I wrote a piece about some of my experiences with racial microaggressions titled “Some Things A Lot of White People Do” and I wasn’t expecting some responses I received, especially from non-Black men. What was striking about the many responses was how they all worked to invalidate my experiences with racial microaggressions to excuse and recenter Whiteness (Black bible sin #2).
The most frequent comment I received was that I was dealing with assholes, not racist, and that my perceived injury was really my imagination.
I can’t imagine invalidating a White woman’s rape allegation. I would never tell a senior citizen they weren’t a victim of age-discrimination as they sought employment if they showed me an impeccable resume. I would never tell a Person of Color they weren’t a token hire when I can see their office would be White without their presence.
So, why is it so difficult for White/European/Ango-Saxon people in America and beyond to understand even being an asshole too many of us is a privilege?
Even if Black people are assholes to each other, and trust me we can be, we all know we can’t cross that line with White people, because White people can change our lives for worse overnight with one phone call. We can barely mind our own business without having the police called on us, shot, killed or at a minimum put in precarious situations publicly if we behaved the way White people act. For White people, being an asshole in America is a privilege.
For Americans (I’m American so I’m referring to what happens in America ONLY), excusing or Whitesplaining microaggressions is excusing racism. Even if microaggressions are unintentional (or in my case explained away as being an asshole), there is still a bias or prejudice underlying the disrespect at the root of being an asshole that most ignore.
Microaggressions are subtle, often unintentional, form of prejudice. Rather than an overt declaration of racism or sexism, a microaggression often takes the shape of an offhanded comment, an inadvertently painful joke, or a pointed insult. What the aggressor intended doesn’t matter. How the aggressor harmed the victim matters. Many of my readers were so comfortable in their privilege, they would rather suggest I’m overreacting to assholes than examining the biases and prejudices White people may have and not know about, especially White women.
White women possess an astonishing amount of power when it comes to controlling and punishing Black people. White privilege allows them to act like “assholes” and get away with it. Black people rarely get that privilege. We’re frequently not believed, just like many of the responses to my essay.
Why is it that so many White people feel like being an asshole is okay or productive, and why do they have the privilege of doing so, more than other groups unchecked? Why do so many have a hard time understanding the roots of being an asshole?
Sociologist Robin DiAngelo describes perfectly how White people react when we try to talk about race, let alone microaggressions. In a New Yorker piece titled “A Sociologist Examines the “White Fragility” That Prevents White Americans from Confronting Racism,” Dr. DiAngelo concisely describes what it’s like talking to White people about race whether it’s in person or online.
“Like waves on sand, their reactions form predictable patterns: they will insist that they were taught to treat everyone the same,” that they are “color-blind,” that they “don’t care if you are pink, purple, or polka-dotted.” They will point to friends and family members of color, a history of civil-rights activism, or a more “salient” issue, such as class or gender. They will shout and bluster. They will cry.”
~ Dr. Robin DiAngelo-
Denials Don’t Mean It isn’t True
The one thing that makes talking to White people about race so difficult is they are always in denial about their racism or racist actions, regardless of intentions.
Just because you deny your behavior doesn’t mean it’s not true. Ranting, crying, and writing long-deflecting arguments won’t change our minds. It only confirms what we already know to be true of you White people. You’ll never admit when you’re wrong, and you refuse to accept responsibility for your actions.
A simple “I’m sorry” is extremely difficult to come by.
I knew I would get emotional reactions I received because White people stay throwing temper tantrums like 3-year-olds when called out for their racism and racial biases. No one wants to be told they are racist or biased, which is understandable. We’re not calling White people out to condemn them. We are asking you to lend your voices and bodies to end systemic and institutional racism and to check your biases and prejudices because you definitely have some.
If you’re on the verge of having high blood pressure, wouldn’t you want a health care professional to tell you so that you can live longer and be healthier? When you are almost obese (the term my doctor gave me a few years ago), wouldn’t you want to know about it so that you can make diet and lifestyle changes to live longer? It’s the same with racism and microaggressions.
You can’t get better if you don’t know you have a problem. Sometimes you need an outside eye to take your pulse, check your temperature, and to assess you internally to tell you if there is something wrong in there. You can’t see what’s inside of you. If you aren’t told you’re a biased asshole, how will you ever get better?
You’ll continue to go on being the children on your mothers and fathers could love, and that’s a shame. Having tantrums, hurling insults, changing the narrative, scapegoating, gaslighting, or attempting to connect classism and racism will not fare well for you.
Mature people can talk about race like adults. They can examine themselves. They already know they are imperfect, and because of it, there are likely many things that you’ll discover aren’t good. It’s okay to be flawed. It’s not okay for your flaws (biases) to injure others.
Your Privilege Is Your Problem
It’s really not up to us to convince White people they have unknown biases which makes them behave like “assholes”. You all should tell each other you must learn you have them, and the only way that happens is if we talk about them. No one, and I mean no one should get a pass for being in humane or an asshole. I realize anyone can have biases. In fact, everyone likely has some biases, including Black people.
As it relates to microaggressions, we are discussing our experiences so that the world knows what we endure, and because there is no way to confront White people face-to-face about their biases and prejudices without further injuring ourselves (or dealing with their White fragility, we write about them.
Black people know we would never get the privilege to act like an asshole in public, not without severe consequences
White People Acting Racistly Is Our History
For all the White people who desire to excuse the racial microaggressions experienced by millions of Black people in America as White people being assholes, allow me share with you why I disagree and why your ignorance and intentions don’t matter to me. Your biases, prejudices, and tendency to commit microaggressions against Blacks stem from our national history rooted in racism. There is a reason you behave the way you behave.
Black codes appeared throughout the South (where I live today) as a legal way to put black citizens into indentured servitude, to take voting rights away, to control where they lived and how they traveled and to seize children for labor purposes.
White people committing microaggressions against Blacks stem from our nation’s long history of allowing White people to control Black people. It’s the reason a White woman doesn’t feel she needs to move out of the aisle in the store or move over on the sidewalk when they are two deep. They don’t feel they ever have to give up her seat, because the seats are supposed to be given up for them. It’s okay for White people to cut in front of us in lines in stores, talk to us any kind of way when we’re serving them, deny what they’ve done to us, and never apologize for it. The behavior of White people has always been protected by national laws.
Their excuses of just being assholes to us doesn’t fly with me for this reason.
We’re just fifty-six years out of the Civil Rights Era, so it’s highly likely many White parents and grandparents living today in America were allowed to mistreat and disrespect Black people and other People of Color. These parents and family members may have also spoken racistly about Blacks. There is nothing we can do about it. It was the culture back then; it was accepted, and it was taught. That pre-civil rights era generation are still living, and many of the silent, racist codes used to engage Blacks are still around.
People taught their kids the new code. White people like to call it being an asshole. We call it an extension of Jim Crow.
So, some White people may not speak racist words about Black people, but they will act racistly towards Blacks because that’s what they’ve witnessed in their lives. Implicitly biased people have been taught, trained and conditioned to prejudiced, and that’s okay. I forgive you for myself. We all must unlearn some lessons we were taught growing up.
But what I’m not doing is excusing the failure of White people to apologize every time you transgress. Your intentions don’t matter! Say I’m sorry, let’s move on and begin the healing. You also need to unlearn your asshole behaviors.
I’m not accepting your cultural insensitivity, nor am I giving White asshole passes to White folks, including allies, liberals, progressives, and those who support in silence. I’m not accepting or excusing your asshole behavior because it will never address or solve any of our problems tied to the entrenched systemic racism we’re dealing with in America. Accepting your privileged behavior got us where we are today.
As for your emotions, they don’t matter. Your emotions are a hindrance to your growth and development. Deal with your own issues and stop placing them on the backs and door steps of Black people. Stop lashing out. Nobody’s asking you to apologize for being White. Your skin color isn’t the problem. We’re asking you to apologize for your shitty behavior and the privilege that allows you to do so. Learn how to differentiate between the two.
And stop saying it’s okay to be White. It’s the equivalent of your little “All Lives Matter” campaign. Your incessant need to be reassured White is good or that it’s “okay” to be you is as toxic and dangerous to Black people as ignoring your racist behavior. You’re decentering the issues of others to put the focus back on Whiteness. If you keep doing that, nothing gets fixed.
There is a sense of urgency to get rid of Trump here in America, but very little urgency to get to the root of how he made it into office. Thank good old racism. People love Trump because he’s an asshole. He tells it like it is. He’s rude to people. He’s White. He’s rich. He’s privileged. He hurts people. He injures. His voice carries more weight than marginalized people, and that’s what his followers love about him.
Denying the link between certain behaviors of White people and microaggressions only makes the wedges between the various racial groups wider. Some assholes are prejudiced, they just don’t realize it.
My suggestion would be to study up on our nation’s racist history White people. Read more. Follow White racial justice activists like antiracist essayist and activist like Tim Wise and Robin DiAngelo. Read comments on subjects of race. Just browse, look at the different views, try to remember the various stories being told. There’s a pattern and a lesson in every one of them. Instead of arguing, listen. Think. Forgive yourselves.
You will be a biased asshole until you stop being one, so stop hiding behind your privilege and learn how to identify your biases. To start, take Harvard’s Implicit Association Test to learn if your attitudes and beliefs reveal implicit biases.
When you know better, you can do better.