*I* get the same kinds of responses to any generalization I make about "white people," (note my pic above), including those generalizations strongly supported by statistical studies.

Only it's not "Americans v. any other country." It's ME (lefty) vs THEM ("normal Americans"). I can make a statement backed up by solid statistics, but if they don't define themselves as a member of the 90% or so who DO believe/act as if (name the behavior being criticized), then I must be wrong.

(Flipping the old proverb: The exception IS the rule. My personal exemption from it proves that you are wrong!!)

Alternatively, they will nonetheless overgeneralize and stereotype any group to which THEY do not belong. Indeed, at the very moment they are criticizing their critics, THEY ALSO engage in generalizations that do not necessarily apply to the person to whom they are speaking.

Oops. There I did it again. Someone out there is thinking, "but *I* don't do that!" Therefore that lady is WRONG. Bigtime."

Of course, they don't mind if someone gives Americans compliments. They won't jump up and down and wave their arms furiously and say "But *I* don't do that! And I am American" (or whatever group they belong to that's being discussed). I'm not as good as you say Americans are!)

Bottom line, most Americans are very defensive about any sort of criticism, no matter how generalized, but they gobble up compliments--even if they themselves don't deserve the compliments.

Oops. There I did it AGAIN.

Now, I have to admit that many times I have been in the same spot, being lumped into a group to which, in fact, I do not belong, and getting defensive. I wanted to say, "But *I* am white and *I* don't think that way!"

Ironically, it's not in defense of white people. They (I) are defending THEMSELVES. But they couch it in terms that imply the critic is wrong.

Thing is, chances are good that they do indeed know the critic *DOES HAVE* a very real, very strong point about white people in general.

I have always been farther to the left than most white people, but I also have engaged in the defense, "but not I."

It took an extraordinarily painful moment and lots of "white tears" for me to finally see the light.

I finally changed my internal dialogue about these situations.

Our own internal dialogues and how we express them externally are the only aspect of our being over which we have a modicum of control.

A few years ago, I experienced a "long, dark night of the soul" when someone whom I was trying to support saw what I said as evidence that *I WAS," in fact, a member of the group under criticism.

However, having read all the criticism of white people who make every conversation about race into a conversation about themselves, I was determined not to make it about ME. So I had to take time to think, "In what way could what this person is saying be accurately seen as TRUE?"

I cried a lot of tears, but I definitely didn't want to be seen as providing "more white tears." I finally asked myself: when I hear/see the words "White people are/do/act _____," instead of thinking "but *I* am not like that, I rephrase it. Yes. That is how the person speaking has experienced people who "fit the description."

If I don't fit the description, why am I being defensive? Why am I crying? Why can't I just LISTEN to the person speaking as an authority over what she/he experiences every day? Why am I not listening to her pain? Why would I even WANT to dismiss that pain, or to try to modify it by saying "Not I"?

When I asked myself that question, I realized ...uhhmmm...I was INDEED speaking/acting in many ways like the people she was criticizing.

Oops.

It is ever so hard for white people to recognize themselves behind the surface interpretation of the words.

FACT: they (the critics) *aren't* talking about ME specifically. They don't know me, so how could they?

But why is it that they don't know me or people like me?

Well, it's because the vast majority of white people they encounter in their daily lives AREN'T like me.

The critics are talking about that very large group of white people who HAVE treated THEM that way. Who HAVE BEEN a major aspect of their daily experience. They are talking about first hand experience they've had with the vast majority of white people they encounter on a daily basis. (And which, btw, is also supported by statistics.)

They are talking about what they and pretty much every black person/POC experiences daily, so that it is in the very air they breathe. It doesn't at all matter that there is someone (or many someones) out there who DON'T act or think that way. The exception is irrelevant to their daily life experiences.

If I don't see it with my very own eyes, why is that? Uhhh...well...it's not because it doesn't happen; it's because it either doesn't happen in front of me or I don't recognize how painful it is to deal with that sort of thing every day.

It's another way for us Americans/white people to turn the critical attention away from ourselves personally, even when they have seen the very thing under discussion acted out by other white people.

Many white people saying "but not I" actually **KNOW** that the person speaking has IN FACT been treated that way multiple times ad infinitum by OTHER white people. But they have this rather egomaniacle need to make sure that the speaker doesn't put THEM into that category.

But it's not ABOUT *US*. Often it's about so many OTHERS whom we ourselves would criticise in an instant were WE the speakers and not members of the uncomfortably large group of people that DOES do/think those sorts of things.

It's another way that those (we) who have the greater social/cultural/political capital keep ourselves in the center of discussion. They/we have to make everything about US.

If one steps back (as I finally did a few years ago) and recognizes that black people/POC are speaking about those of us who do indeed speak/act that way, and that those criticizing white people know that experience all too personally, all too individually, and all too often.

We (that is, the white people we) need to step back and just (curse words!) LISTEN. Ask of ourselves:

Well, obviously this person has experienced a lot of pain in their lives simply because of the color of their skin. So what if *I* specifically haven't created that experience? And what if I have IN FACT contributed to that without seeing it because I am all wrapped up in my hurt over being criticized as potentially a member of that group?

Instead of going with our guts, we need to calm ourselves down, and start with the premiss that the person is speaking truthfully and honestly.

Part of it has nothing to do with us personally. But that doesn't matter, because they are speaking from the center of their own truth. So we must respect it as such.

But we also need to look deeper. Some of it DOES reflect some of our own thoughts. We just haven't recognized how much we have sloughed over the less than admirable things we do, think, and say. It doesn't matter if it's unconscious. Because the person experiencing it experiences it CONSCIOUSLY.

And if we truly want to build a society where racism (and other -isms) is not center to the very structure of our society...indeed, the very air we breathe...THEN we must LISTEN. Listen beyond our own experiences. Imagine being in their shoes experiencing what they experience. Accept that facing the truth very often will be very very painful.

But we will live. And we will find a better way of being in the world.

(NOTE: I will be expanding on these ideas on my own page shortly. URL to be posted...eventually!)

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Georgia NeSmith

Georgia NeSmith

Retired professor, feminist, writer, photographer, activist, grandmother of 5, overall Wise Woman. Phd UIA School of Journalism & Mass Communication, 1994.