Shut your privileged white mouth and listen

I don’t perceive myself as racist. Quite the opposite. I try really hard not to be. But sometimes, my privileged white foot steps in some shit. And there I am, doing my best to scrape it off.

I stepped in it on Facebook recently, while singing the praises of U.S. Representative Val Demings, who I’m hoping against hope will be Joe Biden’s running mate. In the midst of the burst of pain, anger, and outrage in this country over the murder of George Floyd, Demings wrote a brave and passionate op-ed in the Washington Post, in which she boldly confronted her fellow police officers about yet another abhorrent killing of a black man by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25. Yes, “fellow” officers. You see, not only is Demings a Congresswoman, she was a police officer for 27 years, part of which she spent as police chief.

Oh, yeah, she is all that and the bag of proverbial chips.

I discovered her during the impeachment trials. She blew me away. I listened to her speak and thought, “Who is THIS, and why isn’t she a contender for Biden’s runningmate? Well, now, apparently she is on his short list, and all my fingers and toes are crossed that Uncle Joe will recognize that Demings’ foot is the one that will fit his Cinderella slipper. Her perfect foot is in both camps: the black community and law enforcement! She is so uniquely qualified for this moment in time, and I will be over the moon to support BidenDemings2020.

Demings is one of those people who, when she speaks, your ears perk up. Your brain pays attention. Her voice rings like a bell. She has that je-ne-sais-quoi that makes her stand out in a sea of blah blah blah. In my Facebook post, I summarized her as: Smart. Experienced. Articulate.

Boom.

There it is.

“Articulate.”

Did you know that describing a black person as “articulate” is an insult? I certainly didn’t.

Heyyyyy…. what’s this stinky stuff on my shoe???

First, I was excoriated by an indignant white guy, which only pissed me off because there seems to be an overabundance of white people speaking on behalf of black people without their consent. “Whitesplaining.” So arrogant.

We went a few rounds after he proceeded to pelt me with belittling “Jane, you ignorant slut” insults. I insisted that not in my wildest imagination was I insulting Demings in any way, and pointed out to him that he didn’t have a problem with me describing her as “smart” or “experienced.” Following his logic, would these not also be backhanded slaps that insinuate blacks aren’t smart or experienced?

But he then produced a piercing story by Lynette Clemetson, a black woman, explaining that the history of this word is a back-handed slap to insinuate that blacks speak sloppily, and one who speaks eloquently is a bit of a unicorn. Which, of course, is just nuts. People still believe that sort of crap in this day and age? Why can’t I call an articulate black woman articulate, just like I would an articulate white woman? It doesn’t make any sense to me!

I wrestled with my immediate instinct to fight this issue to the death, because dammit, insulting Demings was the furthest thing from my mind, and let’s face it: She really is articulate, and I meant that from my heart. I want her to be our next vice-president, and first female president after that! I love this woman!

But there it was. From someone with personal experience. Someone who knows firsthand.

Me being me, I was ready to keep on slugging and prove my self-righteous point, and verbally take this guy down (he knows not with whom he deals!), but then I reread the story. Clemetson was/is spot on. And, despite my intense urge to prove I was right, which fuels most of my tooth-and-claw debates on and off Facebook… I pumped the brakes.

Hmmm.

Although another privileged white person chastising me for being another privileged white person just grates me the wrong way — the milk calling the sugar white — I realized that wasn’t the point. Clemetson’s story, and the history she revealed, were the point. I let it sink in. Turns out (brace yourself), I was wrong. Rather than argue, I decided to concede. I apologized, said I had no idea I was using an unkind word, and replaced the word in the post on the spot.

And then, another comment popped up in the thread, from a lady named Sylvia:

I am a 71 year old Black woman so I speak from years of experience. Whenever we’ve been told we are articulate, it means we don’t talk “black”, whatever that means. It’s like being asked if we’re educators just because we know how to properly use nouns and verbs. Long story short, it is most definitely not a compliment. I hope this explanation helps.

I was so touched by her gentleness and patience with my white privilege ineptitude, despite the fact that white folks, even well-meaning ones, don’t deserve any gentleness or patience from a black person, and yet… she extended that to me anyway. That really touched me. And impressed me deeply. This was my response to her:

Thank you for explaining this. I had NO IDEA.
The post has been updated.

This tiny exchange gave me a huge epiphany. Besides writing, I’m a massage therapist. I’ve had my own practice for 20 years. In the course of that practice, I’ve had a couple clients with fibromyalgia. They made no sense to me! So extremely sensitive! One of them yelped, “too deep!” when I first placed my hands on her back. I was only spreading the oil! I consulted with her physician, who explained that the nerves of a fibromyalgia patient interpret touch as pain. It doesn’t matter that I think my touch is light — all that matters is their experience of pain. It’s not my place to judge, it’s my place to accept their experience and adjust my approach accordingly.

Believe their pain. It’s so simple!

This prompted me think about the pain black people experience every single day — the pain that white people don’t know about because they never experience it. This utter cluelessness is the definition of “white privilege.” And thinking about fibromyalgia pain really snapped things into focus.

We need to believe people about their pain. When black people say “that hurts,” we privileged white folks need to believe them. Even if it doesn’t hurt us, even if we didn’t intend for it to hurt, even if we don’t understand why it hurts — we need to shut our mouths, nod our heads, listen, and acknowledge it. Particularly if we caused it. Our own understanding of that pain is irrelevant.

I don’t have fibromyalgia.

I’m not black.

I don’t understand either pain.

But I accept it.

And should a black person inform me about my pain, I’ll shut my mouth and simply listen. And if I caused that pain, I’ll take responsibility, apologize, and make a correction.

Will you?

 

Sirius XM is white male privilege radio

In the midst of paring down my expenses after setting off on adventures in self-employment over the summer, I jettisoned all sorts of stuff: hair care clubs, skin care clubs, subscriptions, and more. The one guilty little pleasure that survived the cut was my Sirius XM subscription. And you know what? I don’t really miss that other stuff. But I would have missed my XM radio, and that was reinforced to me last week, when I had to leave my car in the shop to get the radio replaced because it had an illumination issue. The lights weren’t on, even though the music was home.

So, I toodled around in a super cool Chevy Colorado that only had basic AM/FM (what sort of Third World country is this, anyway?), and I was more than ready to get my car and my tunes back. However, when I pulled away, I discovered that when they replaced the radio, the stations were randomly blasted all over — XM, AM and FM all scrambled together. I am entirely too OCD to tolerate this for more than five minutes, so at the first opportunity, I parked the car and methodically began restoring musical order, one station at a time: The Bridge, Deep Tracks, The Coffeehouse, Classic Rewind, Soul Town, yup… Sports channels, nope… MSNBC, check… BBC, check… NPR, check… Fox News, get the hell out the back door… ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, yup… Beatles, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, yup, yup and yup.

I hadn’t set up my XM stations since I got the car years ago, and was wondering if there were any new stations since then. I figured I’d find out while I went along, and quickly filled up all six sets of station pre-sets. Damn. Out of room. Oh well, all my faves were still there (disgusting lack of a Led Zeppelin channel notwithstanding), and then it slowly dawned on me… heeeeyyyyyy…. There’s a channel for Tom and Willie, and also Elvis, Sinatra, Billy Joel, Garth Brooks and Ozzy Osbourne… where are all the legendary black artists?

Where are the Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson channels?? And, no PRINCE channel?? That is music blasphemy!!! Prince was the most talented human being to ever grace this planet! Otherwordly talented! And Kenny Chesney gets a channel before PRINCE? I call shenanigans. Or maybe I should just call racism. Because it’s painfully obvious that that’s what this is.

Sure there are a couple rap channels, but they’re devoted to Eminem and Pitbull! No black artists featured on the rap channels?? WTF?

And yes, I do like rap. Gimme a little Gin & Juice with my California Love, baybay…

AND! Where are the channels devoted to legendary female artists? I already mentioned Aretha… where’s the Barbra Streisand channel? Linda Ronstadt? Christina Aguilera? Whitney Houston for freak’s sake? Where the hell is Whitney? Can you even talk about American music without mentioning Whitney?

Taylor Swift? (OK, not that I’d listen to that one, but she is inarguably a pop icon with an immense following and therefore commercially lucrative.) Do you think an Alicia Keys channel is a tad overdue? The woman is a Goddess. She’s on fire! Give her a damn XM channel! And that goes double for Beyoncé. Ever hear of her, Sirius XM? Alicia is a Goddess, but Bey is the Queen of the musical universe! Where’s her XM channel, for freak’s sake?

No MADONNA channel?

What sort of fuckerie is this, anyway?? Like her or not, Madonna inarguably spun the music world on its ear.

Boom.

Mic drop.

Give her an XM channel!

Where the hell is the Lady Gaga Little Monsters channel?? She’s Madonna 2.0, and spun the music world onto its other ear! Get going on Gaga!

While we’re looking into sexual and racial diversity… how about a little brown, boys? Sure Pitbull claims Hispanic bloodlines and has an XM channel —  but is it because he looks like an average angry white guy, thereby making him safe and palpable to Sirius XM’s target audience: Mainstream White America? #Ugh.

How about a little brown in there, Sirius? Ever hear of a guy named Carlos Santana? Do you think maybe he deserves his own damn music channel? Would I listen to a Shakira channel? My hips won’t lie! Absolutely! Gloria Estefan?? I’ve worn out my Gloria CDs. It’s time to take her digital! Get her an XM channel, dammit!

Admittedly, relative to the vast number of legendary black, female and black female artists, there are few legendary Hispanic singers, so I could almost give Sirius XM a pass on that. Almost. Maybe not.

Hey SiriusXM: You may not have noticed, given that you exist in Whitey McWhite land, but here are a lot of Hispanics in the U.S. The Mexican music world is huge. And also wonderful. Why isn’t that reflected on Sirius XM? Donde esta  “La Musica” channel? Do you even begin to realize the depth of that untapped Hispanic music world? No. Clearly you do not. Do you further not realize that lots of white folks love Latin music?

I know.

Mind.

BLOWN.

But, first things first. The glaring lack of channels dedicated to legendary black or female or black female artists is downright shameful. American music would not exist as it does today without black singers and musicians. Period. Even more so than women. Black music is the bones of most all the music we know and love here in America. Why is this not represented on Sirius XM? Maybe because white privilege exists at the corporate level too? White privilege is less about what whites do experience than what they don’t experience. It’s just like male privilege: It’s not about what men do experience, it’s about what they don’t. With their white male featured channel lineup, Sirius XM is perpetuating a world where it’s all about white males, and everyone else can just divvy up whatever scraps are left over.

Hey, Sirius, XM: The 1950s called and they want their white male privilege back.

And also, Sirius XM, this is your official notice: You just been woke.

I know. It pinches. Feel the pinch and make it right anyway.