White America is not just in denial about racism. It’s worse than that. White America largely thinks it understands racism just as well as, if not more than, Black Americans.
This is an observable social fact. Spend a minute on Facebook or watching conservative news and you’ll find a surfeit of white explanations for the social misery of black people that disregard our own testimonies. The irony is that they employ racist ideas in their desperate attempts to reject that racism still exists.
Some of their favorite arguments are that black people are being provoked by the media to believe that racism is a bigger problem than it is, as though we lack the capacity to fact check the news—as though we’re easily fooled in general.
They often suggest that we think we discern instances of racism where race isn’t a factor, as though they would know better than anyone else. They imply that we’re delusional. Some will even argue with you about your experiences of racism that they were not there to witness, because their capacities of discernment are automatically more trustworthy than yours.
Others will lash out and call you a “race baiter” or “troublemaker,” the implication being that you “know” racism is not a thing, but you’re playing the victim or being an opportunist or whatever—basically, we’re being dishonest.
Then there are those that just ridicule any notion about racism they don’t readily understand, mistaking the limits of their knowledge for the boundaries that frame all there is to know.
Each of the responses I’ve listed has actually been said to me, more than once. I have receipts to prove it. Sometimes, it seems like there’s a pull string somewhere that triggers these same four arguments when racism deniers enter these conversations. Yet, everyone of them presents one of these canned (weak) rebuttals as though they were the first to ever do so.
Many of them would hate to know it, but these types of responses suggest that white people’s perspectives are generally more objective and reliable than others—in a word, “superior.” That’s a racist idea.
The best way to contend with these responses, I think, is to feel no obligations to engage. There’s an implication underlying all of these responses that white Americans have the authority to validate or invalidate our experiences and interpretations of this society, but they don’t. And we need to be careful not to dignify their internalized superiority by acting as though we must contend with them in order for our interpretations of society to be valid. We don’t.
We are perfectly capable of interpreting and articulating our experiences in this society for ourselves. We have the right to speak freely about what we know and experience. We don’t owe them a debate or an apology. We are not gullible, delusional, or dishonest.
We’re speaking our truth. Who cares if a white man thinks he disagrees? We’re not submitting our experiences to them for validation.
Speak your truth. The song below is mine:
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