Dear Fellow White People, Don’t Expect Me to Make You Feel Better

I can’t make you feel better because nothing will make me feel better until black and brown people dying for no reason ends. And that may not happen in my lifetime.

If you’re white, and you are not actively examining your privilege right now and sitting with that discomfort, then I can’t make you feel better. I’m too busy looking at my own.

If you think I’m going to agree with you that violence is never the answer, I can’t make you feel better. I don’t feel that way. No, I’m not in favor of looting, and I don’t like it when people get hurt. But I like it even less when people who should be presumed innocent until proven guilty are instead condemned to death with no due process because of the color of their skin.

This isn’t about guilt. It’s about knowledge. White people cannot experience racism in a white supremacist society. We just can’t. That’s because racist oppression is a system, one that’s designed to favor us.

Some people think the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States ended racism. It did not. Racists burned him in effigy. They obstructed everything he tried to do. They (Trump in particular) originated and spread the birther conspiracy. Meanwhile, black people have kept right on dying at the hands of police and armed citizenry.

George Floyd left this world too early under the knee of a cop, one involved in at least 17 other misconduct complaints. The protests and riots following his death have focused on the police brutality that happens overwhelmingly to black people. Do you think if a store clerk suspected me of passing a counterfeit $20, knowingly or unknowingly, the cop (I’m not going to type his name) would have killed me?

Go to my About page and look at my picture. I’m pale as f*ck, so no, I most likely would not have died that day.

White women need to look at themselves especially hard. We are less likely to hold executive positions than white men, get paid less (though on average, more than black women), and face many of the same issues as black women — domestic violence, sexual assault, not being taken seriously by medical professionals. While we don’t suffer them to the same degree, therein should lie a glimmer of understanding, a glimpse of what it’s like to move through the world feeling like a target.

But racism is about power. Racist white women are exercising the little power they have against people who have less power than they do. Instead of supporting other women, they turn on them, bully them, put them in danger. They kill their men and their children. Why? Because a stranger asked you to leash your dog? Nobody deserves to die for that. Put your f*cking phone down and leash the f*cking dog like the sign says.

White people who truly want change have to realize that while we may not overtly discriminate against anyone, we still benefit from white supremacy. Racism didn’t stop just because we didn’t see it. A fish doesn’t realize it’s in the water. But a person can learn, and I’m gonna argue we weren’t looking for it.

I saw a comment —I think on Buzzfeed— that put it really well. I searched for it but couldn’t find it again, so I’ve tried to recreate it as best I can. Basically, the person posting it said, “When we say Black Lives Matter, we don’t mean NO OTHER lives matter. We mean Black Lives Matter TOO.”

You need to make yourself feel better. There’s only one real way to do that. And you know what it is.

If you’re white and you want to help, do these things.

  1. Support and vote for black candidates, especially women, especially candidates who promote police and prison reform.
  2. Call out racism when you see or hear it in everyday life and online, even if your voice shakes. Calmly stand up to people in your family. Let other people, especially the smallest ones, see and hear you do it.
  3. Put yourself on the line when you see cops interacting with black people. Stick around and be a witness. Watch them; film them if you feel safe doing so. If you see injustice and you’re called on to testify, do it.
  4. Think twice when you’re tempted to call the cops. Do you really have to?
  5. Support black achievements. Let people know about the work of black artists. If you employ them, pay them fairly, and give them credit.
  6. Patronize black-owned businesses. Seek them out in your community.
  7. Oppose gentrification of historically black neighborhoods to benefit affluent whites. This development practice is intersectional with poverty, but it also has deep roots in racism.
  8. Lift up black voices. Let people tell their stories without comment. Believe them when they share their experiences. They don’t need us to filter their narratives or tell anyone what they mean.

This will not end until we end it. We means white people. Don’t ask black people to end it. That’s not their job. You don’t ask victims of generations of systemic violence to do anything. You give them everything they need and let them live. You do everything you can to dismantle white supremacy so they don’t die and redouble your efforts when they do.

And above all, say their names.

Image credit: LA Johnson/NPR

Suggested reading for white folks:

A Decade Of Watching Black People Die (image above)

Your Good Cop Stories Aren’t Helping Anyone

Black People Need Stronger White Allies — Here’s How You Can Be One

Anti-racism resources for white people (Google Doc)

Beyond the Hashtag: How to Take Anti-Racist Action in Your Life

Edited to add:

White allies: Here’s a basic list of do’s and don’ts to help you with your helplessness

4 thoughts on “Dear Fellow White People, Don’t Expect Me to Make You Feel Better

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