Solid Arguments over Feelings

Actually, the title of this post should be:

Someone Changed “Men” to “Black People” in an Everyday Feminism Post, I Changed “Black People” to “White People” in that Text, and Here’s What Happened.

But it’s pretty long, so the title is an homage to the blog in which the altered text was published, entitled Facts over Feelings. (The irony amuses me.)

In case the clickbait title wasn’t revealing enough, the author of the altered text wants to convey, in short, the message that Everyday Feminism is based on hate. That point is demonstrated by changing “men”, “male” etc. into “black people” and “black culture”, indeed rendering the text sounding rather hateful, or, more bluntly: downright racist.

The problem with this is that the author’s analogy has a very fundamental flaw. By replacing “men” with “black people”, they are replacing a dominant/hegemonic actor/norm/culture with a marginalised one. In order for the analogy to work, “men” would need to be replaced by something that is similar in this respect. I thereby replaced “black” with “white”. And here’s what happened. (Spoiler/TL;DR: it suddenly doesn’t sound that disturbing anymore. edit: Well, it does sound disturbing, but not because of ‘reverse racism’ or hate, but because systemic racism is disturbing as it is, and the re-altered text highlights that.)

For a blog promoting moderation and reason, this was a remarkably poor performance.

(In addition, IMO, using ‘objective’ as an adjective for any human being is a rather radical notion.)

I’ve copypasted the entire thing below, except for section 2. Gendered oppression and violence is markedly different from racialised oppression and violence, which renders section 2 quite absurd (both in this version and the original ‘black people’ version). Apples and oranges, you know. It would require rewriting the entire thing, and I quite frankly don’t have time for that.

– – –

Dear Well-Meaning White People Who Believe Themselves to Be Safe, Thereby Legitimizing the “Not All White People” Argument,

Let’s start here, even though this should go without saying: We don’t think that all white people are inherently abusive or dangerous. Plenty of white people aren’t.

There are white people that we love very much – white people around whom we feel mostly safe and unthreatened; white people who, in fact, support, respect, and take care of us on familial, platonic, romantic, and sexual levels. Not every white person has violated us individually; for most of us, there are plenty of white people that we trust.

We know what you mean by “not all white people” – because on a basic level, we agree with you.

But the socialization of white people is such that even a good white person – a supportive white person, a respectful white person, a trusted white person – has within him the potential for violence and harm because these behaviors are normalized through white culture.

And as such, we know that even the white people that we love, never mind random white people who we don’t know, have the potential to be dangerous. Surely, all people have that potential. But in a world divided into the oppressed and the oppressors, the former learn to fear the latter as a defense mechanism.

So when you enter a space – any space – as a white person, you carry with yourself the threat of harm.

Of course, in most cases, it’s not a conscious thing. We don’t think that most white people move through the world thinking about how they can hurt us. We don’t believe white culture to be a boardroom full of white people posing the question “How can we fuck over ethnic minorities today?” You would be hard-pressed to find a POC activist who actively believes that.

But what makes (yes) all white people potentially unsafe – what makes (yes) all white people suspect in the eyes of racialized people – is the normalized violating behaviors that they’ve learned, which they then perform uncritically.

Make no mistake: When you use the phrase “not all white people” – or otherwise buy into the myth of it – you’re giving yourself and others a pass to continue performing the socially sanctioned violence of white culture without consequence, whether or not that’s your intention.

In truth, the only thing approaching defiance against this kind of violence is to constantly check and question your own learned entitlement – and that of other white people. But you can’t do that if you’re stuck in the space of believing that “not all white people” is a valid argument.
So we wanted to call you in, well-meaning white people, to talk about these four points that you’re missing when you claim “not all white people” as a way to eschew responsibility for white culture.

Because it is all white people, actually. And here’s why.

1. All White People Are Socialized Under (And Benefit From) White Culture

Here’s the truth: Most of the time, when we generalize and use the word white people, what we’re actually referring to is the effects of white culture. What we’re actually intending to communicate when we say “white people are horrible,” for instance, is “the ways in which white people are socialized under white culture, as well as how that benefits them and disadvantages everyone else, sometimes in violent ways, is horrible.”

But that’s kind of a mouthful, isn’t it? So we use white people as a linguistic shortcut to express that.

And before you come at us with “But that’s generalizing,” it’s actually not. Because it is true that all white people are socialized under and benefit, to some degree, from white culture.

That is to say, the only thing that we truly associate all white people with is white culture – and that’s hella reasonable, even though it affects white people differently, based on other intersections of identity.

Because here’s how it works, my friends: Living in the United States, every single one of us is socialized under white culture – a system in which white people hold more power than other races, in both everyday and institutionalized ways, therefore systematically disadvantaging anyone who isn’t a white person on the axis of ethnicity. As such, we all (all of us!) grow up to believe, and therefore enact, certain racialized messaging.

We all learn that white people deserve more than anyone else: more money, more resources, more opportunities, more respect, more acknowledgment, more success, more love. We all internalize that. To say that “not all white people” do is absurd – because, quite simply, all people do.

For people who aren’t white people, this means that we’re socialized to feel less-than and to acquiesce to the needs of the white people in our lives. And this doesn’t have to be explicit to be true.

When we find it difficult to say no to our white bosses when we’re asked to take on another project that we don’t have the time for, or to our white partners when they’re asking for emotional labor from us that we’re energetically incapable of, it’s not because we actively think, “Well, Jim is a white person, and as a not-white person, I can’t say no to him.”

It’s because we’ve been taught again and again and again since birth through observation (hey, social learning theory!) that we are not allowed – or will otherwise be punished for – the expression of no. In the meantime, what white people are implicitly picking up on is that every time they ask for something, they’re going to get it (hey, script theory!).

A sense of entitlement isn’t born out of actively believing oneself to be better than anyone else or more deserving of favors and respect. It comes from a discomfort with the social script being broken. And the social script of white culture is one that allows white people to benefit at the disadvantage of everyone else.

And all white people are at least passively complicit in this white culture system that rewards white entitlement. We see it every single day.
The thing about privilege is that it’s often invisible from the inside. It’s hard to see the scale and scope of a system designed to benefit you when it’s as all-encompassing as white culture. And that might lead you to buy into the idea of “not all white people.”

To those on the outside, however, the margins are painfully visible. That’s why white people who really want to aid in leveling the playing field have a responsibility to listen to people who can see the things they can’t.

When ethnic minorities tell you that you’re harming them, listen. Listen even when you don’t understand. Listen especially when you don’t understand.

You can’t see all the ways in which your whiteness distorts the fabric of society, but we can. And if you want to help dismantle white culture, you have to make the choice to accept that a thing isn’t less real just because you haven’t seen it – or don’t believe yourself to have experienced it.

[…]

3. The Impact of Your Actions Is More Significant Than the Intent

Cool. You didn’t mean to contribute to the objectification of that person of color when you made that racist joke. Perhaps you even think that you’re so “enlightened” as a “anti-racist white person” that we should just knowthat you “didn’t mean it like that.” In fact, maybe you even think that you were being “subversive” when you said it. Okay.

But from the perspective of a person of color, that doesn’t matter, because we still have to feel the effects of that mindset every single day – and your bringing that to the foreground has a negative impact on us, no matter what the hell your intent was.

Many white people don’t do hurtful things maliciously. They may be doing them subconsciously, adhering to the ways in which they’ve been taught to behave, as all of us do.

Other white people, of course, are intentionally violent. But the effects of both can be incredibly damaging.

Surely, we’re less likely to harbor resentment towards someone who stepped on our toes accidentally than we are towards someone who stomped on them with malevolence – especially when accountability is had and an apology is issued. But our goddamn toes still hurt.

To a person of color, there’s very little difference between the impact of inadvertent and intentional harm. A white person who makes you feel unsafe by accident is as harmful to you as one who does it on purpose.

So no matter how well-intentioned you are, you’re not off the hook when you hurt people. And because of everything we’ve discussed above, you are likely (yes, all white people) to hurt and violate. And you need to be willing to take responsibility for that.

4. The Depth of Work to Be Done Is Avoided By Most White People

It’s understandable that we react by distrusting even “safe” white peopleas a rule when even safe white people can hurt us – because even “safe” white people have been raised in and shaped by white culture that both actively and passively harms us every day. There’s no escaping that, regardless of anyone’s best intentions, so it’s useless to talk about intent as a mitigator of harm.

Add to that the constant stream of disappointment and hurt we feel when self-proclaimed “safe” or “anti-racist” white people do turn out to harm us – which happens way too often to be treated like an anomaly – and it’s easy to see why POC react with distrust or even outright hostility when “safe” white people show up in spaces dedicated to POC.

We want to trust that your good intentions will lead to positive actions, we do. But here’s what we need you to understand before that can possibly happen: What you’re asking us to accept from you will take a hell of a lot of work on your part – and we’ve seen over and over again that many self-proclaimed “allies” just aren’t willing to do it.

Being a “safe” white person – hell, being an anti-racist white person – is more than just believing yourself to be and collecting accolades from others about the minimal work that you’re doing not to be an asshole.

Doing the work means really doing the work – getting your hands dirty (and potentially having an existential crisis in the process).

Consider it like this: If you go through life assuming that your harmful behavior is appropriate and most of society provides a positive feedback loop, why would you stop to examine yourself? You’ve never been given any indication that you should.

If you never learn to see your behavior within the context of the broader harm done to ethnic minorities, what motivation will you have to change? And if you keep passively absorbing toxic attitudes towards white entitlement, will you really move to check bad behavior in other white people?

Because here’s the truth: Even when it’s not conscious, white entitlement is a choice – a choice to be uncritical, a choice to continue to passively benefit. And attempting to fight that entitlement is also a choice ­– one that has to be both conscious and ongoing. You’ve got to choose it every day, in every instance.

But how many well-meaning white people are truly choosing that path, instead of just insisting that it’s “not all white people” and that they’re “not like that?”

Hint: You are “like that” – especially if you’re not actively fighting white culture. And claiming that you’re “not like that” doesn’t negate white culture – it enforces it.

Fighting learned white entitlement means assuming the burden of vigilance – watching not just yourself, but other white people. It means being open to having your motives questioned, even when they’re pure. It means knowing you’re not always as pure as you think.
It means assessing the harm you’re capable of causing, and then being proactive in mitigating it.

Most of all, it’s a conscious decision to view every individual’s humanity as something exactly as valuable and inviolable as your own.

And it means doing it every single moment of your life. Point blank, period.

If you really want to stop the “all white people” cycle, that’s the only place to start.

***
Well-meaning white people, if we’re being honest, we love many of you. And those of you whom we don’t know, we want to believe and appreciate. We want to feel safe around you.

We don’t want to fear or distrust white people. We don’t want to have to perform risk assessments on every white person that we meet. Trust us – it’s a miserable life! We’d gladly abandon this work if it wasn’t absolutely necessary to our survival.

But it’s not our job to be vigilant against harmful behaviors that we can’t possibly hope to control, though. Nor is there anything that we alone can do about this. It’s incumbent upon white people to make themselves safer as a group.

And there’s no way that you can do that until you accept that yes, it is all white people – including you – and start working against it.

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