Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race

I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms. I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates our experiences. You can see their eyes shut down and harden. It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals like they can no longer hear us.

This emotional disconnect is the conclusion of living a life oblivious to the fact that their skin colour is norm and all others deviate from it. At best, white people have been taught not to mention that people of colour are ‘different’ in case it offends us. They truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin colour can and should be universalised. I just can’t engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do. They’ve never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white- so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact; they interpret it as an affront.  The journey towards understanding structural racism still requires people of colour to prioritise white feelings. Their eyes glaze over in boredom or widen in indignation. Their mouths start twitching as they get defensive. Their throats open up as they try to interrupt, itching to talk over you but not really listen, because they need to let you know that you’ve got it wrong.

Even if they can hear you, they’re not really listening. It’s like something happens to the words as they leave my mouth and reach their ears. The words hit a barrier of denial and they don’t get any further.

That’s the emotional disconnect. It’s not really surprising, because they’ve never known what it means to embrace a person of colour as a true equal, with thoughts and feeling that are as valid as their own.  Watching The Color of Fear by Lee Mun Wah, I saw people of colour break down in tears as they struggled to convince a defiant white man that his words were enforcing and perpetuating a white racist standard on them. All the while he stared obliviously, completely confused by this pain, at best trivialising it, at worst ridiculing it.

I’ve written before about this white denial being the ubiquitous politics of race that operates on its inherent invisibility. So I can’t talk to white people about race anymore because of the consequential denials, awkward cartwheels and mental acrobatics that they display when this is brought to their attention. Who really wants to be alerted to a structural system that benefits them at the expense of others?

I can no longer have this conversation, because we’re often coming at it from completely different planes. I can’t have a conversation with them about the details of a problem if they don’t even recognise that the problem exists. Worse still is the white person who might be willing to entertain the possibility of said racism, but still thinks we enter this conversation as equals. We don’t.

Not to mention that entering into conversation with defiant white people is a frankly dangerous task for me. As the heckles rise and the defiance grows, I have to tread incredibly carefully, because if I express frustration, anger, or exasperation at their refusal to understand, they will tap into their pre-subscribed racist tropes about angry black people who are a threat to them and their safety.  It’s very likely that they’ll then paint me as a bully or an abuser. It’s also likely that their white friends will rally round them, rewrite history and make the lies the truth. Trying to engage with them and navigate their racism is not worth that.

Amidst every conversation about Nice White People feeling silenced by conversations about race, there is a sort of ironic and glaring lack of understanding or empathy for those of us who have been visibly marked out as different for our entire lives, and live the consequences.  It’s truly a lifetime of self-censorship that people of colour have to live. The options are: speak your truth and face the reprisal, or bite your tongue and get ahead in life. It must be a strange life, always having permission to speak and feeling indignant when you’re finally asked to listen. It stems from white people’s never questioned entitlement, I suppose.

I cannot continue to emotionally exhaust myself trying to get this message across, whilst also toeing a very precarious line that tries not to implicate any one white person in their role of perpetuating structural racism, lest they character assassinate me.

So I’m no longer talking to white people about race. I don’t have a huge amount of power to change the way the world works, but I can set boundaries. I can halt the entitlement they feel towards me and I’ll start that by stopping the conversation. The balance is too far swung in their favour. Their intent is often not to listen or learn, but to exert their power, to prove me wrong, to emotionally drain me, and to rebalance the status quo. I’m not talking to white people about race unless I absolutely have to. If there’s something like a media or conference appearance that means that someone might hear what I’m saying and feel less alone, then I’ll participate. But I’m no longer dealing with people who don’t want to hear it, wish to ridicule it and frankly, don’t deserve it.

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. Thank you so much for writing this.

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    • Dondra Lopez says:

      Very powerful article! I would only add that the missing piece in this essay is the pain and sadness experienced when our words and experiences are denied and dismissed. Yes, we need to be angry about oppression, but under the anger is our howling grief at the way humans treat each other so inhumanely.

      Reply
  2. Nick Nakorn says:

    Reni, thank you a thousand times for a brilliant piece of writing that so clearly maps the emotional lives of PoC living in white societies. I urge all readers to tweet, like and all those other social media things. My own exasperation, with the same feelings of banging my head on the white wall, is far less well expressed but, after a lifetime of it since the 1950s, I now just feel exhausted.

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  3. teachermrw says:

    BAM! This. is. BRILLIANT. A dear friend and colleague told me years ago that people of color need to into one room and celebrate, and White people need to go into another room and deal with their unexamined racism and White privilege.

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    • Sir Duke says:

      At a recent Racial Justice seminar I attended we did this exercise. When the time arrived that we were to divide into our groups, it was a decided a 3rd group was needed. One for the white people who didn’t understand the need for separation and were less comfortable with the reality of white privilege. Even within the white community, vast differences of levels of understanding and experience.

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  4. Nick Nakorn says:

    @teachermrw – yes it certainly feels like that would be a good idea sometimes. But, as a mixed race person, I have experienced the downsides of separatism when I once went to a club that had unoffically segregated bars and I could not get served in either. I was also in the odd position of often being asked at work ‘what does your community feel about..’ while being told I was too white to be in the Black Employees Support Group (though a few years later I was appointed to chair the group). Nevertheless, I really notice how when in East London I’m, treated completely normally in shops and so-on (predomonantly staffed by non white people) while in Devon there’s often an odd comment, odd look or body language that really means ‘go away’ so i sometimes feel seperatism would suit me just so I could have space to ‘be’ as it were.
    .

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    • PhoenixRN says:

      Nick, as an American Black I am not sure as to how comparable our experiences can be. As a 64 year old very aware and educated black woman I can tell you that this phenomenon of being mixed race has only occurred since the late 1980’s when white women started children with black men. At that point I started hearing these women insisting that that their children were mixed or biracial. I think that they fell victim to their own racism and were unable to admit that they had a black child. Black women since slave days have had children with white men, raised them in the community and they were considered light with a white daddy. The law in almost every state of union the defines what made a Negro and having one parent being black albeit mixed or very light only made the children “lightskinned.” Now I’ve noticed that that a great many of the Blacks in England are very dark so maybe you stood out. I’ve noticed that many American Blacks seem to have difficulty establishing boundaries with other races and some seem to suffer from self hate, thus we’ve got another issue in the community-biracials, a great many who have been raised by their white mothers alone and do not know their history, have no pride in it and want to be anything but black. You are from the UK so I don’t know what to tell you. I personally would consider you a black man but were you raised around good black folks, do you have pride in your history, do you know your culture?
      The young sister that wrote this article is absolutely correct. Trying to talk to most white re race is an exercise in futility. From an oldhead sister to a young sister be the best that you can be and enjoy your life. Having a good life is the best revenge.

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  5. aliw40 says:

    As a white woman I have increasingly learnt the need to understand, not only how important it is to *actively* listen and learn, (which requires a willingness to relinquish power and put aside our any reflex to dominate) but then apply what I learn to myself. I was raised in a ‘liberal’ tradition and recognising *and accepting* where I am, and am complicit in, structural/colonial racism is painful and difficult. But certainly not as difficult or painful as it is for the PoC who are on the receiving end of how that played out.

    That phrase ’emotional disconnect’ is exactly right. I was raised that it was ‘right’ not to judge someone by the colour of their skin, but not taught how to see that society does so on a structural level all the time. So I could, on the one hand, condemn the blatant racism of the BNP whilst at the same time engage in micro-aggressions because of that emotional disconnect you have identified.

    My ‘intent’ does not negate the impact of that. I cannot necessarily ‘make amends’ but I can personally confront how I have been a part of the system that so exhausts you and work to both change what is in me and try and make sure that my children understand all this too.

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  6. GinKaiJac says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’m a white mum of three mixed race children. As far as I can, I check my privilege. As far as I can, I try to be aware of the different journey that my children must navigate through this world. It’s not my journey, it’s theirs, but i try to get as close to it as I possibly can, because they are my heart. I can never fully know the pains you describe, but I’m trying my best to learn, understand and engage through those parts of my life which are lived alongside my husband and our kids. The ‘eyes shutting down and hardening’ and the ‘treacle being poured into ears’, resonates deeply, since it describes perfectly the responses that I’ve observed, when I try to share with white friends and wider family, that which I’ve learnt about race and racism. Many look at me like I’m a crazy radical – and I’ve received some serious abuse from other family members for expressing my views about structural racism and white privilege. With regards to the two rooms you describe above teachermrw – I agree to some extent, and I also feel that there is a role and responsibility for some of us in the ‘white room’, to initiate and steer the conversation.

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  7. Thank you for writing this Rene. I’m a white mum of three mixed race children. I know I can’t fully understand what it is you describe, but I just wanted to say that it resonated deeply. I have done my best to engage with and understand the different journey that my children and husband must navigate through our society. As I’ve tried to share this learning with other white friends and family, I have experienced exactly those responses you describe – ‘eyes hardening’ and ‘treacle in ears’, right through to very abusive responses from certain people when broaching the topic of structural racism and white privilege. That battle is not mine I know, but my children are my heart, and through them, I get as close to it as I can. Regarding the two rooms described by @teachermrw – to a certain extent I agree, and I feel there is a role for some of us in the ‘white room’ to help initiate and steer conversation towards better understanding. That’s something I am committed to doing. I would really miss my loved ones though, so as long as it we were just in our rooms for a time, before coming back together.

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  8. Zanna says:

    Heart-breaking. Thank you for writing & for the link to the film
    As I said to a White guy friend ‘but it’s NOT the “knuckle-dragging racists”, it’s US’

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  9. Malin says:

    @Nick
    I live in Devon, and yeah I know what you’re talking about. I don’t think it’s done just to PoC, but if a person is of colour then yeah they’re going to find it always done to them. Which I am ashamed of really, as a white person living in Devon.

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    • Nick Nakorn says:

      Interestingly, the three most serious life-threatening attacks I’ve experienced personally were in the countryside where mixed race people represent about 0.05% of the population and PoC about 1%. In cities the unease has been far less prevalent except near where I once worked in Watford – not far from the old National Front HQ. Several Oxfam shops were fire-bombed and, just prior to me moving there, our local shopkeper was murdered after speaking out against racists.

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      • steviemalin says:

        I wanted to talk some time before I replied. Life threatening attacks are rather a step up (understatement) from what I read in your original comment. What I read in your original comment I had come across – it’s the general distrust of outsiders that I have seen whilst living in small villages in Devon.

        Hearing that you have been put in life-threatening attacks causes this reaction in me – I want to learn more about how I can help ensure that others don’t have to suffer like that out here. So I will be educating myself on tackling racism in rural areas and do more. Because I feel that whilst PoC are getting attacked down here it’s not enough for me to just education and affect change within myself. I want to live in a world where minority groups get heard, people can celebrate their differences, and where we can all get along.

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        • Nick Nakorn says:

          Part of the dynamic of feeling uneasy is the knowledge that situations one has already experienced might be repeated. If it was just the odd looks and the comments on their own then I expect we would feel a bit annoyed but not actually frightened. It’s not always possible to know when and how an attack might happen so one adopts a kind of hyper-vigilance. Many of PoC’s mental health issues are caused and prolonged by very long periods of time in which the fight or flight mechanism is on high alert; and it doesn’t necessarily require previous personal experience of violence or bad treatment either – we have a sense that many encounters with racists are purely random. The problem is also exacerbated by treatments for mengtal health problems, such as CBT, that rely on showing people’s fears are unfounded when, in fact they are totally founded in reality. As well as issues of colour there are issues of culture, community and so-on that also contribute to the unease of the outsider or the ‘other’.

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          • steviemalin says:

            That fits in with my experience as trans; knowing stuff has happened before and therefore might happen again. We white people have destroyed your trust in us. Yeah, people like myself need to be doing more to be the change we want to see in the world so that trust can be rebuilt again. I do feel strongly about my desire to rebuild trust, probably because of my own background. My grandmother was born half way round the world and lived there for the first 30 years (thereabouts) of her life, before becoming a refugee (WWII) and then ending up in the Channel Islands simply because her husband had family there. Luck of the draw my ancestors were white British but I’m still only here because of a refugee.

        • m says:

          If that is what you really want, then by all means talk to your white friends

          cnn.com/2016/11/10/us/post-election-hate-crimes-and-fears-trnd/

          Reply
  10. Jan Dobson says:

    It is heartbreaking that we have yet to reach the point that we cannot recognise differences, whether it be colour, faith, abilities, sexual et al, without acknowledging individuality and without preconceptions.
    I wait impatiently for the time when we say of ourselves and others “This is me, this is you. We share some commonalities with each other, we share some traits & experience with some groups. For every single one of us though, the journey is unique and that’s okay.”

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  11. Alex says:

    This does remind me of trying to engage men about feminist issues. Even when it’s coming from another straight white guy, the symptoms mentioned in the intro of this piece all kick in.

    I think SWM have a lot of trouble thinking outside of their life being the default and therefore the only one that matters. They also seem to take any discussion about institutionalised racism, patriarchy, etc. as a personal attack on them as an individual. I wonder why?

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  12. annaliesa says:

    So why are you involved with Feminist Times, white liberal, Julie Burchill-loving vanity project of Charlotte Raven’s?? Please don’t tell me you don’t know that they accepted money from Burchill to keep afloat? A few more skeletons in that particular closet are about to be exposed, but this will do for now. http://athousandflowers.net/2013/06/19/weekly-wanker-012-charlotte-raven/

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    • thanks for the background history but i can assure you that I already know it. you might be able to tell from any piece my of writing exactly where my political affiliations lie. it should be glaringly obvious from my writing that I don’t co-sign the politics of every woman who put the money in to start it. I hope you don’t think so lowly of me as to assume i’m a brainless lemming or a sheep.

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      • annaliesa says:

        I think very highly of you which is precisely why I can’t reconcile your involvement in a project that has such a ‘big’ feminist, hierarchical structure (an ‘editor’ ??). White feminists sitting around, parasitically encouraging other women to provide the site with content is a problem, yes. They didn’t have a clue when they launched. Now they know that to keep going they need the kudos you and people like Roz Kaveney provide. I’m not talking about people who put money in I’m talking about those ‘in charge’ who wouldn’t even know how to spell intersectionality never mind understand it. It’s the perfect proto-capitalist experiment: present women with a vaguely feminist ‘themed’ site and the promise of a magazine that will never materialise. Get the people who put money in to also provide you with the content (for reason above) sit back and congratulate yourself on being a first class ‘media’ feminist . (See Dzodan for recent definition of this) Hopefully your presence might mean we will see a regime change at FT, either that or we should start a project that has genuine integrity.

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    • Dan says:

      It’d be awesome if the quotes in this article had sources. To randomly share a quote about someone doing cocaine with no source is a bit unethical, wouldn’t you say?

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  13. Alison says:

    I’m so damn sorry you have been made to feel like this. It’s spot on, unfortunately. As a white person I’m painfully embarrassed by the systemic privilege we deny and enjoy on a daily basis. And painfully embarrassed that I didn’t even realise it myself until about ten years ago. Beautifully written.

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  14. The psychological hurdle that is Whiteness needs first to be overcome before White people in general can deal with Racism; on the level of understanding it as a structural bias. Unfortunately, most of the time it feels that the only way to tap into such psychology is by means of a lobotomy. Hammer anyone? Peace, respect, and thank you.

    Reply
    • Nick Nakorn says:

      I think too it’s a practical hurdle because the families, institutions, places of work, religious groups and social circles all rely on an over-emphasised sense of team loyalty, tribalism, nationalism, localism and so-on that is threatened by any form of internal criticism. So while individuals might abhore racism/sexism/homophobia etc, it is often made clear within the group dynamic that reciprocated loyalty from the group to the individual is dependant upon putting the psychological comfort and social status of group before the needs of the outsider. I think most people have a sense of what it might mean to be ostracised and so very few anti-racists actually properly support anti-racist positions.

      Reply
  15. kimlondon says:

    I understand. I know that I’m a racist, I’m a product of a fundamentally racist society and I make snap judgements about people based on their skin colour. When I realise what I’m doing I’m ashamed and I do all I can to see the person, not the skin colour, but how can I undo the programming and my own personality? I try to be aware of my bias and make sure that it’s only ever a problem for me and not the person I’m facing but most of all I try to listen to people like you because if I can listen to someone who experiences prejudice I stand a hope of understanding it and maybe I can stop it being passed on any further. Don’t stop explaining, some of us know that what we don’t want to hear we really need to be told. Sorry.

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  16. We are but here for a minute, and the thing we most struggle with is skin color? God will surely judge us harshly if this is the sum of our commitment to one another. I am my brothers keeper!

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  17. Dominika says:

    Hi, I hear you. I am white and I refuse to take the “white is neutral” bullshit. Don`t stop talking to white people, your voice is clear and important, and there are ways of getting through. Have you seen Bryan Stevenson`s “We Need «to Talk About Justice” TED Talk? I showed it to a group of mostly white junior college students. Some reacted the way you describe in your post, shutting their ears and hearts. Others were profoundly shocked and told me something clicked in their heads. I spread the message around. I support you.

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  18. @Real_Tak says:

    I’m literally crying, because that is all I can get out. Wonderful, thank you for this!

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  19. Nick Nakorn says:

    As an (ex) environmental campaigner, it’s become clear that green politics is now closed to me almost entirely because of the obsession that many green campaigners have with racist Anthroposophy. Hardly a day goes by without my campaign (to expose racist Anthroposophy and its apologists) being threatened. Just today, this spat unfolded on Facebook when there was a post about BBC bias against science and climate change and in favour of mysticism (such as racist Anthroposophy). Before you know it, I’m threatened with legal action by another commenter attempting to defend Anthroposophist organisations. You can read it here.. https://www.facebook.com/maurice.spurway?fref=ts

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  20. Nick Nakorn says:

    @Stevie The (fashionable?) rise in intersectional politics is helpful in bringing people together who have in common the experience as being treated as ‘other’ in ways that impact negatively on their lives. I’m hoping this might be a turning point in which white, male, cis, straight capitalist patriarchy might start to feel some pressure to change. But my fear is that economic hardship will turn attitudes to the right both fiscally and socially and, as a result, prejudice and bigotry might well increase; especially if UKIP do well in the the upcoming elections.

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  21. ladonnab84 says:

    The dreaded words vaguely disguised as reassurance: “But, I’m not like that!”.
    1) It’s a way to try making the topic about them.

    2) So what if they’re “not like that”?! The topic isn’t about people who aren’t! It’s about people who ARE like that! Stop being defensive! Not everything is about you! (them)

    3) LISTEN! Learn that while you may want to comment with what you think will benefit the conversation, if you are not effected by what the conversation is about, it’s most important to listen. Comment AFTER if you must. Conversations like this come about because people who aren’t heard desperately want to be. HEAR them! Give them that chance!

    4) I’m white (minus that minuscule % that may or may not be depending on if the family tales are true) and I can try to understand the best I can! It’s not difficult! I grew up not knowing my privilege. I learned! I strive to keep learning! It in no way diminishes any aspect of my life! I don’t say this to get a pat on the back. Being a decent human does not deserve reward. It’s basic.

    5) We’re all human, damnit! Treat each other as such!

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  22. Romeo Padilla III says:

    I strongly agree with what you’ve said in your post about white people. In my experience, I’ve face many white people who think of themselves as first priority and more powerful than us colored folks. They seem to have gotten used to how they were treated way back in time when the coloured were not accepted in society back in the day. But today is a new era. We all have to be treated equally. Then again, we also have to be cautious about the things we say towards the white people. If we are talking smack about them talking smack about us, doesn’t that make us hypocrites and just be doing the exact same thing we are complaining about? I think that we should all just stop and all accept how people are.

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  23. Billy Kim says:

    I agree to your statement that the majority of White people have “disconnection” about racism. However, I believe that it is just a matter of education. There might be people who are not willing to accept or deny the fact, but there are people who simply can’t understand because they did not encounter one or nobody ever told them that their words and actions can be racist. There are people who are willing to learn and accept the fact. It would be such a painstaking task to persuade people, but we should not stop.

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  24. louis says:

    im not a caucasian, and i know some white people plainly discriminate us. However, what i strongly believe based on my own experience is that not a vast majority of white people has disconnection of racism. Of course that dusconnection should be surely eliminated asap, hense that’s why we should stop reverse-discriminating some white people that they all have disconnection about racism first. In order to ignore white people’s disconnection, we should keep touching this sensitive issue for the better future.

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  25. DanieM says:

    As I read through this, it was not surprising that many PoC had the same responses from white people over and over through white people’s expressions such as “eye-hardening” and such. I would strongly agreed with it. Most white people often are careful of what they’re saying to PoC friends and people, where others just say it, not knowing their words were terms of a racist would say. But again, I felt that not many white people understand why they’re ‘hurting’ PoC through words was because they didn’t know what they’re saying and think it was right thing to say it to PoC when it wasn’t actually right but again, there should be some kind of education to really understand the equality with PoC people. Because well, most white people probably never learn it at all.

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  26. Christina says:

    Thank you for sharing this post, I agree to your idea that not all, but many white people are disconnected and refuse to listen to people based on their skin color. Now a days i see many TV shows and dramas showing racism in old times and I still think some white people think of others races the same way which is upsetting. Hopefully, despite our differences, we all learn to understand and accept different individuals to be equal one another through education and time in the future.

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  27. kae says:

    This is really sad. There is a massive lack of awareness and understanding. I think lots of people are just ignorant of the lives of others and feel embarrassed and accused when they first have such a conversation, whereas if they had a bit more of an understanding and a grasp of the facts they would just want to listen and learn. This article clarifies things very well.

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  28. sophia says:

    i have been thinking about this a lot, having had many conversations about race w/ ignorant white people who simply do not want to nor try to understand what POC are saying to them and it is so frustrating and ultimately only hurts us. white people can walk away from these conversations so easily because it doesn’t affect them but its so much harder for POC. i completely agree with disengaging + picking which battles to fight because often these convos lead to POC having self-doubt and emotional pain that they don’t deserve. its sad though because white people are the ones that need to understand these issues as they have the power and privilege to change things…

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  29. dionne says:

    Wow, this is everything i have needed to read for a long, long time and is particularly timely today in three very painful and frustrating interactions where topics around people of colour are stolen and trampled on with calls of “reverse racism!” and “slavery in the Caribbean? That´s nothing, there were white slaves too”….and so on. Thank you for summarising my feelings. And balming my salty parts. Deepest respect to you.

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  30. CC says:

    I’m an American white female who has been trying to educate myself about this topic – instead of expecting people of color to do it for me. (If that’s not the preferred term in the UK, I apologize; in the US “people of color” or “POC” is the preferred nomenclature, from what I am told.) I wanted to thank you for your honesty and also for your choice of words. I’ve read similar articles, but too often, they wind up being divisive in other ways – for example, one included profoundly ableist language, which doesn’t sit well with me at all, being Autistic and Hard of Hearing.

    In short, thank you for expressing yourself so beautifully and simply while walking the walk of intersectionality. My best to you.

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  31. Dave Starns says:

    This is all true, painfully so.

    I would only add one important caveat in understanding white denial: getting this message across is difficult because the vast majority of working-class white people don’t feel “privileged” at all. Yes, this is in large part because of the cultural conditioning outlined in the article, but it’s also due to the simple fact that their lives are not easy. They don’t feel privileged because–except for the children of the wealthy–nothing was handed to them, at least, nothing that feels like it did much good. Yes, of course they had advantages that they don’t acknowledge or even comprehend. But nothing fuels denial quite like a life of hardship whose circumstances seem to contradict the very definition of “privilege.”

    And to top it off, the power-structure media bombards them with “news” of black people alternatively raping/looting and being given affirmative-action job advantages. Fox News drivel is an easy sell in direct proportion to the degree that the white viewer sees his own life as a struggle for economic survival. It’s hard to tell the guy with three jobs living in a trailer that he’s been the recipient of any advantages at all.

    So how do we do it? How do we get white america to understand and confront the real enemy?

    Reply
  32. Laura says:

    Thank you for writing this. I hope in the interim you have changed your mind about talking to white people. I’m an American white female who is trying to understand the experience of people of color in the US. Because I live in a racially-segregated city, my experience of life is different from, and sheltered from, the lives of people of color in ways that I didn’t – and I’m sure still don’t – realize. Because people don’t talk about their experiences of racism, my primary means of understanding the experience of others has been through books and film. In the last few years, I’ve begun saying to friends when we’re catching up “I’m very interested in what’s going on in this country around race.” By saying that to many people, I’ve been directed to resources I didn’t know existed, most importantly, the Center for the Healing of Racism. Since 1989, they have been holding dialogues on racism all over the country, with people of all races coming together to talk about their experiences and listen to the experiences of others. The Center gathers together diverse groups in a safe space where each person can expect to be heard, and each person can feel safe speaking about where they are, even if where they are isn’t where they or others would like them to be. They begin with the premise that we have all been racially conditioned and we have all been injured by racism; we learned it, and we can unlearn it, but we have to start unlearning it from where we are. We have all been forced into a distorted reality through racial conditioning that we didn’t choose and didn’t know was going on. It would be great if I could start to understand racism completely all of a sudden, but I can’t, and while it is healthy to accept another person’s experience for what it is, it is not healthy to make generalizations based on one story. It is healthy to consider the person’s story and to do the research, and to find opportunities to hear more stories. No person of color can speak for all persons of color, just as I can’t speak for all white people. But I can hear one story at a time, I can check out what they tell me about dis-proportionality and racist infrastructure in employment, housing, criminal justice, education, etc. I can do this if we understand at the outset that I may not understand everything from the get-go. My husband didn’t understand male privilege the first time, or 30th time, I mentioned it to him, but 10 years later, he’s starting to “get it”. It does me no good to accuse him of “privilege” that he doesn’t see, or to accuse him of trying to perpetuate something that he didn’t know existed, but it helps him to give him concrete examples and trust him to ponder, research, ask other people. My mother didn’t believe me the first time I told her that her husband had molested me – she had never heard of such a thing. She didn’t believe me the second or third time. She loved me, and she was smart, and fairly worldly, but in 1978, she knew I was an imaginative young gal who disliked that man, but she had never heard of an adult making sexual advances towards a child. Many years later – many – she “got it”, and apologized, and the healing began.

    Please don’t give up on white people.

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  33. Dan says:

    “Who really wants to be alerted to a structural system that benefits them at the expense of others?”

    I do. Every day.

    Reply
  34. Mel says:

    (White person, here.) I am perfectly capable of looking at pieces like this on the internet and educating myself. I would venture that any white person ignorant of these issues and dynamics is being willfully obtuse (of course). Why on earth would I need someone to take time out of their day to school me on this stuff? It just strikes me as a way to demand deference – “tell me about your strange fringe issues! Quickly! I am a very important and busy man!”

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