If Black, Indigenous or People of Colour (BIPOC) bring to your attention that something you’ve said or done is racist towards them, what is your initial response? Defensiveness? Humility? Dismissal? Openness? Deflection? Understanding?
Would your immediate response be to defend yourself by stating that it can’t be offensive or harmful because you’re not racist? You might not go around thinking you’re superior because of your White skin or using the n-word or calling Native and First Nations women sq*aw, but if BIPOC tried to educate you that something you’re responsible for is racist, how willing are you to get uncomfortable and be held accountable?
I can’t believe someone actually named their business “The Spunky Squaw”. pic.twitter.com/5HLrmUMgWq
— Chief Lady Bird 🦅 (@chiefladybird) 16 October 2018
I’m White … and I’m here to tell other White people that even though you may not be an (explicit) racist, you’re still capable of perpetuating racism through your unwillingness to see things from another perspective. And if you need me to break it down even more, try this … if you’ve never been targeted, historically or otherwise, by discriminatory and harmful behaviours because of your race, you don’t get to decide that something isn’t racist just because you haven’t been personally affected. Your hurt feelings about being called out are nothing compared to the damage or trauma Black, Indigenous or People of Colour live with because well-meaning White people allow detrimental behaviours to go unchallenged.
Real accountability is when individual responsibility meets collaborative action to do better. Taking responsibility can be a personal journey AND it can be a collective one. Recognize your part within a bigger societal issue (such as racism) and then step up.
And while I’ve got you here, let me tell my fellow White people that when BIPOC are sharing or discussing an issue or example of racism carried out by White people towards them, leaving a comment along the lines of “not all White people are racist, don’t group us all together” is hugely problematic. Here’s why … you’re putting your feelings or the feelings of the ‘good’ White people before the experiences of BIPOC. In short, you’re putting White fragility front and centre and contributing to the erasure of the very real consequences that racism has on the lives of other people. Take your accountability seriously – stop leaving those types of useless comments. Stop focusing on whether or not all White people are being grouped together as harmful and focus on your own actions to show that we’re not.
If you’re in a situation where Black, Indigenous or People of Colour are taking the time to explain how something is offensive and impacts their existence, your job is to listen with the utmost respect. What they’re sharing isn’t up for debate. If someone undertakes exhaustive emotional labour that opens up their own trauma just so you get a glimpse of what they face, you have a responsibility to that person to take what you learn, make changes in your own life and then educate others. You’re being given the opportunity to do your part and give racism no place to hide.
How do you want to be held accountable? How can you do better?
Guide to Being An Anti-Racism Activist via ThoughtCo
When Feminism Is White Supremacy In Heels via Harper’s Bazaar