“Coming to the table” is overrated.
I know that people are fond of the idea that all that is needed to end racism in America is a good nationwide conversation, but it won’t work. There are too many people who are opposed to an anti-racist society who don’t want to be convinced. There are too many people who simply don’t want to know about the challenges of being black in America. There is nothing to be gained by fighting with these people. Stop doing that.
Life is not an after school special where everyone has a valid perspective worth hearing. Some people simply don’t know what they’re talking about, and they’ll use pretenses of “unity” and “coming together” to oppose the work with their ignorance. In spaces where people are discussing how to solve a problem at a high level, it is a waste of time to entertain folks who want to debate over whether or not the problem exists.
This is exactly why I’ve learned to be dismissive of Internet strangers that think I’m going to debate bootstrap theory, or black-on-black-crime, or whether or not white privilege exists. Not today. Block them. Delete them. Mute them. Move on.
Disagreement Among Those Who Agree
Some people accuse me of advocating for echo chambers with this advice. No and yes. If by “echo chamber” one means a space where there is no disagreement—such spaces are not even possible. To advocate for such a space would be a fool’s errand. If by “echo chamber” one means “a space where everyone involved takes as a given that we live in a racist society in need of change,” and they’re up to the task of fighting for that change, then that is exactly the kind of space I want to be in. There is enough disagreement among those who are already fighting racism to manage and navigate, without adding the task of dragging opponents kicking and screaming out of their anti-blackness.
Since 2016, I’ve deleted a ton of racism deniers and benevolent racists from my personal Facebook page. Since then, I have found the disagreements in that space to be more substantial and productive than at any time in my life online. When people pushback on what I say in that space, it is usually worthwhile. We’re usually discussing the finer points of how to go about pursuing justice.
We need to be rid of this idea that the goal of racial justice is diversity for diversity’s sake. If we’re starting a bakery, we don’t need to hire someone who specializes in barbecue, just for diversity’s sake. If we’re building a house, we don’t need to recruit a songwriter, just for diversity’s sake. If we’re trying to mount a struggle against racism, we don’t need to enlist racists, no matter how well-meaning they may be. When we’re coming together for a specific purpose, we only need people in the room that are interested in working on that project. There are some kinds of diversity that are helpful and others that are counterproductive.
My Rule of Thumb
Does this mean that we should quickly dismiss everyone who doesn’t seem to “get it”? No. My rule of thumb is to give people two nudges to see if they’re moveable. For instance, if someone says to me “Racism begins in the home,” I’ll usually tell them “Racism begins in the 1500s, during the enlightenment.” If they push back on that historical fact, I may expound on where my information has come from and ask if they’ve read something different. If they continue to pushback without a substantial rebuttal, I’ll probably turn off notifications for that post. Thank you, next. A person who doesn’t know where racism comes from isn’t ready to fight alongside me…yet. My hope is that someone else, with more patience and less melanin than I, will help them move along in their journey.
That brings me to another point, I don’t think that this advice is one-size-fits-all. Some people feel drawn to try to convert people who are clearly opposed to racial justice work. More power to them. Folks who do that work are valuable. However, that is not the only work that needs doing. If we wait for every person in this country to be on the same page about this work then we’ll never move forward. I prefer to let the dead bury their dead!
Those who do this work have to accept that this work upsets people. It creates enemies. That much is inevitable. The unity we need is not the approval of our opposers. The unity that we need to build is not to come together “despite our differences” and sing kumbaya. The unity that we need is to build the capacity for change among those who already want to end racism. This is not about affinity. This is about freedom.