When “move on” means “you’re making me feel uncomfortable, so STFU”
This essay is directed at a white audience in hopes of bridging the gap in understanding about what it means when white people tell black people to “move on.”*
White people have the capacity to fully understand what that “move on” assertion really means if they are willing to look hard and closely at their own experiences of pain similarly discounted by people who are clueless about what you’ve experienced in your life.
I will explain this using examples from my own life.
I don’t want to minimize or distract from the political nature of “get over it; MOVE ON” statements with respect to racism [I say more about that later]; and I definitely don’t want to make this “all about me.” Instead, I offer this personal story to show white people who’ve suffered deep pain how they can understand the anger of people of color when they are told to “move on.”
Such personal stories from white people are in no way intended as an excuse for white people to say, “See, I know what you’re feeling” and then not have to listen further. Because we don’t know what a person of color experiences. We can understand structural similarities in experiences, but the every day, global relentlessness of racism makes that pain quantitatively and qualitatively different.
My intent is to bridge the gap between utter cluelessness and understanding, between defensiveness and openness; that bridge offered as a ground for moving toward deeper understanding through listening openly without imposing ourselves.
I’ve found through deeply painful experience that the response “move on” is similar in meaning and intent whether it’s about racist micro/macroaggressions or about grieving someone you’ve lost, or about a spouse/lover who has hurt you deeply, or about needing to continue to explore past trauma in order to recover from it.
I came to understand this five years ago when I flipped out after my older brother, with whom I’d only begun to have a conversation about the sexual abuse I suffered in our family, told me, “shouldn’t you be over that by now? — which is another way of saying “move on.”
I had been asking him questions about our shared childhood [by email — we live at…