We Have Feelings Too or The Cost OF Being A POC in Race Discussions
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Originally I wasn’t going to write any posts for IBARW. Then it was just going to be the one. I’m up to three* now. Because it’s been that kind of week. And since this post is about emotion it’s probably not going to be as polished as some of my other pieces. Or as polite. But, that’s the risk you take when you talk about race and racism with a POC. One of the things people tend to say to me (especially after they’ve tried to hammer sense into someone’s head for hours only to discover that bigotry can be a security blanket to some people) is that they don’t know how I keep my calm in these conversations. And I tend to wave it off, because really I don’t see a point in talking about the emotional impact of participating in these discussions. No, that’s a lie. I do talk about it. In safe spaces, behind closed doors with people I know I can trust. Because that’s the only place it’s (generally) acceptable to show weakness as an anti-racist POC. Otherwise the slurs and the misconceptions and the appropriation and the fucking fail will make you cry in front of people who have already made it clear that your feelings don’t matter to them.
Because if they cared about the feelings of POC they wouldn’t use racial slurs, they wouldn’t insist that we have no right to dictate the treatment of our cultural icons, they wouldn’t say that we were too angry (By the way, who stays calm and patient when someone is shitting on their shoe?) to discuss things “rationally”, they wouldn’t insist that being called out on their bigoted statements is more painful than being the target of bigotry. Basically they’d treat us the way they want to be treated and stop expecting POC to meekly accept being spit on, their culture, music, and religion picked apart for a moment’s entertainment, their families dehumanized and disrespected, their history and their literature discounted and ignored…all without ever once expressing their anger or their hurt. Because that’s the wrong tone. And of course when POC say “Turnabout is fair play, if I can’t talk about my emotions then yours don’t count either” suddenly we’re so cruel or we’re attacking or we’re still not using the right tone if we want to end racism. Because clearly if we’re calm enough and nice enough in the face of offensive behavior then everything will get better right? After all that’s usually what’s implied someone trots out MLK Jr. as an example of how POC should behave in the face of racism. I heartily suggest the next person to feel that urge spend some quality time reading Letter From a Birmingham Jail and recognize that nonviolent protests didn’t include smiling sweetly and eating shit.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Now this might shock and/or offend some people, but I have to say that today is not a day when I give a fuck. Because when POC have teaching moments? It costs us. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot. It’s a sacrifice that we choose to make in an effort to improve things. It’s a moment (or more) out of our lives that we knowingly open ourselves up to things that any sane person would want to avoid under normal circumstances. Because there is no other option. Oh, we could leave the people saying awful things to wallow in ignorance. But in the long run isolationism is not actually a helpful position. Especially since we are living in a global society, and there really is nowhere to withdraw to for the long haul. So, we wade in when we can, and we try to make sure that if even if the person saying offensive things doesn’t get it; other people reading will have access to the right information. And sometimes when the fail is too big and the pain is too acute? We get sarcastic and snark the stupid. Because you have to do something to ease the trauma when you’re 100 comments in and people are still insisting that the 65 links to respectable websites, 23 bits of anecdata, and the entire weight of history are all wrong and it’s the fault of POC that racism isn’t gone because they insist on being people of color instead of “normal” white people. It’s hard enough to stand strong in the face of willful stupidity, don’t expect us to be nice about it too. Gallows humor is often the best coping mechanism available. For the record, anger is a perfectly valid emotion but don’t get confused…we have others too…you just don’t get to see them.
* This post is actually a couple of days old so I think my count is 4 or 5 posts now. Originally I wasn’t going to post this here, but after reading some of the responses to IBARW I think it’s important that a wider audience sees this and gets a little reminder of our reality.