Saving Ourselves

The following piece is guided by the unbothered and eternally shady spirit of Rep. Maxine Waters.
The following piece is guided by the unbothered and eternally shady spirit of Rep. Maxine Waters.

My feminist ministry has never really been focused on white people. Interrogating whiteness and eradicating white supremacy, sure. But addressing the needs, goals, or desires of individual white people? No. Not really. Not my work.

In the wake of last November’s election, where white folk by and large adjudicated President Obama’s two terms by electing an inarticulate, uninformed, inexperienced tyrant who peddles in sexism, racism, and xenophobia as president, I wrote a piece directly addressing white people, and white women in particular. I invited them to “get their people” and hold them accountable to the decisions they made in the voting booth, decisions that will likely make collateral damage of the most vulnerable among us.

This was a mistake.

I was correct in believing that whites should be accountable to their communities, but I wasted my own precious breath in making the call.

It’s not that people didn’t listen—the post was clicked, read, and shared thousands of times. I’m just not sure that folks, the ones who really need the message, heard me.

Now, to be clear, I certainly had white folk—friends, colleagues, and people I don’t know—across my social media reading, commenting, and sharing the post, and others like it, in thoughtful and sincere ways. Many of these are the white folk who get it, who do the hard, thankless work, and who aren’t looking for constant validation and cookies. These folks are more than allies—they are co-conspirators and accomplices. White supremacy won’t end without them.

But I also saw many more incredulous and defensive responses. Folks saying things like:

“You have no idea how hard it is to talk to those people!”

“But what can I do? I have no power.”

And my personal favorite, “Those are not my people. All the white people I know are progressive (radical, Socialist, Communist), they would never vote for Trump!”

White people asserting 1) how hard it is to talk to other white people, 2) their lack of power, 3) and their disavowal of their peers is both laughable and infuriating.

It is the height of white privilege.

Also, a hit dog will holler.

Quiet as it’s kept, people of color totally get how hard it is to talk to white people. We spend our whole lives trying to not become the collateral damage in the social Chernobyl that is American society. While the mileage may vary on that Sisyphean project, we try all the same. Some of us even spend time trying to convince whites of our harmlessness, our grace, our niceness, even our very humanity.

But fuck all that. I’m focusing my message to my fellow people of color who are struggling, not because life was so easy before 11/9 and not because electing Hillary Clinton would’ve solved all of our problems, but because there are levels to white supremacy and Donald Trump’s presidency will undoubtedly help to usher in a reign of terror that we haven’t seen in decades.

I’m inviting you to put the kibosh on white tears you encounter at work. To hold up your hand and say “no!” or even “hell no!” when a white person wants you to do some emotional heavy lifting with them about their feelings about the election, the inauguration, or the way that the Cheeto Führer plans on governing. Unless they are your bestie or your bae, let that go. And, chile, even then. Even then.

And you know I’m saying fuck no to any sympathetic engagement of Trump supporters. No, not today, Satan. That is not my cross to bear.

In a discussion with Oprah Winfrey and Van Jones, our sister Ava Duvernay spoke out against wasting our time constantly engaging individual racists. Her words speak right to my heart:

Jones said he wants to connect with Trump voters who find the president-elect distasteful but supported him because they felt overlooked by other candidates.

DuVernay said she has no time for that. Racism and sexism are distractions, she said, “to my humanity and what I’m doing.”

“Distraction is if I stop and try to talk to folks who have clearly demonstrated that they’re not open to hearing that,” she said. “What they will hear is what I do: How I move forward, the art that I make, the energy that I put out into the world.”

Today, on the Beast’s coronation-inauguration, focus on yourself, your strength, your wellbeing, your art, your organizing, and your community. And let’s continue to do our work. We all we got.