Before You Come for Me

I write a lot about racism. And by “a lot” I mean A LOT. And I’ve been doing it for years. Anyone who knows my work knows this, or should know it, would know it if they’d been paying the least little bit of attention.

Since November 8th, much of my writing has had the same message, a message that has made some folks accuse me of being a racist: namely, that you, white people: you are responsible for THOTUS¹. You sided with the Klan, took up the cause of the neo Nazis, voted in a hateful, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, islamophobic, isolationist, elitist government. The who-voted-how numbers tell the tale quite plainly. White men went for THOTUS in droves. And more than half of white women followed.

I kept posting from the heart of my anger, telling white folks to take responsibility for the apocalypse-world they ushered in, telling them to come get their people and start doing the work of eradicating the deeply ingrained racism that is the poisoned lifeblood of this country, work they should have been doing all along.

Surprise! Some people didn’t like what I had to say. Some people felt saddened or angered or attacked by my posts. And I got a lot of pushback saying their feelings were hurt by my “come get your people” demand.

I was caught off guard – not so much by the fact that anyone was hurt, but by the fact that a lot of anyones were hurt. If only a few people had contacted me, I might have seen them as anomalies. But I had more than a dozen emails, a handful of private messages, and a bunch of responses to FB posts – they ranged from sad to offended to passionately self-defensive to curt. Clearly there was something I should take a closer look at.

So I looked. But you know what? I’m not wrong. White people decided this election. Full stop.

Yes, I know. Not all white people. Ob.vi.ous.ly. I never said all-a y’all voted for him. No. What I said was that all-a y’all are responsible. What I said was that white people need to come get their people, need to start doing the hard work. And that’s what I meant.

I get it, the offense. I’ve written plenty about racism, but those other times were easier for my white friends and readers. They could see themselves as separate from the “bad” white people I chastised in those posts, remain comfortable in the knowledge that they were “good” white people. But in my writing since the election, there hasn’t been any room for white folks to hold themselves above the fray. The things I’ve written are the first time I’ve come for white people as a group, a monolith. And being seen as a whole group rather than as individuals makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

Fine. by. me. I’m not interested in anyone’s comfort, or at least not yours. It’s your comfort that made it possible for the election to turn out the way it did. It’s your comfort that enabled you to talk only to friends and family who agreed with you about the issues, who never said anything that rippled the quiet, happy waters of agreement that kept you buoyed and confident. It’s your comfort that kept you from giving credence to the number and socioeconomic diversity of people clearly enamored of THOTUS. Y’all been too damn comfortable for too damn long.

I know. On November 8th you cried. On November 9th you cried. How could the world have betrayed you like this? How could it be possible for that man to win the election?

Yes, you cried. But you know what? I’ve been crying, too … for years. Where’ve you been? You never noticed, never bothered to look, never bothered to care.

And I don’t mean the old-timey crying – when you kidnapped me and forced me into enslavement on your plantations and in your homes, when you sold my children away from me, when you raped and beat and killed me, when you lynched me for sport, when you refused to educate me, when you kept me from moving into better neighborhoods and better jobs … or any of the other ways this list could go on and on.

No, I mean in my own life. I mean the little ways you’ve cut and slapped me, made sure I knew I was “other.” I mean 8th grade when you took hold of my arm and rubbed hard enough to break the skin and then looked at me, puzzled, asking why none of the dirt would come off. I mean that time after college when you fixed me up with a guy from your job who you thought would be perfect for me – he was Black, after all – but you didn’t bother to tell him anything about me, not even the simple fact that I, too, am Black. If you had, he could’ve said to you instead of me that he didn’t date Black women because he found us uncontrollable and disrespectful. I mean every time I tried to tell you about some large-scale manifestation of discrimination, and instead of hearing me, you told me to calm down, to not be so angry. Instead of hearing me, you told me about some time when you, as a white person, had been a victim of reverse racism.

And I mean this moment in my own life. In the bigger ways you’ve let me down and broken my heart. Civil rights activist Johnetta Elzie says it so powerfully in her poem, “Where were you?

Where were you when the media called us “thugs” for protesting?

When I stood outside on those hot summer days, and needed ice water? 

Or a back rub?

Or someone to talk to?

Why weren’t you standing with me?

Where the hell were you?

Where were you when we asked you to #SayHerName?

When Rekia Boyd was killed while playing at the park with her friends?

When Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Shantel Davis, and others died at the hands of police, with little media attention?

When our trans sisters — Brandi Bledsoe, Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee

Whigham — were also murdered and also forgotten? 

Where were you?

If you can answer at least one of the questions here, answer me this: We’ve been marching for years — where the hell have all of you been?

Exactly right. Do you see it now? You have been making me cry since the day we met. And you’ve never noticed.

But you want me to pay attention to your tears, need me to understand how my statement of facts is painful to you, how it makes you uncomfortable. You want me to apologize.

Nope. No more. I’m over coddling you. Over biting my tongue when I need to call you out. Over swallowing my anger and hurt when you slap me down with your unconscious bias. Done.

Instead, I’ll be pulling on a brightly colored bathing suit, goggles, a nose plug. I’ll be doing that weird, arm-flailing body-slap Phelps does before a race. And I’ll be diving into an Olympic-sized pool filled to overflow with your tears.

A friend sent me Leah Roberts Peterson’s Facebook note. She wrote it after Saturday’s march, wrote it to her white sisters who had just stepped up in their pink pussy hats of solidarity but who were feeling attacked by questions and comments from women of color. She wrote:

The best thing you can do is take in all those feelings coming from our sisters who are hurting and angry and OWN IT. Remind yourself that yes, you’re trying because THIS is how they feel. You’re doing what you’re doing because it’s RIGHT and it’s how humans with empathy and sympathy and a working heart should live their lives once they figure it out. Not because all the Black women are going to magically start appreciating you. They owe you NOTHING. Mark the date on your calendar when you’ve got as many days under your belt being awake as you did being asleep, and then, maybe, start being a tiny bit impatient when others don’t recognize your efforts. My own date is June 17, 2061. I will be 91.

I tell you this with sincere love in my heart because I KNOW you’re trying. Sit in the discomfort of these moments. It’s ok to not feel comfortable. That’s how lots of people around the world live their lives every single day. Comfort is not our goal. Equality is. ❤

Oh, I am so here for this. When I talk about white fragility and you respond by dm-ing me how that term is divisive and hurtful … know that you’re flat out exhibiting A-grade fragility right there. When I talk about how the safety pins make me feel so much “Meh,” and you tell me I should be happy people are making an effort … just … no. Don’t do that.

When you say these tone-policing, silencing things, I respond as kindly as I can because I’m interested in keeping dialogue going, keeping lines of communication open, because I know and care about you. But I need you to take a moment, think about how microaggressive some of your comments are, think about how much your comments are really asking me to shut up and be grateful, to give you a cookie in appreciation for all your hard work on my behalf.

Yeah. What Imma need is for you to think about what’s making you uncomfortable and examine your discomfort before you come for me. Thank you.

griotgrind_logo

In 2017, I’ve committed to writing an essay a week.

It’s not too late to join if you’re feeling ambitious! Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!

__________
¹ Titular Head oThese United States


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9 thoughts on “Before You Come for Me

    1. Thanks, Kristi. This was a hard one to decide to post, given how people have been responding to some of the things I’ve posted on FB and Twitter … but, of course, that was exactly why I needed to post it.

  1. Thank you for writing about this. I’m reading and listening, even if I don’t always comment. Seriously, I read this last night, and stared at the “like” button, and felt like hitting “like” wasn’t enough. But I was too tired to find words to type. Anyhow, I really appreciate all the writing you do about racism. Your voice and your words (and your comics!) have helped me find solid ground, to help me understand that I need to actively take a stand. Since the election, I have been starting the work of educating myself to do better with respect to racism, both seeing it in myself and in our institutions. I want to do better about speaking out when I see racism in others around me. (And I’m not saying this because I expect a cookie, but because I see part of the work as owning up to having work to do.) (But now that I am thinking about cookies, I think I will have to go get myself a cookie. I hope I have cookies.)

    1. Thank you, Alejna. When I think about who will be reading what I post, you’re always one of the first people I think of. Over all these years, you’ve really helped me become a better public writer, to feel more confident sharing online whatever it is I have to say. (And you’re reminding me of when I sent you that crazy-quilt box of cookies! I’m probably going to be baking this weekend or next. If you email me your new address, I’ll send you some more! 🙂 )

  2. This is key. I couldn’t agree more as an Iraqi-American woman. One thing I have learned from my experience as a teacher, is that most white people might get close to recognizing their own privilege, but not close enough to want to give any of it up. I agree with you that white people need to start doing the hard work of ridding us of racism, but sadly, I think most of them won’t. Because they’re comfortable. Because it doesn’t affect them. Mainly because, they don’t have to. So where does that leave us? Keep educating the uneducatable? Or do we band together as POC and force America to put an end to institutionalized racism?

    1. Thanks for reading, Layla! This is my forever question, too. I announced (two years ago) that I was going to stop doing folks’ homework for them. I’m so tired of teaching people. But at the same time, I want to see the work get done, and that seems to mean I can’t back off entirely. But I really need white folks to put in the lion’s share of the work. I definitely like the “band together” idea. Let’s focus on that one! 🙂

      1. I agree. We can’t fully back off from teaching, but it is exhausting. I think one option might be to do both. We band together while we teach. While the teaching saps us, the banding together energizes us. I’ve found that to be true lately as I’ve been getting into more conversations with white women about their privilege. The more I do it, the more exhausted I feel. But, when I decompress with my WOC friends, I feel re-energized.

        I love your writing and I will follow you. I also have a blog you might like to follow. At the moment I pay and publish other writers of color, but I have stuff of my own up there too. it’s ceilingsandstandards.com .

        Let’s keep in touch so we can expand on the “band together” idea!

        1. I was at a meet up today talking about doing this work, talking about how tired I get of doing folks’ homework for them. I think you’re right about the banding together being a source of energy. I have to remember that, remember to give myself time with like-minded people, time with POC, time with people with whom I can truly be myself. I’ll check out your blog. Thanks so much for reading and commenting here. I hope this is the start of a longer blog/off-blog conversation! 🙂

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