Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On Offending White People

Like many other persons of color, I was raised to protect white people. Unwitting participants in white supremacy, my parents were determined to uplift their children by making sure we got our fair share. My immigrant parents could see no future for us that did not include excelling within the economic, political, educational, cultural system already in place, that of global white supremacy. This meant we internalized a sense of inferiority, so that we stayed submissive, respectful, quiet, and never offensive.

Now that I have awakened to this habit of thought and behavior passed on through generations, I have the responsibility of dismantling it. I have to catch myself every time I am tempted to please and protect white people, recognizing that the system of white supremacy hurts absolutely everyone, including white people. Instead of stifling my truth and making myself sick, as I have done for most of my adult life, I am finally learning, at age 48, to live and speak my truth, and stop unconsciously complying with systems of oppression. This means that I may offend white people.

White supremacy hurts everyone. People of color experience this harm daily, through the media and through microaggressions, which may marginalize them, exoticize them, objectify them, and reinforce a sense of inferiority and shame. The problem is white people can stay immune to the harm of white supremacy. After all they are on top. White people can be unconscious of the pain of white supremacy until it is pointed out to them. That is, until they are hurt or offended by a person of color.

Would-be white allies, take note:
If I offend you, I am compelling you to experience the harm of white supremacy, which hurts both white people and people of color. If something I say hurts you, it’s because you are awakening to the pain that white supremacy causes, the pain that has always been there, like the water table under the earth’s surface. While people of color live with this pain, you have been largely protected.

I will not protect you from feeling the pain of white supremacy, for white people will never dismantle the system of white supremacy without feeling this pain. I will not even protect my own children from experiencing the pain of white supremacy. Unless we all awaken to the suffering and harm created by this system we will be silently compliant. White people comply by upholding or resigning themselves to the status quo. People of color comply by internalizing a sense of inferiority and shame that compels them to protect and please white people, and support the status quo.

I will not apologize for offending you. Instead, I welcome you to our club. You have been awakened to the pain of white supremacy. Now what will you do with this awakening?


Mary Catherine said...

Best to gird yourself with grace when battling the ignorant. Perhaps especially when dealing with the powerful.

Là où il y a l'offense, que je mette le pardon.
Là où il y a la discorde, que je mette l'union.
Là où il y a l'erreur, que je mette la vérité.

Keep speaking the truth!

peggy hong said...

thanks for your thoughts mc. girding myself w grace now, remembering that, as bell hooks says, "we don't know what wars are going on down there where spirit meets the bone." esp w the ignorant. and we are all ignorant.