Trying to figure out how to say this without coming across as the "typical white liberal" pushing herself into the mix in order to draw attention away from confronting the hard stuff. I know this could sound like the same old same old--but that is the last thing I want. So feel free to criticize anything. I promise not to cry white tears in response.

A few years ago, after recieving a reply on Facebook from a Native American involved with protests from that side of the equation, I cried a river of those white tears. But after a "dark night of the soul," I chose to accept that criticism, and value it. I flipped my focus on racial issues from seeing myself as the "right kind" of racism protestor, and instead trying to listen hard to what black people and people of color were saying. To set aside any pain I might feel about criticism and acknowledge that I have no right to try to "speak on behalf" of those with lived experience being the objects of racism.

I cannot present myself as an authority on racism, because I've never lived on the "other side" of it.

To overcome that criticism, I needed to cry on my own without seeking solace from anyone. I had to live thru a "dark night of the soul" to recognize that accusations that were directed at some of the things I've said in the past were, in fact, on point.

My job as a white ally is to listen closely and accept as legitimate what I hear on racism from people who are the direct objects of that racism, and to provide support, even if I don't always agree.

Because I know if I listen long enough I will begin to understand and accept, not necessarily all the words, but the rage that lies underneath. The feelings that undergird those assertions are legitimate no matter what.

From a piece I wrote last year:

If white people truly want to be allies, we must learn to listen, learn to hear, learn to understand, teach ourselves what undergirds points of difference with dedicated study of how they come about.

When we argue “not all whites,” we say: “I can’t hear your pain.”

We say, “the pain I feel when it seems you include me in your description of white people is more important to me than your pain of experiencing racism daily.

[And besides…it can’t really be all that bad, can it? I mean, for realz.]

Even if/when we acknowledge our privilege, that privilege doesn’t go away. We still own it. Saying “not all whites” when the subject is someone else’s pain & grief prioritizes our pain over theirs, changing the subject to us.

It centers OUR experiences, OUR identities. We demand the opportunity to explain why what we said or did that caused the person pain was legitimate, because our feelings about what we see as a false accusation must come first.

*****

See also: A Room of my own: playing the denial card (yes, all whites).

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

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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.

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