Hey. You just scratched my car.
No, I didnt. And youre shaming me in front of everyone in this parking lot.
I dont understand why you wont admit it.
You are being aggressive.
Im upset that you scratched my car. I think youre being really shitty about this, and its pissing me off.
OK. You really dont need to cuss at me. Actually, I feel abused.
You feel abused? You damaged my car, and now youre acting like I didnt see you hit it with the cart, and now, what? Im being aggressive?
Honestly, I dont feel safe. Excuse me, sir, do you see how aggressive and abusive this person is?
Can we please get back to the fact that you scratched my car? What the fuck is the matter with you?
Do you see how theyre behaving? Theyre attacking me!
When I put it in terms of something someone owns, it makes perfect sense to you. Now, lets pretend that car is human dignity, you fucking capitalist. This piece is about white fragility. This is my version of gotcha journalism.
So often, when mistakes are pointed out to white people, they... we... deny we caused any harm. Say your white friend is really enthusiastic about a black acquaintances hairstyle. She shrieks with joy upon seeing a natural Afro, not considering it is attached to a person who is not hoping for a random white womans approval.
Oh. My. God. I love your hair! she hollers at the woman, one of the only black people in the room. Because of your friends reaction, all eyes are on the woman, and your friend, oblivious to this, continues to gush, like some kind of demonstrably not racist geyser.
If you care about racism, you might try telling your friend her behavior was kind of racist, as well-intentioned as it was. You might explain how imagining that her approval is needed, or wanted, by a black woman is an expression of white supremacy. You might talk to her about how making a public spectacle of someone elses natural, black hairstyle as if its a museum curio is objectifying. Or maybe youll never get that far because you run into white defensiveness.
This most basic form of denial puts the blame on the person pointing out the problem to the exclusion of the problem. This is called derailing. If you take the shock of seeing your racism and reflect it back to the person pointing out the racism, then you never have to have considered you were wrong, and you can ignore your own racism forever.
You were kind of objectifying about that womans hair.
What do you mean, objectifying?
Well, its just that when you make a spectacle of someone, especially for a feature associated with their race, its objectifying.
Are you saying Im a racist? I was being nice!
OK. Im not saying you are a racist, but in a way what you did was racist.
I cant believe youre calling me a racist. Her hair was beautiful!
Im not saying it wasnt. Look...
How can you call me a racist when I was being nice?
Well, it kind of shows your internalized white supremacy when you imagine that black people are out here hoping for white approval.
I cant believe youre saying this to me.
Look, its normal to try to overcompensate... just, its important to understand the effects of your behavior.
So youre saying theres a problem with my behavior.
And on. And on. And on.
We live in a world where black kids get suspended from school for not chemically processing their hair where black people are fired, or not hired, for natural hairstyles. If youre white, you never have to worry about that. The impulse to overcompensate for that injustice comes from the same racist system that tells you your opinion on black hair is important. Its benevolent racism: I am going to give you the approval you arent getting from the bad white people.
If you compliment anyone on their appearance, stick to things that are clearly a choice: accessories, clothes or makeup not bodies. Compliments that, at their core mean, I support your right to wear your hair the way it comes out of your head, are creepy and paternalistic.
Working against white supremacy means accepting your mistakes. It means putting on hold your impulse to defend your virtue to see yourself as good or bad with no room for doubt or self-interrogation. Before you defend your virtue, you have to ask yourself if you are being attacked, or if its the lessons our culture taught you about white virtue and white goodness. We internalize these cultural messages as white people that our opinion matters, even about injustices and problems that will never affect us. To learn, to grow, we need to take a step back when offered criticism, and internalize the critique. Its not easy, but its the work.