At my university, we often come together to discuss race. Be it formal or informal, race discussions always come to fruition. And how could they not? Race is something that makes up our way of live, is the basis or social hierarchy and so much more. Race has become integral to how we interact, what we think, and what we decide to do. Yet, in these discussions, even in the presence of white people, they still manage to be left out of the conversation. This is not because people of color don’t attempt to include white people. It’s actually quite the opposite. The last time I had a legitimate race conversation with a white person, I was practically dying from happiness because they wanted to listen without shutting me down. People of color certainly are not excluding white people from these conversation. I’ve come to realize that white people exclude themselves from the conversation. It’s a little messy, but I have started to form some thoughts for why this occurs.
When we talk about oppression, we talk in terms of the oppressed. And that is definitely needed, especially as these voices have been silenced throughout history, and it continues today. But when we talk about oppression, the voices of the oppressors rarely are heard. This is for a few reasons. The most obvious being that they have the privilege to opt out of these conversations. With whiteness comes the ability to not have to see race or participate in active race situations, because they are not confronted with the harmful side of this parasitic relationship. People of color, on the other hand, often have to deal with negativity pertaining to the oppression of their races and cultures. It becomes something of an anomaly of seeing a white person at an event for people of color, and this is due to their ability to remain silent, to “allow for the conversation to happen.” But this allowance, without putting forth any input, along with their silence when dealing with racism or oppression coming from their white peers, colleagues, family, and friends. This is what I call progressive passive aggression.
I often get this passive aggression when talking about Bernie Sanders. As President Obama’s campaign starts drawing to a close, we are starting to see which candidate is coming out to be the strongest politician. On the democratic side, despite media pushing Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders is actually the candidate who is the strongest politically, thus far. Despite that, the idea of me voting for Bernie Sanders is still me voting for the lesser of two evils. While many people are shouting to the rooftops about “our savior,” I hold my many reservations, and place Bernie Sanders under just as much scrutiny as I do with the other candidates. But when I bring up my reservations about Bernie Sanders, especially to my white friends who identify as liberal, they immediately get quiet. “Well, to each their own,” I would hear, or, “I don’t think it’s my place to get an opinion.” Yet in everything else about Bernie Sanders, they are just salivating waiting to get everything out. You cannot have a holistic, intelligent dialogue without there being to sides equally brought into the situation. A healthy dialogue needs both sides in order to continue and bring about new thoughts.
When talking about race, many white people I come into contact with love to shy away from it. They would much rather listen, and sit back. Which isn’t completely negative. Listening is certainly a big part of this, especially if you have intentions of seeking allyship. But listening cannot be the entirety. Listening to people of color having discussions about race and expecting something good to come of it without your help is racist. As the oppressor, though you personally did not create this system, you benefit from it, and have a responsibility to provide your thoughts, your views, as they are just as valid. Hearing both sides is what makes progress. Though it may not seem like it, by allowing yourself to check out of the conversation, you subconsciously let people know that you expect them to teach you, as your privilege allows for. Privilege is sneaky, as I have said before, and while it isn’t always conscious and purposeful, it still has negative effects and needs to be taken care of.
If you go to an event, be it a discussion or a rally, and do nothing but watch, the only one benefitting out of this is you. As a white person, you gain, while these people who are working to make these events continue to happen lose out. Your views on race are still needed because by looking at information through less of a biased view, and it aides your growth in understanding. Allyship does not mean coasting through, and it very subtly assumes that you know more or are better, thus bringing on a power dynamic.
So next time you go to someone and chastise someone who doesn’t agree with a presidential candidate, instead of protesting that they should agree, take a look at everything overall and see what are possible nuances that you can call out and create dialogue with.