White Friends, Your Shock at Racism Isn’t Helpful
The question is: what are you doing about those feelings?
One of the issues that may come up for you on this antiracism journey, if you’re white, is that you’ll come across experiences and events related to racism that shock and surprise you. But what you may find puzzling is that when you express that shock, surprise or sorrow, your Black and Brown friends are less than welcoming.
Here’s why that may happen. It’s because for Black and Brown people, those experiences and events are part of our daily reality, and we can’t help feeling that if you paid attention, if you cared, they wouldn’t come as a surprise to you.
Now perhaps this isn’t entirely fair of us. After all, global minority people inhabit different worlds and have different experiences from global majority people. It may never occur to you that we live with the fact that our blackness and brownness is often perceived as an intrusion at best and a threat at worst. And that in certain situations, the color of our skin can be the cause of bad treatment, and even death.
You probably can’t comprehend that because it doesn’t make sense. However, we all know that just because something doesn’t make sense it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Just as just because something is legal, it doesn’t mean it’s right. (Yes, I’m talking about enslavement).
At the same time, we’re in the 21st century, so for many people ignorance about the reality of racism is a choice. Reliable information is out there about almost everything, though it sometimes takes some digging to find it. If antiracism is something you care about, there’s no excuse for not reading, learning and getting to know Black and Brown people. There’s no excuse for not paying attention to the news and listening to our experiences.
There’s also no excuse for not doing something about it.
I’m putting emphasis on doing here, because for some of us your shock or sorrow isn’t helpful. In fact, it can be painful. I usually try to accept it in the spirit in which it’s intended, but not everyone will, nor should they be obliged to. Your intention is no doubt empathy, but sometimes the impact does not translate. Sometimes the impact is that there’s an enduring legacy of not being heard.
So, what can you do the next time you find yourself in a situation like this, where your shock seems unwelcome? As always, it’s about listening, learning and finding out what kind of support Black and Brown people need in that moment, and longer term.
We don’t always know immediately, so give us the grace and the space to work it out. Sometimes we just need to feel heard and understood. Sometimes we need you to get as angry as we are and make some change where you can. Either of those is a better response than simply expressing your shock and anger. Because, here’s the thing: it’s hard for us to deal with your emotions on top of our own. We’re already carrying a lot; don’t give us any more, and create the additional burden of trying to make you feel better.
If you feel shock and anger, let other friends help you process, and focus on doing something to support historically and continually underrepresented and marginalized communities, remembering always to focus on what they need rather than what you want.
Thanks for reading my perspective,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.