The “Other” White People: Reasons to Talk with “Racists”
You’re a good white person. You posted “Black Lives Matter” signs or memes. Your heart has been in the right place from the moment you became aware that something was rotten in the state of melanation. Since Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, you’ve become even more concerned about the state of Black lives in the United States of America.
So when your high school friend Susie, your cousin Fred, or your uncle Rob counter your Black Lives Matter posts with “All Lives Matter,” “Blue Lives Matter,” or “God takes care of all things, leave it to Him,” what do you do? Ignore them? Unfriend them? Argue? Get reinforcement for your anger from your like-minded friends?
Here’s why it’s vital to stay in connected dialogue with “racists” near and far, especially when we find their view on race repugnant:
- You’re in a unique position to engage with them. They will listen more to you than to the average person on the street.
- It’s an expression of your white privilege to abdicate this work.
- If you choose to abdicate this work, it will be people of African (and Asian and Latino/a/x and Indigenous descent) who will absorb the effects of those same white people’s views.
- You’re more implicated in this mess than you think. The same system that created them also created you. Just as individuals create shadow parts of themselves they don’t want to deal with, so do populations. Those “other white people” are your shadow.
- As long as you keep the “other white people” in your shadow, and avoid connecting with them as full human beings, you get to avoid looking at your own participation in this system and thus perpetuate it. In other words, if you think the “real racists” are those “other white people,” you’re missing how to clean up your part in this mess.
- You’re also reproducing a similar “less-than-fully-human” dynamic that lies at the core of every other oppression.
- I am part of this system and so are you. The way the white supremacist system works is to make some of us feel special and exempt, and others look more suspect.
- A lot of the conservative stereotypes about liberals have at least a grain of truth. We can be insufferable, intolerant, and brash. We have some things to learn. Bringing curiosity, respect, and compassion to with people whose views are different from our own is good practice in staying humble and, well, useful in this historical moment.
Instead of our usual knee-jerk reactions, here are some things we might say:
- Hey. I’m not pretending I have answers to all of this, but can we take a look at it together?
- Would you be willing to tell me more about your views?
- Where did you first hear that? How did you come to believe it?
Notice that these are all questions, not statements. They need to be followed by empathic listening. They could start a dialogue. That dialogue could be transformative.
Here are a few reasons it might feel hard to do that:
- We don’t want to associate ourselves with “them”.
- We’re afraid of rejection. We don’t want to risk the other white people not liking us.
- It feels like too much work. Getting into it with the “other white people” will take a long time, and require lots of effort.
If our true motive is transformation of white supremacy, not simply dissociation from the “other white people,” we have work to do. We need to find ways to move beyond dissociating ourselves with those humans who most obviously express white supremacy. We need to start dismantling the white supremacy that lives within us, as well as the ancestral, emotional, and social structures that hold it in place.
It won’t be easy. But if we’re sincere about dismantling white supremacy, this is a vital piece of the work: engaging from a grounded, centered place with the “other white people” who are simply reflecting more clearly that very same system that creates us all. Come to an event and learn more