The other day on Facebook a friend posted that she doesn’t like racism even when it comes from people of color. I responded that people of color cannot be racist. We got into a debate and she conceded after a few back and forth messages that I had “won.” Surely, this was no honorable victory for me – who wants to win in anything related to racism except eradicating it. As I understand racism, the term means wielding power over another on the basis of race and if you haven’t looked around lately, then you might not have noticed that people of color do not hold any significant power in this country because and here’s the drumroll, the United States of America is a country that has institutionalized racism.
That being said, I friended on Facebook a woman who works at the Community Book Center, a store I admire in that it promotes discussion, literature, and community in and around people of color. It is a tremendous resource for our neighborhood and city. Sometimes the person posts things I don’t like – as in calling Blacks Negroes, but I associate that with my calling Women Girls sort of like a wink wink nudge nudge. However, every now and again she posts something about white people that I find offensive because, after all, I’m white, but more importantly I don’t think being a hater of any group [unless it is a hate group] is good for anyone’s soul.
Yesterday, she posted this message:
Guess what I saw.
Something very, very, very , ugly.
Two white people kissing on Broad and Canal. Yuck! Nasty, filthy.
I thought about the post, how I have unfriended people for continually making racist and misogynist remarks (read: continually is intentional here) and so I thought about her post last night as I was going to bed and again when I was meditating this morning. I ended up responding “God don’t like ugly” which can be interpreted any way anyone cares to, but I felt the need to comment but not to check her on it.
Why don’t I unfriend her? Why didn’t I check her on her prejudiced comments? I had to search my own soul about this one. On one hand, I can see why she would not like white people, why would any person of color LIKE white people? White people represent all that went into the ugly of building this racist society (and yes some of the beauty too, but for the sake of discussion here the ugliness is damn ugly).
When I lived next door to an white Irish nun, she came home from working with the poor people of this city one day and said it baffled her — it baffled her how people of color could keep such a positive demeanor and upbeat spirituality given all they had and do go through living in this country.
Now, I don’t believe Black people (or any people of color) deserve our pity, no more than they deserve anyone’s scorn. So why exactly am I giving this Facebook friend a free pass to say things that irritate me.
I think it comes down to this – here is a woman, older than me, who has more than likely seen her share of racism – more that I could even imagine – and yet she works at a community bookstore whose very goal is to educate, to bring together, to add to our city and so I’m listening to what she is saying. I don’t like some of the things she says. I’m downright offended by a few things she posts.
However, I’m going to sit with the discomfort this woman causes me because I have something to learn from her – resilience, empowerment, and a positive outlook in the face of darkness. I’ll let you know how this goes because as a colleague said recently in a webinar on racism, none of us are experts on anti-racism or our own racism, we are practitioners, learning as we go to see what society would have us be oblivious to and to acknowledge what we don’t yet know.