Racism and the Internet

I’m involved in an online community that is much less interesting and supportive than you guys. For the past few days it has been blowing up over racism. I’ve learned a lot from the discussions, even from the completely tone deaf and the outright hostile statements.

One person said that white people needed to take the responsibility to research racism and white privilege and the way it affects everything up to and including liberal and creative spaces. She said that, as a person of color, she was tired of explaining the often painful way institutional racism affected her life.

But, another person jumped in, I am a white woman really interested in learning about racism. Could you explain it to me?

Someone else mentioned that if white women stepped up and called out racism more, and pointed out examples of white privilege, then people of color wouldn’t have to keep doing it.

But I am scared of posting, a woman said. I’m afraid you are going to jump all over me.

Speaking out is scary, someone said.

Yes, but I’m feeling oppressed, the same woman said. I’m a white person and I’m afraid you’re going to jump all over me.

We’re not here to assuage your fears, someone said.

I don’t feel welcome here. That is exactly what I was talking about, the white woman said. You have shut me down.

That was when I really viscerally sensed how privilege is about “me.” There were numerous instances of people saying No, not me! I am not like that. No, let me prove to you why I am not like that! They were practically jumping up and down waving their arms. You, shh, be quiet and listen. This is not about you. This is not about how you think you aren’t racist because you don’t march in white sheets.

But also speak up. The online forum is ostensibly about writing. It’s like my first (second and third) writing workshop. I didn’t think I had anything valuable to say. I felt like everyone said what I wanted to say, only better. But talking in a workshop, taking that scary step to articulate exactly why something works or doesn’t work was amazingly helpful to my own thinking process. I’d look at an ending maybe and feel that is wrong, but I let someone else do the thinking about what exactly about it was wrong.

When I started doing my own thinking and articulating, I became a more thoughtful writer and critic. As an averagely thoughtful white woman, I find it hard to talk about race and racism. But I know when something gives me a bad feeling, like the tone of some of the discussion, and now it’s time to think about why and to see whether I can articulate it.

What are you thinking about this week?

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3 responses to “Racism and the Internet

  1. Regarding the discussion at hand, all I know is that I know nothing.
    I’m a northern white girl who lived in Jo’burg South Africa over forty years ago. I won’t even go into what I saw there, or felt or experienced but it gives me no greater insight into the racist norms of today, then those of over a century ago.
    I am so appalled by what I see in the news now, (around the world and at home) – man’s inhumanity to man has me waiting for the next great flood to wash the earth clean.
    Boys and girls, this time we will need a bigger boat.

  2. What I’m thinking about: I attended public school in an area where I was in the minority in most of my classes, and I remember the feeling I had in elementary school when I asked a friend something or maybe for something—I don’t recall what—and she answered, “No.”

    And I said, “Why not?”

    She said, “Because you’re white.”

    I had no idea what she was talking about. I was wearing my favorite blue shirt. So she put our arms together. “I’m black. You’re white.”

    “So what?” I asked.

    She shrugged. “We aren’t the same.”

    I have no conclusions or insights or anything. But that’s what I’m thinking about right now.

  3. Yeah, I don’t know. My son and I had a conversation recently about being vegan and I mentioned how I don’t like the self-righteousness that goes along with it. The message gets so shrill. My son was kind of offended because he’s one of those who feels passionately against the evils of factory farming and pollution and he’ll say so to anyone who stands still long enough to listen. But my feeling is that you can be right about an issue and still present an ineffective argument. I asked him whether he wants to make a change or just be righteous, because those two goals require different strategies.

    Anyway. This has nothing to do with racism. It’s just what I’m thinking about today.

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