The Part About Black Lives Mattering Where White People Shut Up and Listen

This piece was originally published in The Humanist.

black lives matter
Listen up, fellow white people.

If we care about racism — and if we’re humanists, we bloody well better — there’s something we need to do. It’s enormously important. If any other action we take is going to be useful, we need to take this one. And sometimes, it can be really freaking difficult.

We need to shut up and listen.

“Black lives matter” means — among many other things — that black voices matter. So white people need to listen to those black voices. In person and online, with friends and colleagues and friends-of-friends and in-laws and strangers, wherever there are conversations about racism, white people need to listen.

And listening means not talking.

It doesn’t mean “jumping in with arguments about topics we know little about.” It doesn’t mean “waiting patiently until the other person has stopped talking, so we can say whatever we were going to say anyway.” It doesn’t mean “making the conversation all about us and our hurt feelings over being told we said something racist.” It doesn’t mean “constantly changing the subject away from racism and towards something we’re more comfortable with — like how black people are being mean to us, or how we’d be more likely to listen if they spoke more pleasantly.” It doesn’t mean “telling black people how to run their movement” or “telling black people how to talk to white people” — especially when that advice is almost always “tone it down,” “be easier to deal with,” and “don’t make us feel bad.”

Listening means just that — listening. It means letting the other person have the floor. It means letting the other person decide the topic and set the tone. It means that whatever talking we do is peripheral, done in service of understanding and amplifying. And sometimes — much of the time — it means shutting our mouths, and opening our minds.

White people in the U.S. are brought up to expect a lot — often without realizing it, often without even realizing that these expectations exist and that people who aren’t white expect very different things. (If you’re in doubt about this, go read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh — or, for a funnier version of the same idea, Product Review: The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege from L.L. Bean by Joyce Miller.) And one of the things we expect most is an audience. We expect to have the floor. We expect that when we talk, people will listen. We expect that our ideas will be taken seriously; that any disagreement will be respectful and deferential; that we’ll be treated as authoritative, even when we’re talking out of our asses.

We expect that our voices will matter.

But you know what? In this national conversation about racism, our voices don’t matter so much. They’re not completely trivial — for one thing, we should be talking with other white people when they’re being racist — but they’re peripheral. They’re not what’s really important.

the new jim crow book cover
Black people know a whole lot more about racism than white people do. Black people know more about racist policing, and racist police brutality. Black people know more about racism in employment, education, fiscal policy, election policy, drug policy, prison policy, urban planning, labor laws. Black people know more about microaggressions, the small pieces of unconscious racism they encounter every day, dozens of times a day, from the day they’re conscious until the day they die. Black people, and other people of color, are the experts in racism — in a way that white people will never be.

And maybe more to the point: This national conversation about racism? It’s about black people. It’s about black lives, black experiences. It’s not about us — except in the ways that we affect black people, and other people of color.

For white folks, this is a huge reversal. Again: We are brought up with the unconscious, unexamined expectation that our experiences are the ones that matter — and the lives of black people and other people of color only matter when they affect us. For a quick and dirty demonstration, look at popular culture. Look at how often black actors play supporting roles, while white actors get the lead. Look at how often entire casts are overwhelmingly white, with just a handful (at best) of black actors or other actors of color. Look at how white characters across films and stories are varied and multi-dimensional, while black ones largely fall into a handful of tropes. Look at the absurdly common trope of the Magical Negro (seriously, look it up), swooping in with their uncanny wisdom to fix the white hero’s life. The message gets hammered in again and again: White lives matter, and black lives don’t, except when they affect white lives.

Well, guess what? In this national conversation about racism, white voices are not the ones that matter. It’s not just that we aren’t the experts. It’s not just that black people and other people of color know way more about racism than we do. It’s that this conversation is not about us. We are the supporting cast this time — and we need to listen to the leads.

Here are a few specific ways to listen.

Between the World and Me book cover
We can read books and articles by black authors.

We can follow black writers and activists on social media.

When people on social media link to writing by black writers — we can read it. We can click on the actual article, and not just read the headline. We can read the whole piece, not just the first paragraph. If we haven’t read the whole piece, we can hold off on coming to conclusions and shooting our mouths off.

When a unfamiliar concept comes up in a conversation about race — we can Google it.

We can accept that we have racist ideas — all of us, every single one — and not react with “I’m not a racist, how dare you say that!” when someone points one of them out.

If a black person says something about race that we don’t agree with — instead of arguing, we can ask. Instead of jumping in with “That’s wrong, WRONG WRONG WRONG, I don’t know about that or understand it so it can’t be right,” we can ask: “I’m not familiar with that idea or fact — can you please explain it, or point me to a resource that explains it?”

If a black person says something about race that we don’t agree with, we can ask — but we can also not expect them to educate us on demand. We can understand how exhausting and demoralizing it can be to do Racism 101, a dozen times a day, every day, for a lifetime. We can acknowledge that doing Racism 101 is not an obligation, and when black people decide to do it with us, they’re doing us a favor. We can ask — and accept if the answer is, “I am not in the mood, here’s a nice Racism 101 resource” — or even, “I am not in the mood, do your own damn Googling.” We can understand that our desire to be educated, on demand, at the very moment we want it, by the exact person we want it from, does not take priority over black people’s desire to talk about what they want, when they want, with whom they want. Again — we can understand that this is not about us.

If we’re talking about racism, we can share and quote black voices.

If we’re protesting in the streets, and reporters try to talk with us, we can say, “This isn’t about me. This is about black lives. Talk with them.”

If we’re criticized in a conversation about racism, we can listen to the content, and let go of the tone it was said in. We can recognize that the conversation is not about us, and that our hurt feelings over being told “You said something racist” are not as important as, you know, racism.

If we’re criticized in a conversation about racism, we can think about the content, before we respond to it. Instead of reacting immediately, we can stop talking, think, look things up, talk with other people, think some more, and let ourselves cool off, before we respond.

If we’re criticized in a conversation about racism, we can consider whether we need to respond at all, with anything other than, “Sorry,” or even, “I’m not sure I agree, but I’m listening, let me think about that.” We can remember that our opinions are not the most important thing.

We can quit responding to critiques of racism with “Lighten up,” “You’re being too sensitive,” or “That’s so PC.” That is literally saying to black people, “The things that matter to you don’t matter to me. They shouldn’t matter to anyone. They don’t matter to anyone — they only matter to black people, and black people don’t count.” (Also, as humanists and rationalists, we should note that as debate points, “Lighten up,” “You’re being too sensitive,” and “That’s so PC” are entirely lacking in content. All they say is “That isn’t important and I’m going to dismiss it” — while dodging the actual point.)

And whenever this is uncomfortable or painful or upsetting, we can remember — did I mention this already? — that this is not about us. We can remember that as upsetting as these conversations might be for us, racism is a thousand times worse. We can remember that white people have been the protagonists, the center of attention, for centuries — and we can let these conversations be about, you know, the people they’re actually about.

I get that this can be hard. We all think of ourselves as the center of our own universes, and we all want things to be about us. And humanists especially love to talk. We love dialogue, debate, the free and open examination and questioning of ideas. I love those things, too. But if we care about racism — and if we’re humanists, we bloody well better — we need to care about justice, human rights, ethics, and compassion, more than we care about the sound of our own voices.

And in this national conversation about racism, that means shutting up and listening.

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Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

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The Part About Black Lives Mattering Where White People Shut Up and Listen
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56 thoughts on “The Part About Black Lives Mattering Where White People Shut Up and Listen

  1. 1

    This sounds good, but may actually enforce racial stereotypes.
    For example, I watched a show where British TV chef Jamie Oliver toured Italy. At one point Oliver exclaimed: “Everyone in Italy knows what good food is!” I didn’t think about it at first, but during the ad break I realized it was complete garbage. In fact, most people in Italy probably know fuck-all about quality cuisine.

    My point is that while the US needs to hear more black voices, I would be wary of assuming that African-Americans necessarily have an input worth listening to.

  2. 2

    I would be wary of assuming that African-Americans necessarily have an input worth listening to.

    polishsalami @ #1: Are you really, really, REALLY sure that’s what you want to say? Read over what you wrote, and think very carefully.

  3. 3

    Well, it does raise the question of ‘listen to who?’
    Ben Carson? Louis Farrakhan?
    Refraining from knee-jerk reactions based on unquestioned social/historical background WILL feel like ‘shutting up’ when we try it in real life. But it is obvious that some empty ritual of ‘listening’ would be making a ‘separate but equal’ zone for folks who deserve serious attention.

  4. 6

    As a black man I would like you to kindly shut the hell up. Our community does not need white women with no understanding of the things we face commenting about it.

    You are not helping. You are part of the problem.

  5. 7

    It doesn’t mean “waiting patiently until the other person has stopped talking, so we can say whatever we were going to say anyway.”
    Be completely honest with yourself, is this something you do in most conversations, whatever the subject? Most people are crap listeners.

  6. 8

    ok, comchinc, I came here to listen to Greta, only to find that she was saying shut up and listen. And you’re saying the same as Greta. I’m shutting up and listening – to whatever wisdom you wish to put here.

  7. 9

    Greta, I thought you might want to mention Canada,s new Primeminister who is. ‘Proud to be a feminist.” With Cathleen Wynne a premier I think we Canadians are making some breakthroughs.

  8. 10

    Thank you, Greta. It always comes off at “whining” or whatever when we try to say what you just did, so maybe someone will bloody listen if a white person says it (hence the point of the post, comchinc).

    I’d cross my fingers, but I know that doesn’t help anything.

  9. 11

    The point of the post Feminace is that black people need white people to tell other white people to listen to us. That is pure racism right there.

  10. 12

    Maybe you haven’t witnessed the annoyance that is being ignored until a white person says the same thing, but i have. I don’t have time in my day to explain the same stuff over and over, so I’m glad that I have allies willing do it for me.

    Also, Greta has been an amazing ally when it comes to racial issues and speaking sense to other white people.

  11. 16

    So, you’re telling a white woman, who wrote a blog telling other white people to shut up and listen to us when we speak, to shut up.

    What kind of sense does this even make?

  12. 17

    We don’t need any white people speaking for us. All that is saying is that we are unable to have our voices heard without the help of some privileged white person.

  13. 18

    I would have to disagree. We need real allies, we need white people taking up the mantle and uplifting our voices by telling the others who would drown us out in BS to hush and really listen. I mean, did you actually READ the article? This is How to Ally 101, the same that any of else would have to do if we wanted to ally with any other marginalized group.

    This can’t be that difficult of a concept to grasp.

  14. 19

    It is not being an ally. It is just another way for white people to try to control black people. We don’t need white people to uplift our voices. We can do that ourselves. White people need to just shut up and sit down. THe only reason this was wrote is so the author can feel good about helping the poor halpless negro.

    How is that a difficult concept to grasp?

  15. 20

    “Sitting down and shutting up”

    That was the entire point of the article. Again, did you read it, because I’m starting to think you probably didn’t.

  16. 21

    I read every word. What part of this is just another way that whites try to control black voices don’t you get? I am beginning to think your mind has been whitewashed sister…………

  17. 22

    Whitewashed? I think I just hurt something laughing.

    Also, I really get annoyed when people not related to me and whose views I don’t agree with call me “sister”, so please don’t.

    This isn’t controlling black voices, it’s common sense. Again Allyship 101, shut up and let the marginalized talk. This is her blog, where she writes as she wishes. Coming to it to tell someone to ‘shut up’ makes even less sense than your “We don’t need no allies” stance. Why not spend your energy in all of those tedious talks and debates that you don’t need allies for, repeating the same stuff over and over and over again?

    I dunno about you, but I’m tired of having those debates over and over again with white folks who don’t ‘shut up and listen’. I’m happy to have white people on my side to take up that job, especially if other white people will listen to them. It’s like having men speak to other men on the topic of feminism. It sucks that they seem incapable of listening to us directly, but I’ll take any help I can get.

  18. 23

    White people listen to me sister, because I have not been whitewashed into thinking they are my friends. If this honky was really wanting our people to have a voice she would turn her blog over to a black person. She would give her job or whatever at the humanist to a black person. She would sit down and shut up and not pretend we need her help.

    You need to wake up sister. This is how whites are controlling you.

  19. 24

    Okay, now I know you’re not serious or debating in good faith and I feel pretty annoyed at myself wasting my time on this.

    Have fun with that eventual ban for violating the first comment policy.

  20. 25

    Ah so I am make you afraid because I am not willing to let white people control me and you want me banned?

    You need to do some soul searching and ask yourself why you think you need whites to speak for you and why you are afraid of a strong black voice.

  21. 26

    comchinc is a Slymepitter, fyi.
    —————————————————————–
    Greta #2: Farrakhan, Cosby, Carson, Clarence Thomas, Tyler the Creator, Chris Brown, Jay Z — all people whose opinions I have no interest in, even on issues of race.

  22. 27

    polishsalami, that’s not how this shit works.

    We white people don’t get to check black people. When the issues being discussed are issues affecting black people, we white people need to, as Greta says, shut up and listen. Even if it is Cosby, or Chris Brown… we white people have no right to check their blackness because they are terrible people, which is something that is utterly separate from their race.

    So sure… you don’t like those people. Neither do I.

    Yet at the end of the day, they have more knowledge about what it’s like to be a black person than I, a white person, do.

    (note: “we” is to include me as a white person; I’m not assuming your race, polishsalami, as I don’t know it.)

  23. 29

    comchinc is a Slymepitter, fyi.

    polishsalami @ #26: Ahhhhhhh. Now it makes sense. Thanks for the heads-up. comchinc has been blocked. I now am in serious doubt about whether these comments were made sincerely and in good faith: and in any case, Slymepitters get no quarter here. (If anyone isn’t familiar with the Slymepit and is wondering why I would block a black person who’s commenting in a thread about race, simply because of another online forum they frequent: here’s an explanation.)

  24. 30

    Well, it does raise the question of ‘listen to who?’
    Ben Carson? Louis Farrakhan?

    Farrakhan, Cosby, Carson, Clarence Thomas, Tyler the Creator, Chris Brown, Jay Z — all people whose opinions I have no interest in, even on issues of race.

    johnthedrunkard @ #3 and polishsalami @ #26: Okay, I’m going to take a stab at this. I’m kind of thinking out loud here, so I may get it wrong: I welcome feedback.

    “Listen to” does not mean “agree with.” It does not mean “listen to uncritically.” And it does not mean “listen to forever.” (The last one is sort of like arguments for religion: after listening to 86,467 of them, I don’t feel obligated to give time and energy to the 86.468th.)

    I do, in fact, want to know what Farrakhan, Cosby, Carson, Clarence Thomas, etc. have to say about race. If I’m going to be informed about race and racism, I need to know about it — if for no other reason, I need to understand other black people’s responses to them, and try to understand the context that their views cane from.

    To draw an analogy using my own marginalization: I want men to listen to Valerie Solanis; and I want them to listen to Phyllis Schlafly, and female anti-choice advocates, and the women commenters on Fox News. Briefly, anyway. With Solanis, I want men to recognize and understand the phenomenon of resistance taken to a hateful and violent extreme; with Schlafly et. al., I want men to recognize and understand the phenomenon of internalized misogyny, and of sucking up to the enemy to gain a bit of their privilege. It doesn’t mean I want men to agree with these women, listen to them uncritically, or listen to them forever.

    And if men feel like they need to push back against these views, I would much rather they did so by quoting/ citing/ linking to other women. I also want them to be damn well sure they’re extremely well-informed on the topic — and even then, to acknowledge that there’s a lived experience they will never have.

    Does that make sense?

  25. 32

    Sorry for the double post, I just feel the need to explain out of sheer embarrassment why I didn’t pick up on the ‘pitter sooner:

    There are so-called “conscious” or “awake” black men who so say some of this stuff and are just condescending as hell to black women, while expecting us to be there for them. If we’re not, then we’re white-washed or kotowing to whites.

    They’re annoying. Granted I caught on around the time of demanding Greta give her blog to a black person, but until that point of silliness, folks actually believe in this separatist nonsense.

    Okay, back to being embarrassed now.

  26. 34

    Feminace, don’t feel too embarrassed. He acted as a foil against which you were able to elaborate on Greta’s message. In particular, I think this is a REALLY important point you added to the discussion, one that can’t be repeated often enough: “Maybe you haven’t witnessed the annoyance that is being ignored until a white person says the same thing, but i have.” As a white man, I needed this very concept explained to me by another white man before I realized just how true it is. It was actually in Black Like Me where I first encountered it. I don’t think I could have fully understood Greta’s “shut up and listen” message before that.

    So there was actually some good that came from you taking the troll-bait.

  27. 35

    Feminace @ #30 & #31: I’m actually really grateful that you jumped in. I get it about feeling embarrassed and grossed-out about debating someone who turned out to be a Slymepitter. But as you said, these views are out there and are held sincerely by some. They’re not just being expressed by insincere trolls who spend their time in an online forum devoted to hating social justice activism in general and Freethought Blogs in particular. So I was really glad to have your voice in here pushing back. Thanks.

  28. Pen
    36

    Black people know a whole lot more about racism than white people do… [e.g.] about racist policing, and racist police brutality… racism in employment, education, fiscal policy, election policy, drug policy, prison policy, urban planning, labor laws … microaggressions, the small pieces of unconscious racism they encounter every day, dozens of times a day, from the day they’re conscious until the day they die. Black people, and other people of color, are the experts in racism.

    I’m afraid I very much doubt this is the case. Black people are on the receiving end of most racist discrimination, it’s true, but individual experiences are extremely variable, always anecdotal, and worse, the victim is exposed to the result but not the process. It takes statistical collection of data at a large scale to find out where racism is happening and even then… we see the racism but we often can’t tell what is happening exactly.

    As an example, in a Guardian article a few months ago, it was noted that black children are excluded from grade school more often than white kids (in the US). Do you think the black kids are suddenly ‘experts’ in racism? So far, I doubt anybody can say whether the phenomenon affecting them is due to broad differences in the behavior of most teachers (white ones? black ones?), or a few ‘bad apples’, or, given the relative segregation of US schools, different cultures of discipline in mostly black schools v. mostly white schools, or whether some poverty-related? difference in children’s healthcare (eyesight, hearing, the dreaded Ritalin?) is affecting children’s behavior. Or something else, or some combination of things. And that’s Just one example among many. What we actually need is more data and research that digs down into more details.

    When it comes to police brutality, I think Libby Anne has it nailed: both police and public, whether they are black and white, react with more fear and suspicion towards black people, on a scale which includes explicit and subconscious racist assumptions. It’s not just that the police are more likely to shoot, they are already statistically more likely to be involved in interventions with black people (does anyone know if shootings are still disproportionate, when this upstream discrimination is factored in?). And they’re partly more likely to intervene with black people because they’re more likely to get called. And nearly all this process happens out of the sight (and thoughts) of the black victim. What, therefore, is he or she (assuming they survived) supposed to tell us about their ordeal to help us make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone ever again? Since when do we put victims in charge of finding solutions to the aggressions affecting them anyway?

  29. 37

    Pen,

    One thing you need to consider is people talk to each other. If my mother, who is hispanic experiences actions that may be racist, that is one thing. If my cousins on that side of the family report similar experiences, then it is more than just one person’s opinion. When my mother tell me tales about a certain police organization that when I investigate I find info that indicates it happened before she was bor;, that is really something else again.

  30. 38

    What evidence is there to indicate that comchinc is/was a Slymepitter? comchinc was clearly an asshole, yes. But assholiness on the internet is not exactly confined to the Slymepit, y’know?

  31. 40

    Pen,

    You can doubt it all you like, but we already have enough data to justify that significant racial bias that you’ve acknowledged exists. This isn’t a brand new phenomena: black people have been aware of this since way before my grandparents were born. That’s why “The Talk” – a conversation parents have with usually young men on how to deal with the police so they can just come home in one piece – is such a cultural mainstay. That’s why one excuse for corporal punishment on our children is to beat respect into them so that they don’t get their asses beat by the cops.

    Not that any of these methods are foolproof, as we have seen for years and years, because we’re fighting against the racism inherent in our society that finds us a hazard no matter how polite and unassuming we are. Why else would black people be seen as so dangerous by both the police and the public? Why else are we seen as so dangerous that a police officer may feel the need to turn up the aggression when dealing with one of us? It’s either that we live in a society that holds racist views about us….or we’re really are naturally aggressive/prone to crime/etc.

    While you’re demanding more data, proof, whatever, groups like BLM are going to continue to work towards doing something about the society we have right now. We don’t have time to sit and wait for someone to count up the stats (though, seriously, the stats showing racial bias in policing are there, you can look them up for yourself). Our people are being left to die in the streets and jails, and minor offenses are being treated as capital crimes with capital punishments. Our people are being harassed by the same police officers we’re supposed to trust with our lives. That isn’t a group of anecdotes to be so easily dismissed; that’s a reality we live in right now. While it must be very nice to have the sort of mental distance to be able to nitpick the available stats (maybe it’s Ritalin, maybe it’s poverty, maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybeline), the reality is that we know. The thought of possible racial motives is already in most of our heads when we see those blue lights or a badge. We are not ignorant of this and to imply so is rather insulting.

    And as victims of this oppression, we probably have the best view as to how to deal with it. What may seem reasonable to someone who doesn’t have to live with this may not be at all to someone who does. The former might not even think about possible solutions that would actually help the latter. That’s been the case no matter who the ‘victims’ are. That’s why we listen to them. That is what makes them “experts” of their own oppression.

  32. Pen
    44

    @40 – feminace

    You can doubt it all you like, but we already have enough data to justify that significant racial bias that you’ve acknowledged exists.

    I’m seriously confused about what you think my position is.

    While it must be very nice to have the sort of mental distance to be able to nitpick the available stats (maybe it’s Ritalin, maybe it’s poverty, maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybeline), the reality is that we know.

    Please fill me in.

    And as victims of this oppression, we probably have the best view as to how to deal with it.

    For Athena’s sakes, share! Seriously, you have the best view on how to stop the cops/teachers/insurance assessors/my mother-in-law from discriminating??!! What are you waiting for to tell us all? Trust me, if it’s true we will only stop listening long enough to go and apply the miracle solution.

  33. 45

    When a black man attacks a white woman over racial issues and the woman is clearly an ally on race, you can safely bet that man is a SEXIST.

    Sexism is not better than racism. Slympitters can go to hell.

    Homophobia is not better than racism. Religious bigots are @$$holes.

    Transphobia is not better than racism. TERFs are hypocrites.

    Do you get it?

  34. 46

    NateHevens #43: I did some checking and I also suspect it’s the same person. Funny thing: the matter was raised on the Slyme Pit but comhcinc didn’t comment on it in any way (in spite of participating later in conversations).

    By the way:
    dalehusband #45:

    When a black man attacks a white woman over racial issues…

    Does anyone know whether comhcinc (the pitter) is a black man?

    On another matter: I’m afraid I’m with Pen on this particular controversial issue. Being black can make you an expert on racism as experienced by you and perhaps as experienced by the people you happen to know, but nothing more than that. Similarly, being Polish doesn’t make me an expert on western Polonophobia. Yes, I heard a lot of horror stories, but in order to really assess the phenomenon – not to mention proposing the countermeasures – I would have to educate myself quite extensively. There is nothing offensive in indicating this.

  35. 48

    You mean – on their experience of being black in a White Supremacy? Yes, I agree. I’m also an expert on my experience of being a Polish illegal worker in the West (well, that was so many years ago… but still). I’m just not an expert on anything else than that – this is what I wanted to say.

  36. 49

    I think something I said when the article was posted on The Humanist’s website is relevant to this:

    [T]he reason why white people need to shut up and listen to black people is the same as the reason why men need to shut up and listen to women: because they have been trained from a very young age not to expect these people to have useful things to say. They have been trained from a very young age to see comments that do not seem immediately true as being worthy of consideration from white people and unworthy of consideration from black people. So the correction that white people – and mixed-race black people with a lot of white privilege and enculturation, like me – need is a correction towards taking black voices seriously, especially when those black voices seem to be completely wrong. That seeming is too often a matter of the white audience’s failure to understand or interpret, not the black speaker’s failure to understand and communicate.

    Yes, you are correct when you point out that black people do not necessarily have an expert understanding of race relations in the white supremacist societies they live in … but if you’re going to learn from the ones who do, “is this person an expert” is the wrong question to ask. You have to know a lot to know the difference between an expert and a loudmouth, and you won’t learn without listening.

  37. 50

    What are you waiting for to tell us all? Trust me, if it’s true we will only stop listening long enough to go and apply the miracle solution.

    Pen @ #44: Dial back on the sarcasm, NOW. Do not bloody well use that tone when talking with black people about racism. This is exactly what I meant in the piece by:

    If a black person says something about race that we don’t agree with — instead of arguing, we can ask. Instead of jumping in with “That’s wrong, WRONG WRONG WRONG, I don’t know about that or understand it so it can’t be right,” we can ask: “I’m not familiar with that idea or fact — can you please explain it, or point me to a resource that explains it?”

    I suppose I should have added, “If a black person says something about race that we don’t agree with, and we’re trying to better understand it, we should avoid being sarcastic, snarky, or condescending.” I guess I thought it was self-evident. I guess I was wrong. If you can’t engage with black people in a discussion about race without being more respectful, get the hell out of my blog.

    As to the content rather than the tone: You are seriously missing the point. The point of “black people are the experts in racism” is not “all black people are widely and thoroughly informed about the current sociological and psychological research into racism.” The point… well, there are lots of points. But two of the points are:

    1) Academic data is not the only form of knowledge. I could be a PhD in black studies, and still never know what it’s like to be inside a black person’s skin, looking out through a black person’s eyes, when they’re being pulled over by the cops, or followed around by security in a store, or having a white person reach out and touch their hair without asking, or any of the thousands of other forms of racism they experience on a daily basis.

    2) Why do you think sociological and psychological research into racism is even happening in the first place? It’s happening because black people and other people of color have been saying, “This is a thing, these are some of the things we’re experiencing, and some of the effects it has on us.” And after DECADES of POC saying this — and after POC finally got better representation in academia — academia finally started noticing, listening, and going, “Hm, maybe these people know a little something about their own experience, maybe we should research this!” People of color’s lived experience of racism is the foundation on which the academic research is built.

    I would also expect (although I don’t know this for sure) that black people and other people of color are, in fact, a whole lot more likely to be familiar with the data on racism than white people. Not every black person is going to be more informed about this than every white person — but I would expect that the bell curve on “knowledge of the data about racism” is going to peak a hell of a lot higher for black people and other POC than for white people, who have a vested interest in ignoring or rejecting it. Marginalized people almost always know more about their oppressors than the other way around. We have to. It’s sort of like how atheists know more about religion than religious believers.

  38. 51

    Does anyone know whether comhcinc (the pitter) is a black man?

    Ariel @ #46: Apparently not. Someone sent me an Internet trail: if this person has the same nym/identity across social media platforms, he’s a white dudebro, who’s commented on A Vouce for Men as well as the Slymepit.

  39. 52

    @Pen

    You see that response I gave to the ‘pitter when I thought he was serious, the bit when I said:

    I dunno about you, but I’m tired of having those debates over and over again with white folks who don’t ‘shut up and listen’.

    Yeah, this is one of those cases. I’m extremely pissed at your snark, but I’m going to try to express my anger while not violating Greta’s comment policy.

    I don’t have the time in my day to sit here and present to you information you can damn well look up yourself. We have proposed solutions, we have worked in our community to try to make things better between us and the police – this you can look up. And as for “filling you in”, I just spent a couple of paragraphs TELLING you what we know. You can also look up narratives by others if my anecdotes aren’t good enough.

    And if all of that isn’t good enough still, then please don’t consider yourself any kind of a ally, because we don’t need you.

  40. 53

    @Pen: Echoing Feminace @ #52. There is a metric fuck-ton of information and ideas from people of color on how to address racism and racist systems. It is not Feminace’s job, or anyone else’s job, to point you to it. Six minutes of Googling should get you a good start.

    What isn’t out there is a fuck-ton of information and ideas on how to get white people to pay attention; how to get white people to take action; how to get white people to be willing to acknowledge our privilege and let go of it when we can; how to get white people to listen without hostility and defensiveness and sarcasm; how to get white people to give a shit. (Or maybe there is, and I just haven’t seen it.) That part is up to us. Are you seriously insisting that the only way you’re going to get information and take action is if black people and other POC hold your hand the entire way? Because it sure seems that way.

  41. 54

    Greta @ #53, so how DO we get other white people to pay attention? Whenever I have these conversations they always end up just making people angry with me. They always end up getting extremely defensive, and the phrase “I’m not racist” is usually spoken in a loud voice multiple times near the end of the conversation. I’m always very careful not to speak in terms of blame or intention, but it never works. I’ve tried googling, but either there isn’t anything out there, or the terms I’m using are not specific enough for google…

    Any advice you have would be much appreciated.

  42. 55

    Dan Cusher @54: …that’s the eternal humdinger of a question, isn’t it? Here’s a partial list of things I’ve found that might be relevant.

    First, what you’re doing sounds a lot like Jay Smooth’s “How To Tell Someone They Sound Racist” – and I remember Jay Smooth did a TEDx talk where he said that video generally got one of two reactions:

    (a) “That’s an awesome suggestion! I’ll do that!”
    (b) “That was an awesome suggestion, so I tried it, but it didn’t work.”

    Like, I really recommend listening to both videos, but I think he said he got something like a 5% success rate. :/

    Second, I think one of the big problems is tied to the sociological concept of face – as in, the thing you lose if something makes you look bad. This ties in in my mind in a couple of ways: by making it hard for people to admit to changing their minds during the conversation, and by making it easier for bystanders to a conversation to change their minds. I mention this mostly so you know that even the 95% of conversations that seem fruitless might not be completely fruitless; being conscious of face might theoretically bump up that 5% success rate slightly, but I wouldn’t bet on much.

    Third, I love talking about Innuendo Studio’s Why Are You So Angry? series of videos, and in this case the blog post followup to the last video – and, especially, the links from that blog post – seem very relevant. Trolls are something of a special case of bigotry, but there are a couple ideas from there that probably apply:

    (a) Most people change their behavior either because they had an epiphany (which is probably even less than the 5% of non-failed conversations mentioned above) or because someone they respect tells them to knock it off. So if someone who respects you is doing something inappropriate, you’re actually in a relatively strong position to affect that.

    (b) When debunking false ideas generally, the most effective forms of debunking are explanations to replace the false explanations. Like, if I were talking to someone who thought vaccines caused autism, I wouldn’t say, “That’s not true – studies have shown that there’s no link between these things”; I’d say, “That’s not true – the only study that showed a link was by Andrew Wakefield, who wanted to sell his own vaccine to replace the standard ones, and the reason why people believed it is because autism starts showing symptoms at around the same age as we vaccinate kids.”

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