice way, I don’t take offense, I don’t get upset in any way. I listen, because generally speaking, I know I’m going to hear something valuable. Sure, I often hear things which hurt, but that happens when you’re trying to always learn throughout your journey on this earth. When you do hear things that hurt, it’s important that your hearing isn’t overwhelmed to the point that you miss bitterness, generational trauma, and/or the pain of deep wounds from the speaker. When you miss things like that, you miss the opportunity to understand. When you miss the opportunity to understand, you lose the opportunity of forgiveness and healing. When you lose the opportunity of forgiveness and healing, you lose the ability to be an ally. When you lose the ability to be an ally, you lose the possibility of peace.
When you’re white, at least here in uStates, it’s so very easy to be dismissive of the deep wounds of generational trauma; to handwave horrible acts because that was X amount of years ago. Ask yourself, if you have been hurt, does it help if someone tells you to get over it already? It’s not possible to “get over something” when that something has never been addressed in any meaningful way. It’s not possible to “get over something” when a majority of people refuse to even consider said harmful acts, and the repercussions echoing down the generations. Would white people consider it helpful if I simply posted: “White people, get over yourselves!”?
Then there’s the problem of white people trying to help when they have no understanding and little respect. Then you get people who are determined to be white saviors. No one is looking for white saviors. People of colour have already had long histories with white people who considered themselves saviors to the “lesser” races. Being an ally, that’s good. A wannabe savior? Bad. Lorraine Berry has a very good article up about the selective doubt of white people, and the savior problem. It’s in-depth, so just a bit here, click on over for the full read, and it’s a good one.
White people spend a lot of time telling black folks what their stories mean. If it’s not white writers insisting that they can tell a person of color’s story better than a black writer can, or Trump running mate Mike Pence telling black people that they talk about systemic racism too much, or Iowa Congressman Steve King telling Colin Kaepernick what his protest against police brutality “really means,” or folks who insist that “slavery wasn’t that bad,” there’s no shortage of white folks who insist that they know better than black folks when it comes to interpreting what happens to black bodies. It would be tempting to dismiss it all as the ravings of a minority of kooks if it weren’t for the ubiquity of the phenomenon. Everywhere, it seems, white people just can’t help themselves.
This article could go on for days with examples of articles written by black people or about black people relating black experience in which white people barge into the comments to explain to others how the writer is “wrong.” Or doesn’t have their facts straight. As a white woman, I’m conscious of my own role in writing this article, although I’m not trying to analyze the words of black writers so much as I am attempting to define what is happening with white commentators.
In looking at the white responses to black experiences, it’s apparent that some version of “whitesplaining” is taking place in these comments. In whitesplaining, white people speak over black people’s experiences of racism to explain to them how they have gotten racism “wrong,” or how their perceptions of what was happening to them was incorrect. It’s the “yes, but” response. In many cases, white people may not even intend their remarks to be racist: it’s possible that people feel they’re being helpful when they offer the “yes, but” argument when a black man tells them about his encounter with police, but it’s still an act of arrogance to tell someone what happened to them, especially when the white person explaining the act of racism has no first-hand knowledge of that type of experience.
One of the most common comments one will find in response to articles about police shootings is the idea that a black person “just needs to do what they’re told.” It doesn’t seem to matter how many videos are released of black men with their hands raised, or laying down on the pavement, or with their hands behind their backs, or with their hands on their cars: despite their compliant actions, they still end up being shot by police.
The videos are being used to create new meaning, and for those whites who are looking for justification for not having to doubt their faith in law enforcement, or who want to believe that every good thing that has happened to them in their lives is due to “hard work” rather than a combination of fortune, accident, being born with white skin, and yes, hard work, the existence of videos that now present a counter-narrative allow them to dismiss black people’s own experiences as “biased.”
Black people are not asking white people to save them; nobody needs a white savior. There are things that white people can do in support of Black Lives Matter that does not involve becoming a spokesperson for the organization. But white people can speak up against white racism when they hear it. They can write comments against other comments that blame black people for violence or crime. And if that’s too much for some white people, perhaps they can start with the most simple: Listen to what black people are saying about their own experiences.