Disclaimer: Please understand that when I use the term white America, I am talking about the general public. There are many white people that do not feel the same way as the general population. A good rule of thumb, if it doesn’t apply to you, please do not take offense to it. I am truly grateful that I have white friends who get it!
Trump’s America has yet to be defined, and that’s the beauty of it. The last 8 years have felt quite polarizing and perhaps we have spent too much time focused on our differences. Rampant police brutality and many of Trump’s own words, created a rage that could not be tamed. We wanted justice at whatever cost.
So we took to our computers, we created YouTube videos, and memes, and blogged, and even trolled for racist groups on social media. We were seeking justice but going about it in all the wrong ways.
I regularly found myself in Facebook debates with Trump supporters, and often debated people about race and their comments regarding social justice. My intentions were to educate, but my heart was angry and I positioned them as my “opponents” never considering that they felt denigrated in the same way that black people have felt.
Maybe we’re all responsible?
WE AMERICANS played a game of us against them. We were at war and I didn’t know it. Maybe none of us knew what we had done to our country.
Somewhere along the way, I realized how ineffective my own methods were in educating the privileged general population. I began to more carefully craft my words so that it came across as a lesson and not an attack.
Since the election, all of the hate and disappointment has been overwhelming and I have been searching for something to keep my head in the game. So I searched the web: what do we do next?
The answer was something I was already on the cusp of discovering for myself:
Fascinatingly and dauntingly, the research recommends expressing empathy toward the “oppressors”. Oppressor is not the writer’s chosen word, and I put it in quotes because many “oppressors” are not actively participating in oppression, but their compliance is still problematic.
For example: believing that men should not call women dogs, means nothing if I say nothing when a man calls a woman a dog. If I allow it, then it appears that I am okay with it and it grants permission for other men to do the same, because there is no punishment for saying it.
Another example: believing that my children should not use profanity, means nothing if when I hear my child use profanity I say nothing. It grants them permission to continue to use it and I essentially have taught them that the language is okay to be used. (I don’t have children)
Failure to realize how we contribute is part of the problem. But it is also important to note that we can’t help people see their contribution if they feel attacked.
“One of the things we know from social psychology is when people feel threatened, they can’t change, they can’t listen.” (…calling people racist isn’t one of them)
Some important take away’s:
- Many rural people who identify strongly as white are afraid of becoming a minority in the future.
- White America tends to feel belittled and treated like their problems don’t matter when they are being told that black and brown people have it tougher.
- Their problems are very real, and ignoring them does nothing to soothe their anxieties.
- Having positive interactions with people from different groups can lead to more positive responses and understanding of people from different groups.
- Research proved that having a brief conversation with an anti-trans person about the problems that trans people face, actually reduced their prejudiced views, it endured even after being faced with opposing arguments, and their new outlooks even stuck three-months later.
- White Americans would like to believe that they are incapable of racist views.
- Since the 1960’s, racism has become widely unacceptable, so terms like white privilege, white fragility, implicit bias, and racist feel like coded slurs to much of white America.
- Many white Americans feel like anti-discrimination laws allow black and brown people to cut in the line toward prosperity, causing them to feel like a minority group.
- Most of white America does not typically face racial stress, which lowers their tolerance. When they face racial stress it triggers them to respond with extreme emotion.
- It is important for minority groups in America to turn off our triggers so that we can have more tactful conversations with white America.
I know that some of you will read some items from the list and laugh out loud, because “Their Reality” could not be further from “The Truth”… our truth that is.
Sit with it, honestly ask yourself if you have ever changed a bigoted person’s mind while you were accusing them of being a bigot.
One of my favorite late night shows is HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Each week, John uses humor to expose some of the many flaws that exist within our society, and brings to the forefront many of the details we don’t know and probably should.
A few weeks back, he did a show about School Segregation, and I learned some interesting facts from the research. Starting at 3:18 he explains that research shows that forced integration of schools doesn’t have any negative effect on white people at all, but greatly improves the lives of black and other minorities.
So basically, white children who are forced to go to school with black children still receive a quality education and their rights have not been infringed on. Even though they feel like they are being oppressed because they are forced to go to a different school, they actually are not affected in any real way. While black children begin to actually realize equality.
Black people often react negatively to “white fragility” because we can clearly see the advantages of being white because we live with the disadvantages of being black. We can see that white people are not being oppressed, even though they feel like they are. Often times it annoys us to hear them complain because we know the truth is that they have it far better than we ever have.
It’s like listening to someone complain about their car that was made in 2012, when you have a car made in 2003 and you are trying to be grateful for what you have. It can be a little annoying.
Here’s the thing though, we do more damage calling people out for their bigotry and in-sensitivities than if we just swallowed the insult, and talked to our perceived opponents like human beings, even when they behave like animals.
What I have gathered from all of this research is that we are not allowing ourselves to interact with our white counterparts because we feel triggered the same way that they feel triggered. The key is to let down our guards and allow them to get to know us for who we really are, instead of allowing our emotions to take over.
Take it from Michelle Obama, “when they go low, we go high”. Stay focused on who you are and not on what they believe you are. That doesn’t mean run away from these discussions, just change your perspective, display a little empathy and talk to them (not yell) about your experiences.
We have the chance to define what Trump’s America will look like by influencing our counterparts with our actions. We don’t have to accept their abuse, but we have to be careful not to trigger it either. It doesn’t have to play out the way we see it in our nightmares.
I believe the article …Calling people racist isn’t one of them. made a great case and I believe it’ll work. If you don’t want to listen to me, read the article and the research for yourself below. While you’re at it, check out Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Sunday Feb. 12th on HBO.
Kill ’em with kindness,