It give me hope that white folks are speaking out against racism and police brutality, and marching and hollering and protesting alongside black folks. This is a good thing. But being silent would also be a good thing.
I know we mean well. We really do. But our good intentions sometimes end up drowning out black voices. And, when our mouths are open, our ears are closed. As I said in my last column, we need to shut our privileged white mouths and listen. Even when the message is harsh.
No rebuttals, no rationalizations, no “but but but…”
Shut up and listen. And let the words sink in.
I was tested yesterday to see if I really will practice what I preach, when a friend emailed a New York Times opinion piece by Chad Sanders, and lemme tell ya… this one pinched.
Shut up and listen, anyway, Debra.
In his column, he says, “Many white people I know are spilling over with guilt and overzealous attempts to offer sympathy.” Sanders side-steps this because it isn’t the point. What white people need isn’t the point. What black people need is. While Sanders is simply trying to exist in the midst of this turmoil, he’s getting this from his white friends:
But brazen as ever, white people who have my phone number are finding a way to drain my time and energy. Some are friends, others old co-workers and acquaintances I’ve intentionally released from my life for the sake of my peace of mind. Every few days I receive a bunch of texts like this one, from last week:
“Hi friend. I just wanted to reach out and let you know I love you and so deeply appreciate you in my life and your stories in the world. And I’m so sorry. This country is deeply broken and sick and racist. I’m sorry. I think I’m tired; meanwhile I’m sleeping in my Snuggie of white privilege. I love you and I’m here to fight and be useful in any way I can be. **Heart emojis**
Almost every message ends with seven oppressive words — “Don’t feel like you need to respond.””
What he says next is extraordinary: “Not only are these people using me as a waste bin for guilt and shame, but they’re also instructing me on what not to feel, silencing me in the process.”
Their own guilt and shame. In other words, underneath it all, the messages ultimately relieve the sender’s feelings of white guilt and shame. They aren’t really meant for the receiver’s benefit. They’re meant for the sender’s.
Don’t start your “but but but” now. Let the man finish:
Not only are these people using me as a waste bin for guilt and shame, but they’re also instructing me on what not to feel, silencing me in the process. In an unusually honest admission of power imbalance, the texter is informing me I don’t have to respond. (Gee, thanks.) This implies that whether or not I do respond — and I usually don’t — the transaction is complete because their message has been conveyed. The texter can sleep more soundly in their ‘Snuggie of white privilege’.”
Yeah, it’s harsh. And no, it’s not being understanding of our needs. And we white folks need to stop expecting that black understanding of our needs is reasonable. We also need to stop speaking for black people. They’re quite capable of speaking their own minds and thoughts and feelings.
Sanders’ column got me thinking about that “black square” social media protest last week. Many people started using a black square as their profile photo, or just made a black square the post of the day. I felt a little uneasy about it, so I started visiting my black friends’ Facebook pages to see if they were doing it. Not one was. I took my cue from them. The black square seemed just like what Sanders described: a Snuggie of white privilege. I read several comments from black folks saying that this black square day was yet another instance of their voices being silenced right when their voices needed to be heard the most.
I know people meant well. I know they felt like it was a show of support. Your heart can be in the right place even as your brain is out in left field. We can mean well even as we are actually hurting others.
So, my own little sometimes-in-left-field brain got to thinkin’. There are many black voices that my ears perk up and listen to, Barack and Michelle Obama at the top of that list. But there are others, and I want to shine a light on these in particular:
~ Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.
~ Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, Eddie Glaude Jr.
~ MSNBC host of AM Joy, Joy Reid.
~ Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart.
~ “Late Night with Seth Myers” writer Amber Ruffin.
~ New York Times columnist Charles Blow.
There are many more, but I wanted to keep the list tight because too many names, and it waters everything down. It’s harder to stand out in a sea of people, and I want them to stand out because these particular voices resonate with me. Deeply. When I shut up and listen to these people, without forming excuses or rebuttals in my mind, just take in what they are saying or writing, let it sink into my soul, I discover that my perception changes. My understanding increases. Try it. Turn down the volume on your own thoughts and just listen, and take it in. And… share their message. BUT! Share it without comment. They don’t need a white thumbs up for validation. They are already valid.
As these thoughts were tumbling around in my mind, another one drifted in: Not only do Black Lives Matter, but Black Voices also matter. And, it gave me an idea, yes it did. I want to start a #BlackVoicesMatter, and here are the simple rules: Share a black person’s post or column or video, one that really touches your heart or brightens your mind. But, with no comment other than #BlackVoicesMatter and #ShutUpAndListen.
That’s it. No white mouths moving. Only black.
And here’s another important lane to stay in: Should you feel moved to comment on someone else’s post of a black voice, it has to be an affirmation of that message: “I hear your pain.” “I understand your point.” “I recognize the injustice.” Make it about their message, not about whether or not you agree.
We white folks could learn a hell of a lot more with our ears — and minds — open, and with our mouths closed. Besides creating external change, by protesting all forms of racism, we can also create internal change by turning off our own “Snuggies of white privilege” and listening.
Which black voices touch, brighten, and enlighten you? Celebrate them! Cast their voices wherever you can! Because #BlackVoicesMatter too.
(I created a Black Voices Matter Facebook page, for posting blogs, columns, videos of black voices only. You are welcome to visit it, and post.)