It’s also a feeling, a state of mind. A reason, explanation, and description for a way of being. A way that I have personally always been but never had the words to describe it. Well-intentioned but certainly and unfortuately weak in spirit, misguided, ignorant, unaware of all the small ways that I personally benefit from the shitty way things are.
The book is written by a white woman, and in a way it helps me to see myself and what I’ve done/am doing wrong through her eyes, as she realizes the same things about herself and the other well-meaning white folks around her. The well-meaning liberal white folks that think they’re okay and have nothing to do with racism and don’t benefit from it and are not complicit in this whole shitty thing but actually they’re totally blowing it, because they are complicit. Because they’re doing and have done many small things that turn this world into a shitty place to exist for people who aren’t them. And they’re only just realizing it.
I am only just realizing it.
For many reasons, it’s unfortunate that the book is written by a white woman. In a time when it’s necessary to amplify new voices, it seems like a bad move to read it when there is infinite and amazing material by black writers available. And I do agree with that, and I’m sorry. But I also hope I’m right that this book is a minuscule part of a much longer list of books, conversations, and experiences that I can put together to learn and really see the full picture moving forward.
I regret to inform you that I am new to this entire school of thought. As in, the school of thought that reveals to me how much I have benefitted from the system and how very little I have ever done to fight against it. For some devastatingly sad reason, even though I took a shit ton of Women’s Studies classes at Rutgers, I had never even heard of intersectional feminism until I attended the Women’s March in 2017.
Yes, it’s fucking shameful. I am feminist AF and always have been…but I was the dreaded, rightfully maligned “white feminist” for the first 32 years of my life. As soon as I realized this and how completely awful it was, I set forth to learn more about it. To be better, to try harder…to help.
It’s worth noting that by writing this very post I am “centering,” making this whole thing about how I feel. At this point the only thing I know for sure about this issue and can speak confidently about are my own feelings…I’m trying to work through those for now. Old (bad) habits die hard.
In the few years since then, I felt like I WAS doing better, like I WAS helping. I continued to read, because I have a naive hope that the pursuit and understanding of as much knowledge about as many things as possible will truly save us all.
But I really wasn’t having any conversations. I was having zero conversations. Unless someone made a racist joke and I was like, “That’s fucked up.” And then walked away because I was scared of what would come next.
I’m terrified of confrontation. It makes me sick to think about it. I hate having discussions about serious things in person. I avoid them at all costs. The idea of having a verbal debate with someone and having to volley responses back and forth in real time while standing next to each other makes me want to die. I feel I can only really express myself when I have the time and space to write things down and then run into a cave and hide so I don’t have to deal with any dissenting voices until I’m ready and have fully formulated a response.
This is a problem and I am a pussy. AND I NEED TO DO BETTER.
I’m in a relationship with a black man. I live with a black man. I love a black man. I know that he is stressed, worried, angry, and afraid. But until now, we have never really had these conversations in the 2 years that we have been together. And I think it’s completely my fault. I just wanted to have fun and laugh and enjoy our time together, maybe he did too. Even now, I keep wishing we could just sit on the couch together and eat banana pudding and watch Betty IN PEACE.
But we can’t. Most importantly, I can’t. I need to “do the work,” to use the phrase of the day. And only just yesterday I realized that “the work” is a forever thing. And it felt soul crushing, to think about working and working and never being done with it, never graduating to a level of knowledge where I could truly say that I understand. This also means always feeling sad about it, always feeling like what I’m doing isn’t right or isn’t enough. And I cried for a while, my white woman’s tears, with all of their nefarious and ridiculous power. And I thought about the power of my tears and I felt like an asshole and I cried more. It hurt my feelings. It was hard to deal with.
So then I read some more about white fragility, and thought about my own white fragility and how that was what was making me sad. And I hated it, and I also googled it, I looked for answers. I’m desperate for information, commiseration, guidance. I’m here to listen but I often don’t know what to ask. I’m afraid to say the wrong thing. “How do I grapple with the implications of my own complicity in a system that has directly and harmfully fucked up the life of the person I’m in love with? The lives of others I love? The lives of tons of people I don’t even know who also did not deserve to have their lives fucked up? I NEED AN ANSWER NOW PLZ TELL ME.”
Google didn’t know. It was a hard pill for me to swallow. This pill is still stuck in my throat. Perhaps I will be choking on it forever, and that is what I deserve for not asking more questions over the years, for not looking beyond my bubble, for not screaming at the top of my lungs when all of the small things that weren’t violent or life threatening but still made it harder for black people to feel comfortable were happening around me. Perhaps it’s what all of us deserve. To sit with it, feel shitty about it, reflect upon it.
Either way, going along with this super fun pill metaphor, my pill is infinitely easier to swallow and less deadly that the many large elephant-sized pills of inhumane and unforgivable bullshit that our black fellow citizens have had to swallow for centuries, and I hope it stops soon.
I was talking to a friend the other day about whether this whole modern uprising will “do” anything. A lot of times it’s true that things like this happen quickly and people care for a few weeks and then it’s over, and nothing gets fixed. I’m going to dare to dream that this time around all of the protesting and donating and activism-ing will “do” something. Perhaps it’s a perfect storm because people are working from home or less busy with work or not working at all so they have more time to pay attention and do their research and take action.
A quote from the book, “The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out—blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true?”
Fingers crossed, and foot on the gas. I’ll see you out there.