By Haldane King
Originally Published as a Facebook Post
It’s great that everyone is upset about Christian Cooper, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, it really is. I’m delighted in the smidgens of justice meted out for these three tragedies. But this goes on EVERY DAY. All POCs get “The Talk” about police when we near adolescence and are first likely to be perceived as a threat. Likely when we were about 9 or 10 years old. It’s among the first traumas that we experience as POCs–the explicit knowledge that there is an organized and well-armed state out to get us and the burden is 100% on us to de-escalate any situation.
I’ve seen many well-meaning friends here on FB try to figure out how to start their own Talk among their White friends, how to stand up to racism. And I’ve got to share a narrative that I think is missing from the conversation:
The driving force of racism (and misogyny and homophobia) in this country, in my opinion, is not fear born of ignorance. It’s fear of vengeance. More specifically, it’s the fear of being treated the way you have treated people.
Everyone is fully aware of the state of race (and gender and sexuality) in this country. Everyone knows. Very very few people are so ignorant they have just never considered the plight of others. We are humans, we empathize by our very natures, we have mirror neurons, we are social beings. Equality is a threat to racists because racists (and misogynists and homophobes) have the most detailed view of their sins.
The oppressors think the oppressed would attack them because no one is less ignorant of the damage than the oppressors. Much of White America would prefer Black America to stay oppressed so Whites don’t have to answer for how much they have benefited from the blood and sweat of Black folk. They are fully and intimately aware of how much they have taken from Black America and how horrible they have made Black lives.
It’s like those two primary forms of homophobia. The first one is easy to understand because it’s kind of funny. Guys who are repressing their gay desires are frustrated by the idea of guys who indulge those desires with zero consequences. This first type of homophobe seeks to manufacture consequences for being gay so they don’t have to feel cognitive dissonance. But there is another form of homophobia that is far darker and the other side of the misogyny coin. These men see the objects of their desire and women, as weak sexual prey. They deny or ridicule a woman’s desire for enjoyable sex because that would mean women look at men as objects of desire. Which means men are prey. Which frightens them because of the horrible things they believe are okay to happen to those that are sexually preyed upon. At a deep level they are aware of how horrible this is for women and thus loudly declare their views so they feel comfortable remaining predators. They are PETRIFIED of the idea that a big, strong, non-woman could see them as an object of desire and treat them and think about them the same way they do about women.
This is seen in racism when people get angry at others for speaking a foreign language in public. It’s not that they need to understand that Spanish or Chinese speaking people have lived in this country since before it was a country. Rather, in their heads they are at war and have attacked the enemy over and over and over. In their minds if they let down their guard, people who don’t speak English (aka non-Whites) will retaliate. Someone speaking in another language is threatening to them because of how they or the group they identify with have treated people who don’t speak English.
Racism isn’t stupid. Racism isn’t ignorant. Racism is guilty, and racists don’t want to be punished for their crimes. Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing–she didn’t want to be guilty, she wanted to make him guilty. She wanted to be sure Christian Cooper was prey, and she the predator.
We POCs (and women and LGBTQI+ folk) aren’t out for vengeance and we need to say that. It’s a goddamn lie that we are. The conversation we need to have is how to let racists know they’ve been lied to. They need to know Trump is wrong, there is no race war, no one is coming for your jobs or guns, and we have the technology to feed, clothe, house, and heal everyone. I saw that bell hooks quote today “Shaming is one of the deepest tools of imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy because shame produces trauma and trauma often produces paralysis.”
We must not paralyze the racists or use their profane tool of shame. Instead we must dispel the fear-breeding lies our society has installed close to their hearts. This is done through practices like representation in media and showing racists that people who aren’t like them are here to participate, be part of America, and work everyday for a chance at a productive life despite a country hell-bent on waging war against them.
It’s done through videos like this one:
June 1, 2020