Stop Asking Black Women To Explain Discrimination

by Brandi Jeter Riley
Originally Published: 
photo credit: Brandi Riley

The last few years have awakened awareness for white women in America. Police violence on unarmed black citizens, the resurgence of the KKK, and your 45th president have opened eyes to the plight of minorities. With this awakening comes a desire to learn more about how we got here, and what do we do now.

But I’ll be honest, I am really freaking tired of educating white folks on what it’s like to be black in this country.

My email inbox, social media private messages, and text messages have gotten quite the workout recently by well-meaning white women reaching out to me to help them understand “would this be considered racism?”, or to let me know they had no idea it was this bad. I definitely appreciate the awareness, but I don’t want or need to be your guide on this journey. Unless you are paying me to be an expert on a panel or to speak about discrimination and racism, stop asking me to explain it to you.

You know why? Because, I’m dealing with implicit bias, outright discrimination, and life-threatening racism every single day. I don’t have the capacity to do the emotional labor of helping you work through the realization that this land is your land, but it wasn’t made for you and me.

I’m exhausted.

I don’t know what it’s like to not have to worry about how the color of my skin is going to determine the outcome of any situation that I’m in. If I have a complaint about being ignored by my server at a restaurant (which happens way more than you’d think), I have to keep my tone even, my voice low, and make sure my face doesn’t express too much displeasure because angry black women with big, scary voices are a threat to everyone.

The last time I was pulled over by a cop because my tail light was out, I nearly had a panic attack. Even though I had up-to-date insurance, hadn’t been speeding, and had no outstanding tickets, I was terrified that I would do something that would trigger the cop and end with him pulling his gun and shooting me.

When I was pregnant and couldn’t stop vomiting, I taped a sign in my window wherever I went out to let police officers know that I was sick. That way, if I was pulled over to throw up, they wouldn’t think I was resisting their orders and end up dead.

You might take these things for granted, but I’m always very conscious of making sure I don’t talk too loud or make any sudden moves lest I be arrested or killed. This is what I’m dealing with as a black woman in America, so you’ll have to forgive me for not having time to coddle you and your newfound awareness.

I’ve seen videos of white women literally screaming in the face of police officers, yet Sandra Bland was arrested and left for dead in her jail cell. Dylann Roof murdered churchgoers who had welcomed him into their Bible study. When he was arrested, he got a burger. Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun and was shot within seconds of cops pulling up. Black women don’t have it in us to explain to you why it’s so much harder for people who aren’t white in America. All you have to do is watch the news and see how this country treats us, and you’ll learn everything you need to know.

Now do you see why I don’t have the energy to nurse you through the pain you feel at the realization that discrimination exists? Why it’s impossible at this point to hold back my tears so I can wipe yours, or console you as you wail about how”it’s just not fair!” It’s not in me anymore to go through the stages of racial awareness and walk you through disbelief, shock, sadness, guilt, and finally understanding. Some days, I’m doing good just to focus on myself and my family. I can’t allow you to use me to do the work that you need to be doing on your own.

So how do you learn if we don’t teach you? If a black woman doesn’t hold your hand down the aisles of injustice? The same way you learned how to do yoga, use your Instant Pot, or find the best deals at Target. You Google that shit, take classes, and make an intentional and consistent effort to be more aware of what life is like for the people around you. You don’t even have to ask for recommendations because there are a million resources, created by black women, that are already out there. Don’t wait on us to get you to your final destination. We’ve already arrived.

Stop asking black women to be your docent through the history of hate in this country. There are enough of us speaking up and sharing our stories. Instead of looking for ways to insert yourself into our narrative, just listen. Instead of grieving for yourself and the responsibility of being woke, step back and make space for the folks who are the most impacted by this reality. Get your white friends together and talk to them about what needs to be done.

Haven’t black women already done enough?

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