After a month of writing articles for Black in the Maritimes I have noticed a trend I wanted to discuss, which is a reoccurring issue I have with white readers, listeners, and allies. When black people come forward to tell stories, to share their own tales of coming from diversity and struggling to get the small amount of rights they have today, it does not befall the white people listening to apologize. I love all of my white friends and family members, sincerely, but often when I speak of things that have happened to me due to my race, due to being different, due to being a minority, I am met with instant apologies.
When Black people tell their stories and experiences it is never to gain pity from the listeners. I believe we tell these stories to educate others about our lives and the challenges we face. While I am encouraged that none of my white friends would do the things I describe, I am not writing these articles to have all of my white friends say ‘I would never treat you that way!’ or ‘I always saw you as everyone else’. My articles come from a place of love and teaching. I want all of the white people reading these articles to know that while we were friends, or family members, or colleagues I was experiencing very specific types of adversity. None of you contributed to it. The majority of you have become outspoken allies and for that I am grateful, but to listen to my stories and turn it into explaining how you are a better white than those who have hurt me, makes the story about how you are not a racist person and no longer about my experiences with racism.
I am far from being an expert, but I feel that a lot of people come to their own defense because they feel attacked in these moments. Unless you are a racist, unless you have hurt me or disliked me because of the colour of my skin you have nothing to be defensive of. I personally wish that the white folks I know would listen with their ears, and less with their fingers on their keyboards ready to be at the defense of themselves. We (Black people) want to be heard, want everyone else to learn from our stories and see where they could have gone wrong. I don’t believe any of us are looking for specific people to come forward and say that they would never treat us in those ways or scream their support in a way that outshines the message. I know that allyship is new to a lot of people, and it is hard to sometimes figure out exactly what those who are suffering need.
There have been various moments where I have told stories to shed light on my personal experiences as a Lightskinned bisexual woman and when I explain what situation I have taken issue with, most white people listening start to question their own behaviour. “I hope I never made that black cashier feel that way!” “Do you think saying this comment was racist?” “Have I ever done that?” And while I am happy you are second guessing your behaviour, I am not the racism gatekeeper. I cannot tell you how the cosmetician you spoke to felt when you talked about lightening your skin, or said you wanted a tan as dark as her natural skin tone, or whatever situation it was. My stories are supposed to make you second guess your behaviour, sure, but when you start to ask me specifics you are now making my story about my racist experiences about your behaviour. Take in my message, examine your behaviour based on my story and see what you have learned and how you can change.
Remember that in the fight against racism, we are all in this together. My stories, and blog posts, are supposed to encourage you to check your behaviour but you never need to apologize to me for anything you’ve done in the past, defend yourself for why you’ve done what you’ve done as a white person, or ask for more education from me when Google is available. Let’s all try to do better and be better together.