When White Wokeness Costs You Nothing
I recently had an interaction with a white person online that left me feeling sour. I was on an app, bemoaning the refusal of some white people to be willing to listen and learn and into my DMs flew a response that was something along the lines of, “OMG I know right? My [family member] is a Fox News addict and just not worth my time.”
That loud noise you just heard was my eyeballs scraping the back of their sockets.
I didn’t respond, leaving the message on read.
Everyday, online and in real life, I see white folks who are aspiring to allyship with people of color who are doing - how to put this politely - literally nothing of value.
They award themselves SJW participation trophies for calling white conservatives online “racists” but refuse to have a thoughtful conversation with their mom, dad, sibling, or colleague about their toxic and racist beliefs and words.
The conservatives were right about this: virtue signalling is a thing. And white progressives are guilty as hell.
“Yeah,” white people tell me daily, “It’s just not even worth it to engage with some people.”
Ok cool story Karen, but guess what? WE DON’T HAVE A CHOICE.
People of color have to interact with your racist family member in all their oblivious and intentional racism. You have the protection of your privilege and you’re still opting out of a conversation? Really? Stop. That’s such a cop out.
Growing up in church, one of the stories in the Bible that struck me the most was Jesus’ commentary on the woman who gave two pennies. He saw the impoverished woman at the temple giving two pennies — all she had, he claimed — he rightfully counted that tiny gift as costing more than the huge monetary gifts the wealthy were conspicuously donating to the priests.
If Not Hard Conversations, What’s Left?
I am very curious about those of you who do very little online besides like my posts, and then tell me in private that hard conversations with your white family members about justice and equity just aren’t worth it.
Like. What are you even do here? I need to start be far more skeptical because you have your little reparations button in your social media lapel. You get to check the box, get all of the accolades from other progressive white people. I watch many of you get off on screaming at white conservatives online for their racism but do NOTHING to mitigate your own. You’re not accountable to any person of color. Your financial support of PoC isn’t money you’d otherwise miss. You spend the inheritance from your Baby Boomer parents and plan to leave your kids cash and assets if it’s at all possible.
Look I know everyone’s situation is different (so I am told by white people while they dump me into their own mental box of “good” or “bad” black person). I know some of you would literally be kicked out of your home or evicted if you called your parents or manager out on racism or homophobia. If you’re in that boat, you have my sympathy and please stay safe.
That said, I am very disappointed by a lot of white progressives. You want PoC to pat you on the back for your online “activism” but you refuse to engage with your boss, neighbor, or racist uncle.
Why? Ask yourself what that is actually about.
And middle class white progressives? Poor white progressives are running LAPS around y’all. They show up to our events. They prioritize our work. They amplify our voices. My perception is this: the less you have to lose, the more all-in you are. They give $1, $3, $5 a month to causes they support, even while stressing about making ends meet. Data shows this is true, too. Working class people are more generous and less demanding of praise or thanks for what they do give.
There are exceptions, of course. My friend K is active online and she’s leaving her estate to the local tribe on whose stolen land it sits. I know she actively gives toward reparations. She is part of the reason that I am able to do the work that I am doing right now. In general, I feel white women are a LOT better at reparations than white men but that’s another thought for another day. Another friend literally forgoes health insurance in order to support Black and Indigenous activists. They inspire me, because they’re less talk and more action.
Again, these two wonderful humans are the exception.
If I had to guess, I think most of the progressives I know wouldn’t miss a meal for equity or reparations.
The Real Work
In the past, abolitionists often had their property stolen or destroyed. They were beaten, jailed, and lynched. (As an aside, this is why I never believe people who tell me their ancestors opposed slavery unless they have receipts. The opposition to enslavement didn’t come free of consequences, even in the north!)
I get it. We all have lives and responsibilities. But if you feel defensive about reading this, I want to encourage you to get serious about your beliefs. Take an honest assessment of the work you’re doing. Ask yourself how committed you actually are. Take a break from screaming at conservatives online and go talk to your old pastor or a colleague.
Being antiracist from behind a keyboard when you have the capacity to have real conversations with people isn’t doing the work. In fact, for most white people, it’s actually a way of avoiding the real work of antiracism.
What To Do Instead
Instead of performing white wokeness online, here are some things I want you to commit to doing this month.
Have an antiracist mentor or partner who you check in with regularly. Call them up today, and put a recurring event on your calendar. Ask them to ask you the tough questions, like whether what you’re doing has any actual value in the real world.
Don’t know anyone who will help you with your antiracist work? Join the White Homework Patreon!
Practice on your racist uncle
I know some of you have faced actual violence for confronting family members about racism so please exercise caution on this one and don’t put yourself into unsafe situations with people who are willing to use physical violence.
Once a month, sit down with someone you know is directly antagonistic toward your views and ask if you can present your antiracist ideas to them in a calm and respectful manner.
Yes, seriously. You certainly know teachers, cops, pastors, local activists who have made it abundantly clear on Facebook that they oppose antiracism.
Politely reach out. Inform them that you have no desire to change their mind, you wish to receive their feedback on the way in which you present your beliefs. Not the beliefs themselves.
Let them know it’s a challenge or a class you’re taking in convincing communication. Give them a timeframe so they know they won’t be listening to you ramble for two hours. Say 45 minutes at Starbucks or 30 minutes on Skype. Whatever parameters are comfortable for your partner. See how it goes. Pay attention to your wording and see if you become defense. Take notes. Write down challenges you don’t have answers to or statements that fire up your fight-or-flight response. Be polite, don’t make accusatory statements, state facts plainly.
And if they’ll let you? Schedule a follow up conversation for next month.
Please don’t misunderstand, the call for civility is just a means to protect (racist) power. It’s not a moral good. That said, commit to presenting the ideas. You aren’t looking for buy-in here. Just the opportunity to get your beliefs into the ears and brains of people who disagree.
Once you’ve had your conversations, hit me up and let me know how it went.
Hi there, thank you so much for taking the time to read this essay. You support means the world to me. If you’re able and you find my work valuable, please consider making a small donation to help me continue to share and educate. You can give instantly on any of your normal apps or better yet, join White Homework and become a patron. Whether or not you can give, would you take one minute to share this post with your friends, family, and colleagues? Thanks again.
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