Robin DiAngelo was one of the keynote speakers at last week’s virtual White Privilege Conference and her address “Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm” pierced my soul. She told the story of a conversation she had with brand new Black friends many years ago in San Francisco.
Her first inclination as a White person with very few Black friends was to establish that she was not racist. In fact, she was so determined to display her lack of racism that she actually displayed her racism in full glory. She started by sharing “how racist her family was” by repeating their jokes and comments about Black people, not noticing how uncomfortable her dinner partners were.
She wasn’t showing them how anti-racist she was. She was showing them how oblivious she was.
Hello, I’m Jan. Been there countless times.
When I say things like “My daughter-in-law is brown” or “My white children were the minority in their public schools in Virginia” or “We lived in a very diverse neighborhood” or “I have Black friends” it shows that I am not “woke.” I’m just ridiculous.
Of course I’m a racist. And I am going to get things wrong as I learn how to be anti-racist. And it’s my job to figure it out and do better.
Our SBC will be marrying a brilliant and kind human of Indian descent later this year and it’s uncomfortable not knowing the cues. (Again – hello. I haven’ had to learn Indian cues because I’m White and exist in the dominant culture every day.) I haven’t had to learn about Vrats or Upvas. I haven’t had to put Divali on my calendar.
My father grew up on a dairy farm and while those Guernseys were sacred in terms of providing milk to sell to customers in North Carolina, I’m not familiar with how cows are sacred in India.
And the wedding customs. I want to have a spirit of learning and respectfulness when I can already tell that my deeper spirit can be snarky and disrespectful. There are different customs about everything from who buys the wedding dress to who can give presents. This is new territory for me. O Lord, help me not be an idiot.
I am ignorant in many things outside of Being White. I haven’t had to code switch much. Or ever.
And the reason I bring all this up is that I hear from White friends and family that they are afraid they’ll say the wrong thing and so they say nothing. They don’t engage with People of Color. They don’t want to show their ignorance. But then they/we don’t take the time to learn.
I have been ignorant and I will continue to be ignorant in the future (but I hope less so.) I cringe thinking about the time I touched TDA’s hair. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
Forgive me, Lord, for exhausting my friends.
And I am exhausted for Black, Brown, and Golden people. Not only do they deal with the daily ignorance of White people like me who haven’t had to learn about cultures beyond Whiteness but in addition to this, Black, Brown and Golden people are subject to daily indignities and the distinct possibility that they or people who look like them could be shot, pushed to the ground, or generally dismissed. That was a really long sentence. And yet it illustrates the exhaustion I’m talking about.
Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility was a good place to start for some White people. Her next book Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm will be especially edifying for those of us who consider ourselves so woke. And please mark your calendars: The National White Privilege Conference is in Charlotte, NC next March 2022. Hope you’ll come learn with me.
Pre-order Robin DiAngelo’s new book here.