Combating Everyday Anti-blackness

I spent the first sixteen years of my life in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and China. My first experience with anti-blackness was in the form of not-so-subtle racism. I was little and my family pastored a church in the Philippines. My local friends used the word negro to describe the very dark-skinned northern Filipinos. Even at a young age, I picked up the negative tone in which that word was used. Simultaneously, I received messages that Black Americans were “cool”, especially if they were rappers or athletes. And that’s basically all I knew. Despite having close friends from over 15 different countries, I had only one Black friend in high school. Although my history books discussed slavery, I watched hours of Patrick Swayze in North & South, I sobbed while reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and my first celebrity crush was Will Smith, I really didn’t get it. Not unlike many white people today, I believed that racism was mostly a thing of the past and anti-blackness was mayhaps exaggerated. I’ll admit that it wasn't until college, when I came to the US, that I really saw, with my own eyes, the way that Black students were treated on a predominately white campus in wealthy Orange County.

Being aware of racism and being aware of anti-blackness are entirely different things.

In retrospect, I think I often conflated anti-blackness and all anti-people of color activities. You know, racism is racism. My life experience growing up in Asia exposed me to racist, anti-brown and anti-black language, but I really think it wasn’t until I started reading more about American history, married into a Black family, and worked with Black youth in public schools that the subtle and not-so subtle ways anti-blackness manifests in our society became real.

It’s in the way educators discuss Black student behaviors in contrast to white student behaviors, or the way they accept Black gregariousness on a football field but not in a classroom. It’s in the surprise that Black males are earning As & Bs in AP classes or the expectation that a Black boy doesn’t like reading. It’s in the way Black boys are perceived as older or Black girls are seen as less innocent than their white peers. It’s also in the way that white people say the word Black awkwardly. It's in the way that white athletes get away with behaviors while Black athletes are chastised and berated for the same thing. It's in the presumed innocence of a white middle aged shopper and the guilt of a Black teen buying a snack for the walk home.

Anti-blackness is both on the surface and embedded in our infrastructure.  If you've never noticed it, it's probably because you haven't had to. As white people we have the privilege to downplay or straight up ignore the ways racism manifests towards Black people in the United States.

In her book, White Fragility, Robin Diangelo explains it this way. “Anti-blackness is rooted in misinformation, fables, perversions, projections, and lies. It is also rooted in a lack of historical knowledge and an inability or unwillingness to trace the effect of history into the present.” If I were to speak for all white people out there, I’d say it is the former that drives our ongoing “othering” of Black people and the latter as to why we continue to allow such horrific actions as the killing of unarmed Black men and women by police officers. Our ignorance and apathy towards our racial history is an integral part of our white identity.

I recently read Carol Anderson’s White Rage: An Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide which challenged me to see our racial divide as a timeline—one large story. For white people, it’s far too easy to see history in pockets, isolated events that really don’t add up to anything. Seeing it as pieces allow us to ignore the larger puzzle. We stay divorced from our own history and blissful in our blindness, making excuses for systemic racism.

As I write this, I’m reminded of when Angela Davis’ said, “in a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.” It’s not  enough to not be anti-black, I need to actively work against anti-blackness. I need to proactively combat my internalized anti-blackness and actively speak out about the ways our society shapes the narrative against Black people.

So how do I do this?  I certainly don't have all the answers and this is a long journey I’m on, but here are a handful of things I’m trying to do.

First, I’m trying to unequivocally believe Black people. In the same way we’re calling on society to “believe women”, if a Black person tells you what they have experienced, believe them. I know I've dismissed the experiences and stories of anti-blackness (even from people I love). I want to believe it was always done unconsciously, but I'm not sure. As much as it shames and hurts me to reflect back on this, it's not as painful as the impact of my doubt on those relationships.

Second, I’m trying to be better it to interrogate my own thinking and internalized racism about Black people. Since anti-blackness is part of the fabric of this society, it's also part of me. I think the biggest ways I've combated my unconscious bias it to face it. I'm trying to reflect more. Listen more. Read more. I think one of the quickest ways to deal with our biases is to be in community with someone we don’t understand or don’t have a shared lived experience---be it someone of a different religion, race, etc. You can’t continue to think of someone as “other” or “less than” when you are face to face and in the world together.

Third, actually care about Black lives. It’s not enough to wear my Black Lives Matter earrings. I need to actually care about Black lives all around me. One way to do that is to take time to learn Black history...which is also our history. My niece is a young Black girl who is just starting to attend school. I’ve been buying books for her about smart women that look like her. I always skim the books before I wrap them up. I’m a little embarrassed to admit how much I’ve learned. But, at this point, I’m making up for lost time. It’s 2019. I can no longer make excuses or justify my lack of knowledge about our racial history.

Fourth, another way to fight feelings or attitudes of anti-blackness is to immerse yourself in Black excellence. We need to surround ourselves with narratives about Black people that aren’t centered in whiteness and fear of “the other”. I don’t mean pretending you’re woke because you listen to Childish Gambino or read Becoming. And I’d also caution against buying into Black exceptionalism. As a child, I learned about George Washington Carver and Frederick Douglass but their stories were told in a way that I later learned was “white washed”. We need to find, collect, and share counter-narratives about Blackness. A pro-black stance doesn’t mean you will rid yourself of your anti-blackness, but I do think exposure can help usher in authentic paradigm shifts.

Lastly, publicly address anti-blackness when you see or hear it. This might be when you hear a passive aggressive comment about the Black family laughing loudly at the restaurant, when your  your colleague say something weird about their Black students, or when someone is trying to steal black joy at the movie theater. It might be responding to someone’s nonsense on Twitter or challenging your teacher friend about the way their voice changes when they talk about their Black students.

I think the biggest hurdle in fighting anti-blackness is getting white people to realize it exists. I’ll end on a final thought from Diangelo “Our need to deny the bewildering manifestations of anti-blackness that resides so close to the surface makes us irrational, and that irrationality is at the heart of white fragility and the pain it causes people of color.”

White Women, We are a Problem

Dear Fellow White Women,

We are a problem.

Since the beginning of our country we've benefited, profited, and perpetuated this racist and sexist society. In our self-righteous Puritanism, we succumbed to the patriarchy that told us to stay home and make babies because that’s what we were expected to do. We still maintained our status as better than Natives Americans so we weren't bothered too much. We still had special status.

We enjoyed our role as Mistress of the house, surveyor of all things domestic on the plantation. We knew that--despite the corsets-- power and privilege were ours to wield.

We stood tall and confident on the firm ground of racism, declaring that we deserved the right to vote because we were better than black men! We knew that we'd never win if we included Black and Brown women in the fight even though there was a twinge of guilt because we started to realize that they too were second class citizens. A few of us saw some promise in joining sides but white supremacy and self-preservation won out.  

Even when we had the opportunity to come alongside one another to fight for equal pay, we forgot about our Black and Brown sisters. I suppose it's not that surprising considering since the beginning we clearly struggled to see these sisters as part of the family.

Some might think that this pattern disappeared in the more recent past. But a quick look at who counts when they go missing, or whose pay is closest to white men, it's obvious white women are still valued above other women.

White women, our betrayal of our sisters is even more painful because we should know better (Robin DiAngelo lays this out in her book White Fragility but also this interview).

We are a HUGE problem.

It was a white woman who falsely accused a little Black Boy of looking at her wrong, resulting in his brutal murder. It was a white woman who declared herself the “first plus size woman” in a movie, erasing the Black women who paved the way. It was a white woman who called police on Black men in Starbucks...and at Menchies.

It was white women who elected Trump to office. It was white women who have excused Kavanaugh's behavior.

It is white women who continue to use their race, class and privilege to serve only themselves.

My fellow white women, y'all we've got to get it together. We need to recognize that time and time again, we are the rebar reinforcing systemic racism.

We certainly aren't the saviors of anything but can we resolve to be disruptors rather than ambassadors of racism??



Just Use Your White Emoji 👍🏻

Disclaimer: While there are more important issues such as a lack of electricity or running water in the United States, I'm going to focus this post on a problem at the intersection of  race and privilege. This post isn't scientific or heavily research based.  You've been warned.

Initially, my Indian-American friend pointed it out to me. She just wanted to send an emoji that looked like her. The first time a black friend sent me a 🌚 I laughed. Then, to my embarrassment and shame, I realized why he did that. He had two choices--- a white face and a moon. A moon.

So in 2015 when Apple released its “diverse” emojis, many people of color shouted in glee. Finally, was an option besides yellow or white!   The Atlantic captured the excitement in an article titled: “Finally, Emoji People of Color”. But not everyone was excited. Writer Paige Tutt (a person of color), argued that racialized emojis are more problematic because it makes race at the forefront of every conversation and can stir up hard feelings among friends--we are now questioning the racial motivations of others.

Why does this even matter?

Because when we don't see ourselves reflected in the larger society we know we aren't valued.  That's why it's crucial to see women in positions of leadership. That's why it matters that TV and movies have actors of all colors, sexual orientations, and religions represented. That's why we needed Barack Obama.

This isn't about being “politically correct". It's about not being a jerk. It's about understanding that the world is comprised of many beautiful differences that help us see something different than our own myopic perspective.

While it's imperfect and still can lead to misrepresentation (👳🏻‍♂️?!!??), I personally think the more diversity that’s represented in our tech, the better. But I’m a hwhite lady. I always have racial representation even if I don't have gender  representation. It’s not my place to evaluate the authenticity of racemojis. But I can and will speak to the problem of white people co-opting emojis that don’t belong to them.

How many white people noticed that besides the yellow characters, the default people were white (and technically still are if you consider the ranking order of the skin tones)? I’d venture to say that not that many white people actually noticed that to begin with (unless someone of color pointed it out). To me this is indicative of the disconnect white people have with ideas of race. Race is for others, not for us. White people tend to talk or think about race if it is juxtaposed next to anything perceived as non-white.  For white people, we can chose when we want to talk about race, notice it at all, or just ignore it. Even in 2017, people of color do not have that luxury.

This is why I get so 😣😡 when a white friend sends or posts a non-white emoji. At first I thought I was the only one who noticed this. But then, a simple 👩🏻‍💻  showed me that the folks at The Atlantic wrote an article called “Why White People Don’t Use White Emoji” which basically says that white people in America experience shame about their race and therefore use any other color besides white. I’m going to try to address some of the nuance here.

First, using a non-white emoji when you’re a white person is appropriation-ish (like when you have no connection to Asia but decorate your house in fetishy way). It also comes across like you’re trying to claim some color in your life to get 😎 points. This can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings and awkwardness.

Second, it’s reinforcing the “right” kind of brown. White people love to be tan because it's the right kind of brown. I am definitely not as white as 👍🏻 and in the summer I'm more of a ✌🏼 but when 🖖🏽 is the next option it's obvious that I'm the first. I think when white people a darker shade of white they are saying “this is my tan”--even if they aren't tan. While it may be “harmless” and make us feel better about ourselves, it's reinforcing society’s norms about what is and isn't the right kind of color. This is yet another example of white privilege in action.  I can choose to be tan and therefore reap the benefits (compliment heaven) but a POC can never choose to be white. You don't want to be called Rachel Dolezal now do you?  

Third, “woke” white people, just stawp 🙄. I sometimes feel that white people who are trying to be woke think using a brown or black emoji is a sign of solidarity.  Of course there's a 🕐 and a 🗺 it's more powerful for you to understand your white privilege and use it for actual good--stand up for a POC on Twitter or  attend an event on Immigrant Rights. ️

I get it. At the root of the co-opting of non-white emojis is fear. Some white people are concerned that if you use the white one does that mean you are saying white power? While many emojis can convey multiple meanings raising a ✊🏻 definitely seems like you're saying “white power”.

Let's not forget that how much thought goes into your emoji-sending varies. I categorize responses as 1) this is a general emoji response. 2)  a “this emoji is me” response.  For example  am I generally raising a fist ✊🏻or am I raising BLM fist ✊🏿? Again, this seems to go with the idea that white people get to choose when to talk about their race and when to draw attention to it..which imo is a prime example of privilege. Are you meeting a friend 👩 or a  👩🏾? What about a 👩🏻👩🏼??  in contrast people of color do not get that luxury.

I find it interesting that Europeans don't have any qualms about using the white skin toned emojis 🤷🏻‍♀️🤷🏻‍♂️

So what I'm saying is this: Own your whiteness. 

If you identify as white and experience white privilege, USE A WHITE EMOJI FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

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See these examples for appropriate uses of your white emojis:

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