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I first named the phenomenon at the Moving Social Justice Forward conference in Los Angeles in 2014. It wasn’t the first question like this at the conference, by any means. It probably wasn’t the first conference where I’d heard a question like that either. It was, however, a perfect opportunity to notice.
The SSJ conference put activists of color, most of them black, on stage to talk about hands-on organizing and activism. The topics they covered were matters of life and death, though they often aren’t treated that way. In the secular movement, these subjects often aren’t covered at all.
Given all that, it wasn’t surprising for me to find myself part of a proportionally much smaller white audience at the event. I may even have been in the minority, though there were still a large number of white people in the audience. There were points during the Q&As when I wished there were fewer.
Q&As always have problems. No matter how carefully moderators specify their requirements, people will still decide the guidelines don’t apply to them. They ramble. They act as though they’d been invited to be onstage. They treat “Here is my opinion; don’t you agree?” as a question.
I noticed this specific problem for the first time at this conference when a panel of student activists combating the school-to-prison pipeline opened the floor to questions. “Have you tried talking to legislators?” Well, yes, of course they had, and they’d discussed legislation that might help, but they couldn’t wait for it to pass because people needed their help now. And they were achieving success with their methods.
There were other questions like this that weekend. Other activists talked about helping themselves and each other and were greeted with some form of “Have you tried going to the government for help?” It was this question, though, that made me realize I was listening to people ask, “Have you considered white people?”
I saw it again at the Social Justice panel at AHACon in May 2016. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was the one majority-POC panel. The instructions were great. (I’m stealing “The shorter the better. Preferably one sentence ending in a question mark.”) A couple of the questions, however, included “I didn’t hear you say anything about voting” and something about Bernie Sanders.
“Have you considered white people?”
Fellow white people, we need to stop asking questions like these. Continue reading ““Have You Considered White People?””