I’m white/European-American and recently added “racist and anti-racist” to my Twitter bio. I’m writing about that not because it’s a great feat of any sort. But it’s a reflection of something important to me and something I want to write down here… just in case anyone asks what the hell I’m getting at. It’s a reflection of an identity I’m trying to own.
I’m not even sure how to talk about this. My language, knowledge and training are profoundly inadequate.
I’ve been expanding my Twitter timeline more actively lately, and I’ve found several people saying really important things on vital, life-giving subjects. Some directly engage race issues, like Bruce Reyes-Chow, who just came out with the book But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race, and Cristina Cleveland, who does work around understanding privilege, and rooting out white supremacy in the body of Christ, making space for Christians to truly value diversity. I follow Janet Mock, an advocate for trans folk and for trans people of color especially, educating our culture regarding some of the challenges faced at the intersection of gender and race. They are authors and activists putting themselves out there as touchpoints for conversations that need to happen. So, I know I’m actively invited to follow them even as I’m often challenged and intimidated by what they say and the good work they do.
I follow other strangers that simply come from a different racial background than me, and others who are white but get caught up in certain race-related issues. I’ve recently followed several Muslim women of different racial backgrounds, and I learn from them about their lives, and about Islam and the intersections of race, ethnicity and religion. I have no personal connection to Islam, though, and a little secondhand knowledge of it. Gaining knowledge is part of the reason I’m following their Twitter accounts, and my understanding is that I’m invited (in general, not individually) to follow their thoughts. I’m not unwelcome, I don’t think, or I’d leave. Mostly, I shut up and listen/read. I do worry sometimes though, especially when they say something I want to retweet, if a RT functions as a respectful notation/passing along of ideas… or if it takes certain information, filtered through my interests/desires, out of context in disrespectful ways.
And I wonder in interacting with all of them, their Twitter lives and insights and work and persons, how I can best do that without being a douchebag.
I’ve spent most of my life exploring justice issues, but it’s been years since I’ve directly studied race issues, their effect on me and my impact on issues of race. This reality is directly tied to the enormous amount of white privilege I have. I have benefitted every day of my life from racist structures. I have had the luxury of going weeks, months or years without thinking much about my race if I don’t want to. I know I was trained to be racist, and that I still am, and that I will continue to be even as I hate being racist and try not to be.
I’m looking for ways to understand my privilege, and learn more about what I don’t know. I’m looking to understand my own culture better, and how it differs from other cultures, so I don’t project it or its standards onto other people (or, if that’s impossible, do it less). I’m looking for that balance of speaking up when I can accomplish something that lessens oppression in the world, and shutting up when my input would increase oppressive control over others. I hope to keep learning about other folks’ lives and lived cultural connections without simplifying, colonizing or appropriating (if that’s possible).
So, in case you were wondering, that’s what I mean when I say I’m racist and antiracist.