When I Tell a White Person What They Said Is Racist
This is a narration of my internal world when I tell a white person what they said is racist. I experience racism as intimately traumatic and these interactions of everyday racism drain me, exhaust me and deeply impact my mental health. The emotional labor that goes into every interaction, with an attempt to educate another into not hurting us as a person of color, is something we have to live with. Perhaps someone will resonate with this internal dialogue and recognize they are not alone. Or perhaps white folx will be able to read how their words impact us.
I tell you what you say hurts me, politely.
I back my words with “evidence,” you ask for more.
You say this is my opinion, as if pain is a choice. As if I choose oppression every day I feel it. As if the words that spill out of your mouth into my psyche, replete with ignorance, are my imagination.
My words are not enough. My expression of discomfort is not enough. I tell you so I feel safe with you. I tell you because I hope. I tell you because really, I respect you.
You feel attacked by my expression of pain. You move on. Or maybe you don’t. I never know, because you never say. Why validate the “attacker”? I hold on — not because I choose to but because the brown body I occupy leaves me no choice.
Months pass. Millions of people of color take to the streets, risking their lives to be seen, to be heard. Because to be alive in this body is a risk every day. What’s another day?
You say you’re an ally, you say you make mistakes. You forgive yourself. The ball of pain inside me grows bigger, heavier. I am still invisible. My brown labor is your birthright. The silence says everything. You still haven’t apologized.
I express anger, you hear judgment. I feel helpless, you feel ridiculed. I tell you I worry about my brown sisters, you tell me I don’t know you. Need I know you to feel that you still don’t see me?
You try, you say you will make it right. You want a gold star for your effort as if seeing me as a whole human being is something that deserves reward. Maybe it does, because God knows, I am not human to many. I am not human to too many.
I frighten you. What is it that frightens you about me? Is it the unknown? Is it the parts of your history you’ve left with me? Is it the person you see yourself as, through my eyes?
You want my anger to be poetic. My hurt and pain is your art. Let that sink in.
You set a boundary to protect yourself. I am the brown attacker, my rage fuelled by projections and imaginations. That you will not “submit.” The system facilitates your safety. Who protects me?
You tell me if I was your friend, you would know this isn’t who you are. I have known you for years, I am not your friend. Why?
I know the spaces I am welcomed, I know the (white) spaces I am not. You say I am imagining this, not trying hard enough. That you have tried to befriend me. What I feel is just another BIPOC hallucination.
I ask, if you can’t have one conversation with me about race without breaking down, can we really be friends?
You tell me you feel oppressed. Your white skin is “oppressed” by my brown rage. By my voice. By my words. Because I didn’t listen to your story. You separate political from the personal, because you can.
You reduce systemic oppression to a single conversation. You reclaim your power.
When will my pain not offend you?
Photo by Sai Maddali on Unsplash