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 	 We Have Feelings Too or The Cost OF Being A POC in Race Discussions

We Have Feelings Too or The Cost OF Being A POC in Race Discussions

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.

20 comments to We Have Feelings Too or The Cost OF Being A POC in Race Discussions

  • God, that was well said.

  • Thank you for saying what needs to be said, so loudly and clearly.

  • G. R. Crisp

    Thank you.

  • Maud

    That couldn’t be any clearer, for those willing to hear it.
    And this?

    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.

    So sad, but if every white person had to quietly contemplate one thing for five minutes every day, it should be this.

    • Galahad

      So sad, but if every white person had to quietly contemplate one thing for five minutes every day, it should be this.

      I was pretty on board until I came to this particular comment. The good consideration of this post undermined by one person who lumps all of “us” into one category of being bigots.

      Non starter: getting angry and fighting back is fair turnabout. Being as bigoted as you oppose is not.

      • Galahad: It’s a weak point, but using it as a reason to dismiss everything else being said in this thread is also very weak. And while all white people are not bigots, we are all programmed with white-bias — as are people of color it might surprise you to learn. Researchers have shown this in quantifiable, verifiable terms. See: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

        To insist you have no prejudice pretty much affirms that you do not understand all the components of racism, which means you are – even if unconsciously – exhibiting bias. It’s hard to admit this ugly truth about the world, that racism and privilege are worked into our psyches and into the system, but we must acknowledge this or we cannot make a change. Because the world will not change us; it is by changing ourselves that we will change the world.

      • Dan

        (I saw the same remark about the same comment made elsewhere; I don’t know if you’re the same person, but this point is important enough to me that I want to post my reply here, too.)

        I’m not reading where this implies that all white people are bigots.

        Here’s how I do read it:

        It’s worthwhile for me, as a white person, to take time to think about the fact that when I encounter people of color in a racially-charged context — and every encounter that a non-white stranger has with me will start out racially-charged, at least to some minimal extent — I am seeing them in a context that is already primed with hurt and justified anger.

        As wonderful as it would be for me if people of color could see that I’m trying to be better than the overwhelming weight of their experiences with white people, I’m not entitled to any kind of free pass. I have to earn that trust, person by person — just like any other kind of trust.

  • That’s wonderful writing – less polished be damned, that’s really good.

    Thank you.

  • Robin

    I’d never read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” before – thank you for both this post and for linking it.

  • Melinda Bishop

    ABW…

    I love you. Seriously. This needed to be said.

    As a biracial woman who is considered “non-white” in most contexts in this racist/sexist society, I felt your words.

    This is my reality on a daily basis. I believe that when white people become defensive or uncomfortable with the subject of race, it is about their reluctance to confront the possibility that they hold some deeply rooted notions about POC. Some people want to believe that they are better than that instead of truly looking within.

    It takes work to examine white privilege and to listen without being defensive. Funny how people of color are labeled “angry” or “hostile” simply for sharing their experiences. What I want to ask some people is this…wouldn’t you be angry if you were made to feel inferior all your life?

    I try to talk to my husband about this. He is white. He is one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known. Yet he seems to be very uncomfortable when I share my most painful memories of racist actions and words from people of ALL races/ethnicities, not just white. Because the truth is that I have encountered it from black and Hispanic folks too…and it is every bit as hurtful when minorities mistreat one another.

    In my husband’s case, it isn’t about racism. I believe it is simply that he has never had to deal with this. He has never had to confront real hatred based on what he looks like. Before we met, he had never thought about what it is to be a WOC in a society that sees you as invisible and ugly. My conversations with him have sparked some heavy feelings in me as well. I’ve recommended that he read “The Bluest Eye”.

    When I talk to him about race, it is not to make him feel guilty. I’m not into the business of white guilt because it doesn’t accomplish anything. Nope…what I want to do is open his eyes to the world we live in and inspire him to care a little bit. This is the world our future children will live in. We need to instill a sense of self-worth in them because they will need it, especially when some kid is calling them the N-word because Mommy is only half white. I need him to realize that it CAN happen and that denial is not helpful. I’m not immune to racism because I look damn near white. This is America. I need to feel like I can count on him to be there if somebody says something completely fucked up.

    I need my daughters to love what they see in the mirror, whether they have my brown eyes or their father’s blue eyes. I need them to love their hair. I don’t want them to be like me as a young girl, seeing beauty in white women but unable to see it in myself. I don’t want them to wish they could be like Heidi or Kristin or Sara or Caitlin. I want them to be able to say that white girls are beautiful, but they are equally beautiful too. I want them to know that they are PERFECT without flowing blond hair, blue eyes, and so-called “ideal” features.

    This is mostly where my anger comes from. This is what pisses me off when I try to talk about the ways in which POC are constantly being devalued. We devalue ourselves and one another too. This shit needs to stop. When more white people are willing to listen and learn with an open mind, we can have an honest discussion. No blame. No stupid “white guilt”. No avoidance. No excuses. No skirting the issue. Simply no-holds barred honesty, respect, and communication.

  • Sam

    Well gosh, as a non-poc (white male geek trying to make a clever comment that will totally come across as lame but really really hope not inappropriate or offensive) “you go girl!”

    Please please please do keep upsetting my, er, demographic.

    I’v been reading your blog for a bit, good stuff.

  • judy b.

    As a white woman who has had both civil and un-civil arguments with white men about racism and sexism, I have a vague idea of what you are describing. I affirm your right to deal as best you can with the insanity. Not that you need me to, but I feel for you.

    Megan: To offer you empathy, your husband has to open his heart to his own pain, too, and he may not have ever tried to do that. Likely, he’s been conditioned NOT to dwell on disappointment and injury, but to get over it. He needs to learn that’s bad medicine. That’s poison, actually, part of the poison that contributes to racism. Also, on a primal level perhaps he doesn’t like to think that he can’t protect you from harm – i.e. racism – it makes him feel powerless, so he just ignores/denies. (See the pattern?) But he can learn to offer you compassion. And, he can help educate others. That’s the deal when we love people: we give, we learn, we share, we grow.

    Peace to all.

  • Melinda Bishop

    Actually, my name is Melinda…not Megan. *smiles*

    But Judy, I do agree with much of what you’re saying. That is an excellent point. Very insightful. He was raised by two wonderful parents who are blind to the fact that they don’t entirely view POC as equals. I’m not saying that they are racist…far from it.

    It simply seems that they are unaware of their own position as white-identified people in this society. They trained him to pretend to be “colorblind”. This might have been well-intentioned, but it is a disservice. His sister, my sister-in-law, is not what I would call a racist either. But it is somewhat clear that she IS aware of her privilege as a white woman in America and she feels entitled to do whatever she wants because of it. She doesn’t socialize much with POC. She seems to believe that all white women are inherently more beautiful than WOC. I wouldn’t call her “racist” because she isn’t…simply a bit ignorant.

    BTW, I hope that statement didn’t offend you in any way. I really appreciate your input, especially when you said that compassion is part of the whole deal. Before meeting me, he had never been involved with a WOC. He never understood how this society shapes a woman’s identity and perception of herself. He dismissed me as being “shallow” when I tearfully recalled racial slurs about my hair and other physical features. When I explained in further detail, he realized that he’d been insensitive. He truly didn’t know. I had to “school” him about this. It isn’t shallowness, it is something deeper that devalues POC.

  • AGoldberg

    I understand what you are saying and it can be absolutely heart-wrenching when people fail to understand that you just want to be a person. Now, I think it is getting even worse, to the point that I don’t want to deal with other Americans black or white for that matter because it seems as if all of the words have fallen on deaf ears. To the woman who said that he sister in-law isn’t racist, although she feels as if all white women are inherently more beautiful than woc….she is a racist. Regardless of the object, whether it is beauty, intelligence or talent, if she believes her race to be superior, she is a racist.

  • Melinda: I swear I was pronouncing it “Melinda” – I love that name! Anyway, thank you for your comments and your sensitivity to my feelings. I am not in the least offended by your observations – I have witnessed the same ignorance and lack of interest in being educated. I believe there is fear in there, because on a gut level white people know we have a lot to learn, and people tend to fear change.

    Melinda, you are incredibly generous with your in-laws. They have a lot of learning to do, and I admire your patience. I am going to remember your patience when I start to lose mine with people who just don’t understand and don’t seem to be interested in gaining understanding. I’d like to recommend a book for them, written by Tim Wise, a white man: White Like Me. I am just starting it, and here is a passage that came to mind when you said your husband’s parents raised him to be colorblind:

    “…if you have told yourself you are not to see race, you’ll be pretty unlikely to notice discrimination based on race, let alone know how to respond to it.”

    That’s something to think about. Wise extrapolates on it very well. Also, there’s a great piece and discussion on POC in literature here: http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/08/10/guest-blogger-neesha-meminger/

    You might find some helpful passages there to share.

  • Melinda Bishop

    Hi again, Judy! Thanks. I never liked my name as a kid, but now I think it isn’t so bad after all. I like my middle name better, though.

    As previously stated…I’m not into “white guilt”. I cannot respect anyone who engages in it. And I would never try to make anyone feel guilty for being white or otherwise.

    However, I liked what you said about people fearing change. This is true on many levels. People also fear what they don’t understand. Fear holds us back from understanding the world we live in and the people in it. Everyone can learn and benefit from one another in some way, if we would only try. A white person who truly tries to understand from a sincere perspective is DEFINITELY cool in my book. Anyone who pretends to care out of some misguided “guilt” is just a phony.

    I’m not African-American per se, but my experience is that of a black/biracial woman who has grown up and lived in the United States her entire life. I’ve been in some very *unique* situations, to put it mildly.

    My in-laws really are WONDERFUL people. They are very kind. And they seem to accept me without a problem. I don’t believe they hate anyone. It’s just that at times, I wonder if they would feel differently about me if I were not so fair-skinned with obvious European ancestry. Somehow I feel, in the back of my mind, that it would be a problem…sort of like how an ex-boyfriend’s black mother was openly hostile towards me for being light-skinned.

    My husband admitted, while we were dating, that his interactions with POC had been mostly limited despite living in Brazil as a child with his missionary parents. He never had anything but white friends as a teenager and never dated a WOC, with the exception of a few white-identified Latinas. He had been trained to never talk about race because it simply isn’t a “polite” subject. It is too “delicate” and “sensitive”. He admitted that he was shocked when I told him that I was indeed considered a WOC. To him, I don’t look the part. He also had to challenge some assumptions and feelings that he had about black women in general. I’d like to believe that he is still a work in progress. I don’t believe in giving up on people even when their views are different. Sure, it becomes tiresome having to constantly explain stuff but it is worth a try.

  • Melinda Bishop

    AGoldberg…I hear you! The way some people act is beyond reproach. But don’t be discouraged. Don’t allow the stupidity to bring you down.

    I once knew a girl who was very racist, but I pitied her. Why? Because despite her repulsive hatred, I could clearly see that she had been taught by her parents to hate people unlike herself. She came from an ignorant family and had never been able to truly see anything outside of her own little world. This realization, in part, is what helps me to see what racism is all about.

    As to my SIL, I’m not willing to write her off. She has never actually *said* that she thinks white women are the most beautiful. There is just something about her attitude that bothers me. I cannot pinpoint what it is. I’ve noticed this type of smugness in a few other WW as well. She only talks about blond hair and blue eyes as being beautiful in front of me. I’m neither blond nor blue-eyed. I’m of mixed heritage with dark curly hair and brown eyes. Despite my white skin, I am considered “non-white” in a societal context. So in a nutshell, it does make me look sideways at her because why is she praising these attributes in front of her brother’s biracial wife? As if black women aren’t frequently reminded that we aren’t considered beautiful in America. I’m not as insecure as I used to be, but it still makes me wonder.

  • MissZ87

    That is one of the biggest qualms I have about race relations. I feel like white America feels the need to dictate to POC how they should feel about something (ie. African-AMericans holding Micheal Jackson up as a cultural icon). The fact that white folks have a problem being educated by POC shows everything POC have been “complaning” about is extremely valid.

    I remember watching Lou Dobbs right when the Prof. Gates scandal broke out and the white guest commentator was visibly angry that Obama would comment on the incident. His under tone to me was how dare this BLACK man critique a WHITE police officer on ANYTHING; regardless of him being president and all.

    And the same thing again with the Police department asking for an apology from Obama. I’m thinking how dare they ask an apology from the POTUS!!! Bush started a war, neglected his own citizens in New Orleans, and sunk our economy and NO ONE DEMANDED AN APOLOGY FROM HIM.

  • [...] Karynthia – We Have Feelings Too, or The Cost OF Being A POC in Race Discussions 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. [...]