Thursday, August 22, 2013

Not Me? Prove It.

Inspired by a screenshot from, which (apparently) showed  graphic online abuse based on gender, and (apparently) followed up with commentary that said, basically, "We cannot trust men to be allies, and feminism doesn't need them." I didn't read the original post; I've seen enough to get the idea. But I read the reactions of many people very upset at the notion that men would not be accepted as allies. And then I responded:

This reminds me of an experience I had in college. A Sociology professor who thought he was some hot s**t wrote on the board one day instructions that divided the class into different areas of the hall based on race. (Many people sat in the aisles because they didn't identify with just one race, but anyway.)

Then, we talked about race.

It was slow at first, but yes, it had the intended effect: with a homogenous group around you, it was easier to be honest and say the things you're usually afraid to say.

Then one African-American woman dropped a bombshell: "I expect all white people to be racist."

I'd noticed that she seemed generally not friendly, and definitely not interested in talking to me. Now it made sense, and I was offended.

She went on, though. "...because it's been my experience that they usually are, so if I just make that assumption up-front, I save myself a lot of heartache and hassle."

WHOA. That made me stop. Was I aware of pervasive casual racism? More or less, as a concept. It wasn't a part of my daily life, but yeah, I knew it was out there for some people. But I'd never stopped to think about what it would DO to a person.

"So yeah, they have to prove to me that they're NOT racist. And that's just the way it is." And now I know I have to prove it, and I can't expect someone who has lived a life of not-me white people belittling and dismissing and victimizing them to assume I'm any different.

But, dammit, I HAVEN'T had to live a life of people assuming I was uneducated, uncouth, and downright criminal from one glance at my face. So I decided right then and there I could put up with "proving it." It was a really, really small thing in the grand scheme.

So be an ally. But don't get bent out of shape that you have to prove it. Because yes, people have been hurt, sometimes really horrifically, by people "just like you" only not in ways we can't see. And they are simply learning from experience. Give them a different experience, but don't be shocked that they learned from what others taught them. That's just the way it is.

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