Why do I get the feeling your “white friends” are rhetorical?
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t necessarily disagree with the premise. Performative wokeness is a very real thing, something easily spotted in the wild even without the assistance of the flood of Medium pieces about what terrible human beings white liberals are. For vast swathes of humanity, there’s always going to be an urge to turn goodness into selfishness, and internal decency into a loud public advertisement for oneself. To be truly good--not just in terms of racial awareness, but in most of life--you have to be willing to do a lot of painful, ugly soul-searching, to question your deepest, most fundamental beliefs, and to honestly admit when you’re full of shit. It’s one of the hardest things a person can do, and very few people can.
So I get it. It’s a universal human failing that’s magnified by the specific social and political context of American race relations.
But at the same time, constantly berating people that care about you and want to help you is kind of a huge dick move.
One of the most significant psychological stumbling blocks in American racial discourse, one that I’ve encountered constantly yet nobody ever talks about, is how difficult it is for so many whites, even those that don’t normally place a ton of value on race, to separate “white people” as a generalized abstract concept from “all white people, including you.” For whatever reason, it’s really difficult for these people to hear a phrase like “white supremacy ” and without suddenly behaving as if they’re on trial, and this inability to separate the self from the collective is a massive impediment to any sort of adult conversation about race.
As someone who’s always felt extremely uncomfortable in group settings, especially one based around arbitrary traits I had no say in, that’s never been much of a problem for me. I don’t consider “whiteness” a deeply personal part of my identity, so I don’t feel personally affronted when black people vociferously criticize “white people” as a group. Just because it’s my hometown doesn’t mean it’s my team. I can remain relatively impartial and treat people like people and facts as facts. So I feel pretty confident saying that I’m not being a triggered white person when I say that it can be really frustrating, sometimes even insulting, when I keep seeing all these “go fuck yourself for thinking you have empathy” think pieces.
It’s not as if these articles are directed at general actions/policies/attitudes seen in large numbers of whites and I’m taking it personally because I have a guilty conscience; they’re pretty specifically targeted at educated, empathetic whites that take the time to read five-page reflective personal essays on the effects of race on the conception of self. I’m not saying this group is morally unimpeachable--that’s a ridiculous straw man--but so much of this feels like it’s directed at enemies, not friends. It feels like no matter what you say or do, you’re being treated as a problem, a threat, an opportunist cynically feigning compassion for personal gratification.
That’s a crappy foundation for a “friendship.”
I don’t think this sort of attitude “turns people racist”. That’s absurd and comic book-y. But it does dampen your enthusiasm and willingness to go out of your way to get involved. It isn’t as if they’ll abruptly stop caring about George Floyd or BLM. But they will start thinking “I’ve got my own shit to worry about” and be less likely to go out of their way to say or do anything. They’ll just subtly, subconsciously shift their priorities until the issue, which never directly involved them in the first place, fades into the background.
Frankly, I is that I don’t need anyone’s permission to hate racism. I don’t need to have a convoluted subconscious personal agenda to deeply despise something so stupid, pointless, and cruel.
I don’t want to get in the way of the people who fight it and if given the chance, I would like to help. But every time I see an essay berating me for not being able to teleport inside a black person’s mind and finish the their sentences for them, part of me just sighs, thinks “I’ll finish reading that later,” and opens YouTube for the 37th time that day.
(Edited to recklessly swap between second and third-person pronouns)