Cut #999

This is another post with thoughts sparked off stuff that’s been said within the same discussion that inspired my post: Unnamed Privilege: College Education

Okay, so something I’ve been seeing in the recent Cultural Appropriation debate and really whenever race is discussed is the waiting for “The Big Betrayal”. What do I mean by “The Big Betrayal”? Well, what I mean is that moment where someone says something so racist, so problematic, that anyone with the slightest ounce of sense has to pause and say, “Wow, that was really racist.”. There are plenty of people, both white and POC, who will never ever call something their friends did or said bigoted until they get that clear a signal. As long as the comment has some wiggle room then friends will try to give you the benefit of the doubt and that’s all well and good, hell, it’s what friends are supposed to do but the problem is that “The Big Betrayal” is not all there is when it comes to racism and other oppressions and without that “Big Betrayal” hurt and anger often gets dismissed as being “too emotional” or “reading too much into it”. 

Many POC are warned, sometimes explicitly, sometimes not, by relatives and friends that it’s all well and good to have white friends but to watch out because they could turn on you. Now does this mean that all white people would do this? No, of course not. I’ve seen plenty of white folks in the recent discussion that were great anti-racist allies. Does this mean that white folks and POC can’t be friends? Again: No, of course not but what it does mean is that white friends who don’t understand race and all it’s implications may hurt you deeply, consciously or unconsciously. It’s not about a friend you’ve hung out with for years one day turning on you and yelling a racial epithet or trying to beat you up or anything of that nature. No, it’s about the smaller things. As my friend and housemate Jackie put it “People can die by a thousand cuts.” and it’s much more painful that way.

It’s about silence when someone says something racist when we’re in a group, leaving me to stand alone and isolated as the sole “overly-emotional” POC if I choose to bring it up. *cut*
It’s about the “Well, he didn’t mean it that way” that shows me that someone else’s comfort means so much more to you than my hurt. *cut*
It’s about taking the easy road and implying that I’m overly emotional and dismissing any point I may have rather than insult you’re other (read:white) friends. *cut*
It’s about the disbelieving stares of instant denial when I talk about something racist that happened to me that day. *cut*
It’s about patronizing or staring at me like I’m lying or crazy when I name an interaction we just had as problematic. *cut*
It’s about not backing me up when I publicly discuss race but emailing me privately to voice your support. *cut*
It’s about knowing that I cannot discuss something with you that affects my life everyday for fear that you’ll ignore what I say or divert the conversation making the pain worse. *cut*
It’s about wading into a discussion on race, saying something stupid being hurt when people call you on it and then flouncing off in a huff thereby making a good segment of the conversation about you and your pain. *cut*
It’s about you, having spoken out against other oppressions now using your privilege to attempt to silence me or other POC. *cut*
It’s about you accepting the pats on the shoulder and comfort for your pain while I get anger and hate spewed at me for mine. *cut*
It’s about having this conversation over and over again and feeling like nothing changes and no one learns anything. *cut*

Despite what’s been said and insinuated by certain people in the latest cultural appropriation “discussions” – Talking about race “all the time” (maybe it feels that way because it’s only when we get loud and angry that you actually hear us?) is not fun. Experiences of being singled out by police or being treated poorly in shops are not fun to relive and retell. These stories and our feelings are not made up for shits and giggles or to get attention. We talk about this stuff because it happens and to speak openly and honestly about it can sometimes lessen the pain but when we reach out to talk about things we find problematic or offensive all we get is insults (“orcing”? no that’s not racist at all!), mocking and accusations that double and triple and quadruple the hurt…

Do you still wonder why we’ve been warned?

A couple of useful links:
Ven ve voke up, ve had zese wodies by Ciderpress. Ciderpress talks about the pain of the recent discussion where it turned, the false assumptions of catharsis, fallacies and responsibility.
‘Check my what?’ On privilege and what we can do about it by Andrea Rubenstein. Not about the current discussion but a useful primer for many people around privilege, what to do, making mistakes, listening and more.

Addendum Link:
Drowning in Apathy by Tempest talks about the apathy that can steal over you when you have these same conversations over and over and no one seems to be listening at all. I feel you Tempest.

17 responses to “Cut #999

  1. Wow. You took my breath away. This is a stunningly powerful post. It speaks to me deeply. Thank you.

  2. Hi Naamen! This is a great essay–thank you!

    I keep forgetting to check your website (must bookmark) and miss seeing you on LJ, but came here from rydra-wong’s link. Take care of you.


    And it gets so tiring to for the millionth time point something out and have people go, “But that’s totally reasonable” and you have to say “If this were the only time it *would* be totally reasonable but when it has happened a million times it isn’t and you just don’t believe me because you weren’t there for the previous million times. Or actually, you were there. But you weren’t paying attention.”

  4. This is so very, very true. Thank you for saying this truly and clearly.

  5. Followed a link here. Thank you for posting this.

  6. Yes. All these small things point to the bigger problem of how people think. You don’t gotta kick me, you just have to stand by and do nothing while someone else kicks me.

    People think it’s an exaggeration, they imagine that if the situation got more serious they would step up, stop it, but that’s actually not true- if you can’t stand up for words, what will you do when the police grab your friend? What will you do when 10 guys start throwing bottles?

    A thousand reminders of why you’re less than human, and more importantly, to everyone else why it’s ok to do you wrong.

  7. Speaking as a white person who’s undoubtedly committed a number of these cuts — thank you for this.

  8. I only just heard about the recent cultural appropriation debate and I’ve been linksurfing all evening off of it, so I apologize for leaving a comment when I’ve only read about three of your posts. I’m white, but the list you posted really resonated with me- I’ve seen/felt a lot of those things when discussing feminist issues. It’s not the same, but it’s certainly a point of entry. (I’m bookmarking you.)

  9. Thank you for this post.

    I am trying hard to listen and learn. This post really drove a lot of things home for me.

  10. This is the second time I’ve heard the “thousand little cuts” analogy in referring to the experiences of people of color. Any idea of the origins of this analogy?

    Anyway, Naamen, this is such a great post. It makes a great complement to Peggy’s McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. You should expand the “cuts” list to an actual 1,000 items. I’d like to contribute to that if you ever get around to it…

  11. I only just saw this but — wow, powerful.

  12. Linked this on my LJ, with many many thanks.

  13. Pingback: links for 2010-01-29 « Embololalia

  14. This is – everything everybody else has already said – and more. I keep referring myself back to it, and while I’ve heard the “death of a thousand cuts” analogy before, there’s something about seeing discrete instances of such laid out in a way that makes them accessible and relative. I plan to use this as a reference and a resource in subsequent Difficult Conversations with friends/family/strangers on the internet in which clear examples must be made of how (for example) racism isn’t ONLY burning crosses and lynching people, but also “about the disbelieving stares of instant denial when I talk about something racist that happened to me that day”. It brings it home, it makes it real.

    Thank you. Again and again and again.

  15. Pingback: talk about it. « Love | Peace | Ohana

  16. i live in an extremely white country. until i was 19 i had never even met a POC. racism was hypothetical so perhaps it’s easy for me to say that i can’t imagine ever putting up with anything remotely racist or being anything but disgusted by an act of racism. it’s good to read things like this though because as my country becomes more ethnically diverse i think we all need to be aware of the problems we are going to face.

  17. It’s a couple years gone, but this remains as true as ever. I’ve had a now-former friend do this to me recently, and rereading this post makes me feel… mostly better. This is a pattern that happens, and even if I can’t make her see it, I can know it’s true.

    Thank you for this.

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