This is an open letter not to the white men in MAGA hats that blare bigotry on TV.
This is an open letter to the White men in My Life who have belittled my existence, overshadowed my pain, and taken up my space in ways that I once thought were acceptable.
This is a letter to the studio-mate and former mentor-figure that told me I spoke too many stories and talked about myself too much. Who discredited artists of color and queerness because “people just care about hearing other’s struggles now,” and “that’s not real work/worth/merit.”
This is a letter to the supervisor who told me that formal education was for sheep, and that I was in turn a “cog in the machine” for taking opportunities not normally afforded to people of my identity. Who only spoke of spirituality through turquoise pieces, meditation, and marijuana- but not about his own role in centering his spirituality over the survival of indigenous peoples speaking in “divisive language.”
This is a letter to the co-worker who assumed that a willingness to learn about my culture was repayment for asking me 50 questions about it while I physically worked in front of and beside him. Who asked me if I believed he would ever be able to achieve salvation from his ancestor’s wrongdoings, and told me that he was drawn to me because he could see my (physical) differences that he wished to learn more about.
Each time I experienced each of your questions, advice, demands- I thought it was acceptable. In fact, I either anticipated playing the role of the sage, the underling, the learner, or the teacher for your benefit. I assumed that this was the way the world was, because it was how I had always seen it played out. I had always seen the labor of myself and those who looked like me at the disposal of white men-
and for these white men who showed such intellect, worldly views, and openness to acknowledging that we, I, even existed- I was grateful.
Because acknowledgement of my existence was all that I could hope to achieve, at one point. No matter the level of disrespect, appropriation, or disagreement that it brought me through your privileged lenses.
You came to me for answers to your questions, and I gave them gladly, thinking that I was serving the world. But I was only serving you. I should have been demanding more repayment and less labor. I was not meant to be thankful for your openness- it only passed the weight to my shoulders.
You directed me with your monologues of unity, and I listened dutifully, thinking that I should be grateful for your sharing of knowledge. But my education was not a ball and chain of uniformity like it was for you. I was not meant to be ashamed for my privilege. You were.
You shamed me for speaking about my life, and overshadowing yours. And you succeeded in making me feel like I should be quiet, that I should be like you. But my experience and voice is not a weakness. And had I known you were speaking out of fear of my strengths, I would have used them louder and prouder.
For all those years I thought, “How lucky I am to learn from the White Man. How lucky I am to learn about cultures, schools of thought, religion, art, travel, and culture from the White Man.” And I thought that those experiences through privilege were a kind donation to my mind when you shared them. I thought that I should thank you.
I reiterated to myself that I was merely the fly on the wall, the observer, the assumer, and that you each through pigment, age and class were the objective, the ideal, the instructor.
But I was entirely wrong. I was the objective, the ideal, and the instructor. And you each were merely the fly on the wall, the observer, the assumer, of me. My story, my body, my glory.
Not one of you asked me to tell you where our very interactions made me squirm. Not one of you listened when I rebuffed any part of what you proclaimed as “truth.” Not one of you truly cared about me; only your own narrative.
You began to turn on me and tear me down when my work became stronger. You saw me as a threat, so you dug at my essence. You knew that I once saw you as a friend, a protector, a resource. So you tore out all the resources, jabbed at me under your feigning of “friend,” and discredited my artwork for the very matter you lacked; Soul.
You opened doors to my imagination in realms of religion, philosophy, and insight. You refused to acknowledge the benefits of education through the only means your privilege couldn’t afford you- so you made me feel less than credible for learning what I did through someone other than yourself. You tokenized my race and all the races whose practices you absorbed, and used them for your own benefit. You color-blinded yourself under the excuse of “compassion.”
You shared vulnerabilities and insecurities with me to even our social footing. You asked me assumptions and expected easy answers. You were entirely oblivious to your own ethical shortcomings. You explained “blushing” to me as if I was incapable of doing so. You asked me for recipes of “spicy food” when you learned I could cook. You brought more levels of labor to my work, and still managed to make me feel like I was doing myself a favor for doing it for no pay.
I looked at you each as saviors, mentors, and my unattainable goals.
And I didn’t realize where any of those falsehoods stemmed from- because none of you taught me that. None of you withdrew the veil on yourselves. And if you did, it was only to ask me how to fix it.
I am past the point of feeling grateful for learning anything from any white man. I am past the point of looking up to any white man as my goal, my mentor, my savior. I now only see them for what they are- the positive, negative equations of their personhood plus the inevitable obliviousness of a person in power, regardless of their orientation or socioeconomic standing.
In fact, I am more (In)Powered than they ever will be, or ever have been.
And my only true Goals, Mentors, Teachers, Saviors will all be People of Color.