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- REBOOT: Black people are not your problem to solve. Racism is.
REBOOT: Black people are not your problem to solve. Racism is.
What some would-be allies get wrong
Hello friends, I’m continuing my short series of reboot posts from the archives. Here’s today’s post.
Black people are not your problem to solve. Racism is.
I can’t remember when I had this epiphany, but it was born out of my discomfort with some of the language around ending racism. Some would-be allies can’t help falling into white saviour mode, and more than that, they fail to understand where racism comes from and focus only on isolated incidents rather than systems.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s good that they’re doing SOMETHING, but sometimes they go about it the wrong way. (As always, I speak for myself, and please know that there are Black people right now who will think I’m wrong. That’s ok, because we are not a monolith, and I never claim to know everything.)
Sometimes when I have a conversation with a white acquaintance about racism, it goes like this:
I share a painful experience, then either they commiserate and express guilt, shame or disbelief about their fellow white people, or they start excusing the intention of the abuser (because racism IS abuse) and blaming or gaslighting the victims of racism.
Neither of those is helpful. Expressing guilt or shame doesn’t benefit people most affected by racism. In fact, Black and Brown people sometimes find ourselves side-tracked from expressing or healing our own trauma in order to soothe white people’s hurt feelings. (Note that I am not saying that you shouldn’t BE sorry, but ask yourself what the end goal is in how you deal with that sorrow. Is it to make yourself feel better, or to improve the situation for people suffering from racism?)
I once had to post this on LinkedIn after hearing of yet another example of white comfort being prioritised over doing the right thing for Black and Brown people.
It happens a LOT!
Disbelief is equally unhelpful, because it often feels like white people haven’t been listening to what we’ve been saying about racism for decades. If would-be allies are not even hearing us, the road ahead feels even longer.
And as for the victim blaming, let me say this one more time for the people in the back: I’m an expert in living with racism, so if I say I’ve experienced it, it’s neither my imagination nor my fault.
It’s essential to realise that the problem of racism is not just about hurt feelings, it’s about systemic exclusion from the best the country has to offer (housing, education, job prospects, voting, medical treatment, you name it).
The problem of racism is not Black people; it’s the system of white supremacy and racial oppression we’re all living in. As a would-be ally it’s essential to take responsibility for the way that you benefit from that system, and then share the privilege and the wealth - sometimes literally.
What I really want is for would-be allies to DO something to help dismantle the system that makes racist actions possible. And yes, I know that dismantling centuries-old racist machinery is a pretty tall order. But you don’t have to do it all yourself, and you don’t have to do it alone. Start where you are, and take action today to make things better.
Thanks for reading
It’s always interesting to go back to older articles and see if I feel the same. In this case, I do, because it’s an ongoing issue. In the years since the original was published, I’ve continued to strive to be mindful of my own language use, and have also called in a few people on theirs. How is your personal use of language evolving?
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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.