Does the title of this post feel condescending? Because it feels that way when it’s directed at me.
Spend any amount of time on the color line and you’ll hear this, or some variation of it, that people of color need to stop seeing themselves as victims (or more often “playing the victim” because identity politics is just a game when you’re not the target) and be strong. It’s mainly directed towards black folks, but various brown folks (and women, and members of the LGBTQ community) get it thrown at them as well. It’s the reasoning behind “colorblindness,” banishing PC rhetoric, ending “special protection” laws, doing away with affirmative action, and whatever else is perceived as benefiting any minority at the “expense” of whites.
Of course it’s bullshit.
Do you know how Native Americans were represented at the movie theaters last year? By Slipknot in the cinematic mess that was Suicide Squad. Slipknot is unworthy of a backstory because his only purpose is dying to prove that Rick Flag isn’t fucking around; he shows up deep into the action and dies almost immediately. Yet I convince myself daily that my voice matters. I work at an independent bookstore, I husband, I father, I cook glorious, kick-ass homemade food on a nightly basis, and I put myself in harm’s way in Facebook comment sections. I tell myself that I am worthy, and that choosing to be the best version of myself makes a difference. Even if it’s a tiny difference in my limited corner of the world.
This is what people of color do. We contribute to making America a great country, despite the message from American culture that we do not matter, that we are a drain, that we are lazy, stupid, ignorant, and somehow naturally inferior, that we are an offensive collection of stereotypes and reductive caricatures, or that we simply don’t exist.
If you tell people of color to come from a “place of strength,” then you have no idea the strength it takes just to exist in this culture.
Meanwhile, the representations of whites are endless. Everywhere white folks look, there’s a white person doing something awesome. Or idiotic, or thoughtful, or reckless, or generous, or hateful, or helpful… But when whites are reduced to stock characters, it’s an offense to good storytelling. When people of color are reduced to stock characters, it’s an offense to their identity. White folks can do everything, and they do, but even in the stupidest ad or laziest sitcom, at no point is their basic humanity called into question.
Despite hundreds of years of shoring up their identity, value, and worth, despite a headlock on hundreds of years of dominant culture, whites are still so damned fragile.
You can say Black Lives Matter and they’ll hear “White Lives Don’t Matter” and start alternatives like “All Lives” and “Blue Lives.” You can numerate the times you’ve been belittled in life and they can discount them all rather than deal with how they have been complicit. You can celebrate what’s good in your life but be prepared for them to see it as an attack on their lives (or worse, having actively stolen something from them). Whites were so terrified under eight years of a black president that they elected a sexist, idiotic bigot to make them feel comfortable in their own skins.
And we see how that’s going.
Whites – who have all the power yet feel powerless – want people of color (etc) to feel strong. . . as long as we know our place. Whites want every breath of air, every drop of water, every scrap of food, and they want us to know our hard won sips and tastes only happen through their good graces. If we lose those good graces, woe to us.
And of course, some white folks will read this and react rather than respond. They will find the term “whites” dismissive and reductive when used in this context. You know what? It is. I intended it to be. So, welcome to a few minutes of reading making you as uncomfortable as the world people of color were born into and inhabit on a daily basis. Do you think it’s the same? Are we equal now?
Don’t take it so personally; you are more than the color of your skin, right?
So are we. We are more than who we love. More than how we look. More than what’s between our legs. Daily we are reduced and rejected by a culture that makes it clear we’re not fully wanted or acknowledged, and yet we continue to get out of bed and contribute. We are productive members of society. We love shows and movies that don’t love us back. We give people the benefit of the doubt. We are strong.
If you want to stop finding the word “whites” offensive, explore how you are complicit in America’s racial divide. Acknowledge that your experience is neither right nor universal. Come from a place of strength.
Be strong enough for humility.