This blog is Part 2 of what I have learned so far through my anti-racism reading, discussing, and viewing. You can see Part 1 in my previous posting.
Black Rage/Tone Policing
James Baldwin, the Black American novelist, wrote, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” We white people, comfortable in our privilege, often draw back aghast when we come face to face with Black rage. Yet, isn’t rage understandable in people who have experienced oppression and been told by others they are less worthy nearly every day of their lives?
I know that I have gone silent in the face of such rage, not knowing how to respond to such strong emotion and uncomfortable language. I have thought, “Well, I just won’t respond or engage until this Black person calms down and uses ‘appropriate’ language.” That is called “Tone Policing” and it is a white privilege behavior. It is saying to Black people that they must fit into our privileged white standards for language, emotional expression, and conversational etiquette. Why should Black people have to fit our conversational standards? If we want a relationship, why can’t we fit into their norms?
I have been guilty of Tone Policing and it can simply shut down a conversation. Then, in my white privilege, I can blame my Black friend for ending the conversation. “Well, it’s not my fault they won’t have a polite conversation!” I commit to not use Tone Policing. I commit to listen and be present and engage even in the face of Black rage.
I am very interested in learning what it means to be an effective ally. Quoting PeerNetBC, Me and White Supremacy author Layla Saad defines allyship as “an active, consistent, and challenging practice of unlearning and reevaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to work in solidarity with a marginalized group.” They explain that allyship is a “lifelong process of building relationships.” Saad stresses that we do not get to proclaim ourselves to be an ally. We do the work and it is up to those we are seeking to stand alongside to recognize us as an ally.
Saad includes a whole chapter on what she calls “Optical Allyship.” It is attempting to look like an ally, even be recognized as an ally, without ever doing the deep and hard work it takes to really become a true ally. Optical allyship involves no real risk; it is performed from the safety of one’s white privilege for one’s own benefit.
How do I make sure my work to become an ally is real and true and not just optical allyship? It means I have to listen more than I talk. I have to lift up Black voices. It means I don’t start another group to do anti-racism work, but I join an existing Black-led group and follow their leadership. It means I stand up, even when I might feel scared. It means acknowledging, again and again, that the conversation is not about me.
Giving Up My White Privilege
One of the hardest things I am learning is that I actually have to give up some of my white privilege. Being an authentic ally is about accepting less privileges, advantages, and comforts so that our Black neighbors can receive more. This might look like:
- Taking responsibility for my own antiracist education rather than expecting Black people to do that for me.
- Having racial conversations with other white people.
- Donating money to causes and organizations that are working towards liberation and dignity for Black people. Supporting Black-owned businesses.
- Showing up at protests and marches for Black freedom and rights.
- Risking relationships and comfort by speaking up instead of staying silent.
These are real challenges for me. But they feel necessary.
I hope that you can identify with some of these ideas and perhaps be challenged by them. I am certainly being challenged. But I feel God’s call to love ALL my neighbors and God seems to be tugging me in these directions. Thank you for walking with me.
Yes. I definitely feel challenged by this blog and I appreciate all that you have said. I have definitely done that tone policing because I feel uncomfortable in front of rage and swearing. These are definitely things for me to think about. Thank you for your transparency and vulnerability. It inspires me to do the hard work.
Thank you, Laura. We can learn and grow together. God bless, Coe.