But Me No Buts

With apologies to William Shakespeare

Hello friends,

I’ve been mulling over something I see a lot online - and it reflects my offline experience too. Black and Global Majority readers have likely had it happen to them, and white anti-racists who are paying attention may have seen it happen too.

It’s when a Black or Global Majority person shares an experience of racism or discrimination with a person who doesn’t share their identity (often white folx but certainly not limited to them) and the first word out of the listener’s mouth is “but”.

What follows that seems almost inevitable, and it boils down to an attempt to diminish, discredit or deride the speaker’s lived reality.

  • But was that really racism?

  • But doesn’t this happen to people of all races?

  • But what about [insert name of deliberately disadvantaged group here]?

I can’t speak for others, but for me as a Black woman, this is extremely wearing. In fact, it’s downright disrespectful in some cases. Depending on the circumstances, I may feel rageful or affronted, though I hardly ever let it show. If I can, I take a deep breath and tackle the topic again. Or I may choose to protect my peace and abandon the discussion. (For those who face this choice multiple times each day, know that it’s ok to protect your peace. Let advocates take up the mantle sometimes.)

In these cases, I wonder why the listener feels the need to start their response with an invalidating “but”. Yes, I said “invalidating”, and I meant it. Because starting with that word means they’re about to deny my reality. Which, if you think about it, doesn’t even make sense. They aren’t living in my skin, and don’t know what I’ve experienced.

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I firmly believe that more people need to listen to understand rather than to respond - a phrase that’s stuck with me since doing my diversity to belonging facilitation training with Veritas Culture. And they can make a choice, as a white friend did recently, to step away from responding when they don’t know enough about a particular topic.

Frankly, that’s a whole lot better than starting with “but”.

I’m all for learning and discussion, otherwise I wouldn’t write this newsletter or my social media posts. However, I know from my own allyship journey that there are times when my role is to listen and learn, rather than rebutting and invalidating. I often wish a few more people would exercise that option when it comes to racism and anti-racism.

I get it - sometimes it’s hard to know the best move in every situation. As a would-be advocate, when is it your moment to enter the discussion?

But I have also seen people who get it, so I know it’s possible to do so.

So here’s something we can all do: the next time our first impulse is to deny or invalidate, sit with that and ask ourselves why. That in itself could be a valuable point of growth.

Thanks for reading,


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I am an anti-racism educator and activist, Co-Founder of Mission Equality, the author of “I’m Tired of Racism”, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast.

© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2024. All Rights Reserved. This newsletter is published on beehiiv (affiliate link).

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