As a brown person, I have had various experiences of whiteness. Some have been unpleasant, violent, and ignorant. Others have been pleasant, supportive, and open. Most of them have landed in the shades of gray between these extremes.
This post’s purpose is to show the variability that is the reality of my experience of whiteness, in it’s dark and pure shades. It should be noted that these are also very mild versions of experiences that I have had – and that they are only worth pointing out for the sake of irony- as both scenarios happened within 24 hours of one another.
These posts are also taken as exerts from my own personal accounts, and are written as such.
PSA: don’t tell brown people what to do for their communities.
This woman tonight told me that I should work with refugees. I told her that I’d like to, but that I can only do work within demographics that personally resonate with parts of my identity for short, intermittent periods of time, for both the sake of my own ability to do so and for my own wellbeing. (this applies also in working with people struggling with certain mental issues, as well.)
Of course, she got huffy with me and insisted that it was a civic duty for me to do so, and that SHE would, regardless of who she was. I asked her if she was Mexican, and she paused mid-rant and gave me an oddly satisfied look. “Well, now that you’ve revealed that about yourself…” she started saying.
“Why? Were you wondering what I was this whole time?” I asked her.
Of course she still didn’t back down, and went on about how we ALL need to do something under “this administration.”
She also asked me if I was aware that in Nashville there is open carry, and that the guns are loaded. I sarcastically thanked her for securing my sense of safety.
She was cut off and redirected by her partner, who could sense I was about to clearly unload some whoopass on her.
So for those who do not see what is wrong with her approaching me in this manner, allow me to unpack this;
– brown people have historically been validated by white folx for what physical labor they can do to either better the lives of the already privileged or within their own communities. We have been told (on our own lands and those we were forced into) what to and not to do to ensure our success and live our lives “right.” Emotional, intellectual, and social efforts/work within our communities are invalidated as soft excuses for labor, more often than not.
– no white person should feel comfortable telling a brown person what role they must occupy, in ANY CONTEXT. Well-meaning suggestions should be followed by acknowledging that they themselves have not lived the same experiences, and do not know the nuances involved in brown folx identities that shape the decisions that we make within our professional and personal lives. Trust me, any brown person living in the US that makes an effort to advocate for themselves is already expending more energy in their day than you would consider reserving for your sake of wellbeing and safety.
-respecting people’s goddamn boundaries and limitations that they have set for themselves through knowing themselves best should be a universal rule. Insisting that someone bend these personal limitations so that they can be painted as a hero/mascot of their community is selfish and shortsighted. No one is helpful when they are overwhelmed and undernourished.
-not expecting an essay of explanation LIKE THIS is SUPER courteous because NO ONE owes you an explanation of how they are working to address political issues within their professional and personal lives. Especially when that person is already facing prejudices every day and “doing the work” by simply existing.
Don’t add on the extra load of forcing us to educate you on our right to exist without allotted responsibilities thrown onto us by those who carry the most blame.
Someone told me I sound just like Alan Watts today and I swear I’ve never been so damn flattered.
They also said it must be painful to hear people talking about their hardships from their two perspectives of identity when I’m often looking at particular issues within the 30 perspectives of my own. He referenced his divorce in the midst of a job change, and another attendee’s bragging about doing her master’s while having a young child..
I told him that I don’t think anyone should be comparative of their pain to another’s. It does nothing but enable them in avoiding and belittling their problems. It also just generally makes people feel “weak” for being troubled by problems that “aren’t that bad” compared to someone else’s.
Suffering should not be a compassion-less competition. And I certainly used to view it as such.
Until I realized that each of us is training ourselves and learning from each hardship. That what one person can handle is impossible to measure alongside another’s load. That every facet of our character and our backgrounds affects our sensitivities, our stamina, and the stigmas we paint ourselves with.
And that those are all individual, and all a-fucking-o-kay.
So I don’t interrupt the venting or woeing of others with a one-up anymore. And I only find annoyance in those who brag recklessly about their difficulties as if no one in the world could ever understand what they are going through. Not realizing that their struggles are another’s equivalent, only disguised as different content in another’s context.
*This man was also open to hearing about my experience from the woman who had antagonized me the day before. He empathized with my response and was disgusted with her reactions. His willingness to step into my shoes is incredibly consoling as a brown woman who is constantly framed as the aggressor in these kinds of situations. He shared with me that he had grown up with brown and black friends in his own poverty, and that he had had to fight for respect from them. I told him that, coming from a racist small town, it took me years to be able to trust ANY white person that I encountered, and he nodded intently. He said that hearing my side of my upbringing was helpful in navigating his own feelings about his privilege in life. We then spoke at length about what he perceived to be “weird white people” that he knew, and I explained to him that there are also “weird black/brown people” too, but that they are not as visible because they lack the resources to either hold jobs or seek the help that they need to battle their mental health issues.