By Jesse James
I have seen a lot of people getting riled up over the ban of white people from the recent anti-racism rallies and events the world over, and honestly, it just blows me away.
While I feel that it is great that so many have the desire and intention to show their support in such situations, I’d also like to put this out there because I feel that it needs to be said:
People of colour creating spaces and events specifically for themselves, ones in which they can tell their stories safely, and be heard within; this is not a racist act.
It is specific and exclusive, yes, and for good reason, for they are discussing the shared experiences relevant to the individuals within these groups. Systems of oppression run deep. Not everyone feels safe sharing their experiences when faced with people who could not possibly have lived the experience first-hand. Not to mention the fear that goes with speaking within a group that may include those that deny your oppression based on their own experiences, and a culture that prioritizes white representation, thus enabling them to speak over top of yours in favor of their own.
Having a safe space to connect with others who experience oppression in similar ways is both important and necessary for the people going through it. So necessary that sometimes this means asking people who do not experience said oppression either not to partake, or even to not show up at all.
Just like with any group, the essence of its formation is based on a common variable, and in this it was oppression.
If there was, for example, a cancer support group being held for those in recovery and a bunch of us who were not recovering from the illness ourselves attempted to join but were denied access, would we really demand to be a part of the group anyway simply to suit our own desires?
I am going to imagine that all of us say no here (because really, why would anyone put someone else out like that?) and the same thing applies here.
The content was not about our experiences as white people. It wasn’t about us or our stories at all. So why should the priority be on what makes us comfortable when the content should be directed towards those that it directly effects?
I know that this may be unexpected for some, but not everyone has grown up getting the message that they are welcomed in every space.
Having the expectation that we should be/are allowed everywhere, is a privilege that is not universally shared, and it is one that has been afforded to the majority of us who are, or are assumed to be, white.
In case we were not all aware though, people of colour, of various gender identities, of assumed ethnicities, and of religious faiths, these people get denied access and entry to spaces all. the. damn. time. Something that is largely ignored. Yet suddenly, when it happens to white people, then it’s something that people are furious over and demanding that it be immediately rectified.
That’s because white people are the represented majority, and we are so used to being able to go where we please, that when something like this actually happens to us, it is news, and it is something that we are unprepared for…
But that still doesn’t mean that every space is for us to claim as our own.
Sometimes, it is our place to be an observer, to be one who stands beyond the line, quietly, in support of those standing for themselves.
Besides, where were these voices when the situations were happening that called for the anti-racism rally in the first place? And why did it not matter enough to speak out about when it was happening to someone else?
It’s easy to call attention to an injustice that we feel we are personally facing ourselves, but what about when it affects those in groups outside of the ways we personally identify?
It’s problematic that so many still have not realized that we do not always have a place at the center of every movement; that sometimes other voices need to be heard before ours. But they do.
Want to be a good ally? Then step back and be silent for a bit.
Take the time to actually listen wholeheartedly to those who struggle daily within the larger systems of oppression beyond what we ourselves might face.
Please, stop crying racism when our experiences take a back seat to others.
The experiences of white people, they have shaped our entire understanding of history. I’d say that we could take a lesson in listening to someone else for a while without the need to chime in for ourselves.
It’s not racist to be asked to step back while others speak about the issues that directly affect them, either.
It might be uncomfortable for some of us to be told to step back, or to be quiet, yes, but other stories have been silenced for most of human existence, and being asked or even told not to participate for once, well that really isn’t the same thing.
So if you are someone who only has anything to say or think about racism, when it is something that is interpreted to be happening to “white” people (assumed or not)… then I’d say that you are likely part of the problem. That it might be time to take some of that advice and step back beyond yourself.
We don’t learn anything from continuously taking in the same perspectives all the time. All of us have something to offer in the means of moving forward in a united front, but before that can happen, we need to leave space for these silenced stories to be told.
So go on, make some room. We all might learn something if we do.
Jesse James (pronouns she/her or they/them) has been called an old soul living in a young body. At 24 she is a storyteller and Creatrix of many things; an equal blend of mystical, myth & science. As an activist and advocate, they work with groups like Food Not Bombs and make a point of speaking out about the causes they care about; poverty, full-spectrum equity, environmentalism, as well as the violence/politics of Birth. Jesse takes on the role of Reiki Practitioner, Tarot Reader, Placenta Alchemist, Birthkeeper (labor, postpartum & abortion support), Sexual Health Advocate, Artist & Writer (among others) through their business Artemisian Artes. She loves working with herbs in making natural remedies and concocting up delicious kitchen alchemy is a second nature after breath. They worship the Earth, thrive on art, and on forming meaningful connections with others. Their mission is to make that around them more beautiful, or at the very least, to help others see things that already were, in that way. Connect with Jesse here: https://www.facebook.com/ArtemisianArtes?fref=ts
Photo: thierry ehrmann/Flickr
Editor: Marcee Murray King
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