Dear fellow white people, we need to have a chat. I’ll cut to the chase: There are some phrases we need to collectively stop using—without excuse or explanation. These are nothing but hurtful and harmful to Black people and the racial equity uprising. Our words can centralize our whiteness, doing nothing to dismantle racism.
Clapbacks to the Black Lives Matter movement, cries for justice, and awareness of racial inequities are unhelpful and downright foolish. I don’t care what your intentions are. If you don’t understand something—that’s okay. Google it. Don’t assume you are right just because you are white. Our words are powerful, and we need to use them wisely, not to inflict further harm on the Black community.
I’m going to give it to you straight. We’re either working to be anti-racist and white allies, or we are willfully contributing to white supremacy. There’s no gray-area, no in-between, no middle ground, no neutrality. If we’re going to work alongside Black people for racial equity, if we are truly for their lives, then we need to ditch saying these things.
No, you’re not. You aren’t magically immune to racism, or the exception to the rule. We live in a society that favors whiteness—period. You, as a white person, contribute to that. By saying you are colorblind, you are an impostor. Furthermore, not acknowledging and celebrating another person’s race that is different from yours is dismissive. You can pretend you don’t “see color,” but this doesn’t eradicate racism or change the fact that people are treated differently based on their race. By claiming colorblindness, you are attempting to protect your own feelings rather than call out the realities of racism. Equally as ridiculous is to say, “We’re all one race, the human race.” Or, “I have nothing to feel guilty about! I didn’t own slaves!”
“All lives matter.”
Systemic racism in our healthcare, education, policing, housing, and other systems are ensuring that all lives do not matter. Black people aren’t treated the same in their schools, at their medical appointments, during job interviews, to name a few examples, because of their race. Until there are policy changes and many more people of color in leadership positions, all lives are not going to truly matter. It’s my belief that white people say “all lives matter” because they feel “Black lives matter” excludes white people. White people are so used to being centered, believed, and upheld, that taking the focus off them makes them very uncomfortable. Black Lives Matter is a movement that focuses on the lives that are endangered and threatened. White people absolutely aren’t facing the same uphill battles as Black people. (Oh, and while we’re on the subject, reverse racism isn’t a real thing. Research it.)
“If Black people would just…”
I’ve heard this so many times. White people have told me that my Black children will be “just fine” (aka: safe from police brutality and racism) if they will just do the following: dress well, speak respectfully, become well-educated. Racism is deeply woven into the fabric of America. A Black person isn’t safe by default just because they look, speak, or respond in a certain way that makes white people comfortable. (Seriously: have you seen the news?) The real problems are racism and racists, not Black people. It’s easier for you to critique their appearance, language, or any other part of them, than to change yourself.
“… But, Black on Black crime!”
Are some crimes committed by Black people against other Black people? Yup. Does that have anything to do with police brutality, when a white officer murders a Black person? Nope. Throwing “Black on Black crime” into a conversation is a diversion, an attempt at moving the conversation from a white person’s guilt and fragility to the very people being targeted and victimized. It’s a low-blow, a shady move. “Black on Black crime” has no place in conversations about police harming or killing Black people. In fact, if you’re white, just eliminate “Black on Black crime” from your vocabulary entirely. And please, don’t pretend you have some sort of credit to your name to say ignorant, self-righteous things, because you have one Black friend. Tokenism doesn’t get you anything but some serious side-eye.
“I’m OK with peaceful protests, but not thugs and riots.”
You are prioritizing your whiteness and pretending that you get to decide everything, that your opinion is most important and accurate, because you are white. Black people are dealing with over 400 years (plus) of oppression, and your response is to tell them how they should respond to injustice? Your level of comfort and your beliefs about appropriateness are irrelevant. Telling others how to process and respond to their pain is not only unproductive, but incredibly self-centered. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to support protesting but not rioting. Your whiteness is still showing. And, do not drop “thug” into your conversations. Our multiracial family’s belief is that using the word “thug” is a re-invented form of the n-word. White people often use it to refer to males of color. It’s racist.
“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said …”
Do not (I repeat, do not) throw MLK into the faces of Black people. Yes, Dr. King spoke about unity and harmony—but he also talked about justice, protest, and oppression. He was an activist, with a clear purpose and message. Cherry-picking King’s quotes and using them to coddle white supremacy is disgusting. Oh, and while we’re at it, don’t bring up Candace Owens, Stacey Dash, or Dr. Ben Carson. Selecting a handful of Black people, to clapback at Black people, is predictable and pathetic. Newsflash: your fragility is glaringly obvious when you do either of these.
If we’re going to use our words, we need to be allies—not adversaries. We need to examine what we say (and type), which are rooted in our beliefs, and stop using them as weapons to further traumatize Black people. If we aren’t sure why a particular word or phrase is racist, research it. Don’t burden Black people with the emotional labor of explaining your white foolishness to you.
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