Appropriating Black Rage: Engaging in Productive Conversations About Race as a White Person

Our country has erupted into a Civil Rights Movement that has changed the national conversation. Rather, the conversation has changed for white people. For people of color, this anger is not new. So many white people, especially the young and queer, are finally engaging in the conversations that BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) have been begging us to have for years. As white people, we should be spending this time in quarantine educating ourselves and others, and learning how to have these conversations in a productive way without appropriating a rage we cannot understand.

Productive Discomfort

Getting white people to engage in conversations about race is the most challenging part of this movement. Seeing other people on my social media accounts stay silent was deeply disappointing, although not surprising.

Holding each other accountable is a great way to engage in these conversations. Shying away from the topic is easier than admitting that all white people have, in some way, upheld a system that was designed in our favor. Admitting white privilege is uncomfortable.

“I think that the embarrassment and shame and guilt is connected to – I can speak for my white friends – is that your identity has been rooted in your kindness, and your generosity, and your lovingness.  That is how you see yourself, that is what you pride yourself on, is that you’re kind and you’re in tune and that you’re empathic. And if those things are true, then how could you have gone this long without seeing your black friends and your black colleagues and your black neighbors like this? How could you have gone this long without being plugged into the plight and the trauma and the war that your black colleagues have been in? So your identity is being challenged and uprooted because it means that somewhere, inside of you, you have absorbed racism, and have responded and reacted at some point in ways that are racist and oppressive.  Unconsciously, but you’ve still done it. And a kind, generous, loving, person, would never do anything racist, right? So there comes the guilt, there goes the shame, there is the fear that you are a bad person.”

Brandon Kyle Goodman (@brandonkgood)

Black voices should be heard, and we should be amplifying them above all else, regardless of how it makes us white people feel. That discomfort will be our driving force for change. The shame of upholding white supremacy and an empathy toward people of color should drive us.

Productive Conversations in the Anti-Racist Age

Recently, I have been looking for ways to help the movement as much as I can. My mental disability keeps me from protesting, but donating and spreading the message wasn’t enough. I came across a YouTube video that donates AdSense to organizations committed to changing institutionalized racism.

The video garnered more than 8.7 million views in only six days. I had it playing on multiple screens in my house at once.

Watching over and over, my attention kept coming back to one section. In between a few songs, Nick Daly (@nick_t_daly) offered some of his experiences and thoughts. Maybe it was his tone of voice, or his message, but I listened to him more than any other part of the video.

“Being an ally does not equal simply not being racist. It means actively using your privilege to dismantle systems that have allowed racism and injustice to spread within our educational, judicial, and government bodies like a rot.”

Nick Daly (@nick_t_daly) quoted from Video to financially help Black Lives Matter without paying/leaving your house

Changing our society means changing our culture. When I reach out to my online community and engage in these conversations, I get mixed results. Ask your silent friends what they are doing to help the Black Lives Matter movement, and you might get the same sorts of responses:

“I’m not racist! I just haven’t posted about it because…”

Defensiveness will not help this movement. We have come to the point that refusing to talk about race is itself racist. We have to learn to admit our own racism, and actively deconstruct it through conversation.

But isn’t it so ANNOYING to have to FORCE people to learn? How do we engage in these conversations if so many people are so sensitive to being called out on their racist beliefs or behavior? How do we teach those who think they are doing nothing wrong?

White “Rage”

For starters, some white people are going to have to get over being called out. Being reminded of your privilege is not a personal attack. But something else that Nick said really stuck out to me:

“I have spent so much time trying to be palatable, just so I can get into spaces where I constantly have to shift my energy so I don’t appear threatening. While this behavior has allowed me to enter the spaces I now occupy, a sad fact, it has also engrained within myself the dangerous idea that in order to be valued, and heard, I have to leave my identity outside of the room.”

Nick Daly (@nick_t_daly) quoted from Video to financially help Black Lives Matter without paying/leaving your house

White people are comfortable policing how Black people react to injustice. We rarely ask white people to change their behavior, even when they react to any mild inconvenience with riots or armed protests. Any threat to their way of life is “unAmerican.”

During my research, I learned how destructive it is to tell black people how to mourn. Protests aren’t “the right way.” Kneeling isn’t “the right way.” Black people shouldn’t have to be “palatable” to us just for us to listen. Another social media activist, Sonya Renee Taylor (@sonyareneetaylor), described her feelings toward white fragility:

“The problem is that there is this expectation that those of us who have been living in this forever should just welcome you out of your slumber. The reason Snow White could wake up to a world where she wasn’t dead, is because they cared for her sleeping ass! That is the collective experience of Black people and people of color: That we’ve been tending to the heinousness of the outcomes of white supremacist delusion, while y’all just woke up! And then the expectation is that we should feel super warm and fuzzy ’cause you finally woke up. And I think that’s just not gonna happen, friends.”

Sonya Renee Taylor (@sonyareneetaylor)

When engaging in conversations about race, white people should be the ones to strive to be a little bit more palatable. After hundreds of years of telling Black people how to behave, we owe it to them to have these conversations in an affective way.

Not only should we be doing our best to reprogram our minds and change our culture, but we need to be understanding of those who are making a conscious effort to catch up and help them learn.

While we should not be telling Black people how to mourn, we should lead by their example for the past 300 years and show patience and understanding before throwing up our hands. Anger, pain, rage: these are our empathetic response. But for Black people, it is more than that.

“What some call depression or pessimism, I would call impatience and rage. Our impatience and rage is what has produced progress. That we are still impatient and angry reflects not black people’s failing but how far America still has to go.”

Mychal Denzel Smith

Meeting a difficult conversation with aggression might be easier, but it will not get the result that we need. You, as a white person, haven’t spent a lifetime explaining this to people for your own sake. You haven’t earned that impatience.

If the person you’re trying to reach gets defensive, remember how you felt when you were first confronted with your racist behavior. Remember what beliefs you had only a few years ago. What helped you come to the other side?

Most likely, a calm Black person came along to inform you how wrong you were.

Every white person, no matter where they are in their educational journey, has been at least somewhat racist at some point. We have to acknowledge that we aren’t inherently better than someone else just because we know a fraction more about racism.

The anger white people experience comes from a good place, but it is ultimately not our anger to express. We get mad, and we think: “Well, I could learn to be anti-racist. I was in the same place you are, but I am not a racist. How could you be so racist when I have already figured it out?”

The pain of racism is not our narrative, and it is not our lived experience. We are mad because we want everyone to learn the lessons we had to learn and catch up. We are mad because we feel like we’ve proven we are good people, and we just want to stop talking about race already. That’s a dangerous mindset.

I am not telling anyone to be accepting of racists. We should call out racism wherever we see it. Whether it’s in our own community, friend group, or family, we have to call out microagressions and spread awareness about structural change. But leaving troll comment or blocking someone does approximately nothing.

Tough Realizations about Being Anti-Racist

Black people don’t owe us any more patient conversations; we owe it to them and to ourselves to teach one another.

Admitting that you were wrong and changing doesn’t make you a hypocrite. The goal of the movement is to bring people to our side. Teach without shame. Learning at a faster pace than your family doesn’t mean that you weren’t in the same position a few months ago, a few years ago, or before you went off to college.

Approach your family with patience if they are willing to learn. Our job is to take some of the burden of educating white people away from Black people and people of color, not to feed into extremism.

BIPOC have been advocating for their rights for decades; we are new at this. I think it is too soon for us to run out of patience for these conversations. Berating anyone who disagrees with you is counterproductive. When you are advocating for people of color, don’t appropriate their anger and pain.

Make yourself an ally by opening yourself up to tough conversations with people who don’t agree with you. If everyone in your friend group feels the way you do, try engaging with your family members.

“If we continue to call things out, and use words for healing, we can only move forward. But there can be no moving forward without strong allies.”

Nick Daly (@nick_t_daly) quoted from Video

Strong allies propel the movement forward with words of healing. Teach those around you, and try to be patient. Come from a place of understanding, because nobody has a perfect past.

At the end of his section of the video, and before a slew of ads (that you have to watch all the way through!), Nick says:

“If you can spend nothing else, spend your time educating yourself and opening your heart to other people’s experiences.”

Nick Daly (@nick_t_daly) quoted from Video

Below I have attached a list of resources where you can donate, learn, and support. I hope that you keep your mind open, and keep this conversation going.

Resources:

Video to financially help Black Lives Matter without paying/leaving your house:
https://bit.ly/2Adz3VB

Activists mentioned throughout the article:
Zoe Amira’s YouTube Channel
Nick Daly (@nick_t_daly)
Sonya Renee Taylor (@sonyareneetaylor)
Brandon Kyle Goodman (@brandonkgood)

Petitions to Sign:
Justice for George Floyd (Change.Org)
Justice for George Floyd (Color for Change)
Justice for Breonna Taylor
Justice for Ahmaud Arbery
Pass Georgia Hate Crime Bill
Defund the MPD
Justice for Tony McDade

Where to Donate:
The Homeless Black Trans Woman Fund (Atlanda, GA)
Gender Justice (Los Angelos, CA)
SD Black Queer Housing (San Diego, CA)
Shades of Colour (Edmonton & Alberta)
The Black Queer & Intersectional Collective (Ohio)
BREAKOUT! (New Orleans, LA)
SNaP Co (Atlanta, GA)
TGI Justice Project (California)
TransJustice Funding Project
Black AIDS Institute
LGBTQ+ Freedom Fund



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