When they just don’t get it, eggs must be broken

August 30, 2022

racial-epithet

If you are looking for a definition of tone deaf, or an example of missing the point, here you go:

The other day a social media friend posted that she didn’t think the N-word was such a big deal.

Now, let’s start with the fact that she is white. So of course it is not a big deal.

To her.

She went on to say it seemed to be the only racial epithet that is forbidden.

Of course, she didn’t remember the W word for Italians, the K word for Jews, the W word for Mexicans, the C word for Asians….I won’t go on. These are all considered unacceptable. Every racial epithet is unacceptable.

She made the point that if she were Black, which she isn’t, she would rather have white cops screened for membership in white supremacist groups–what she calls ‘real change’ — than have her street renamed for a significant person in Black history. And that she would rather real estate redlining be abolished so Black people could buy homes in all neighborhoods than make a big deal about the racial epithet, which does nothing to make people feel comfortable taking a walk on a beautiful day.

Did that one confuse you? Yeah, well, that’s because it’s not an either/or situation. All these things are important: streets named to honor accomplished people hidden from white history, ridiculous, racist real estate laws, AND the way society frowns on use of the N-word. Also screening of law enforcement officers for participation in white supremacist groups. ALL of it supports a less racist society. All are necessary. And more.

Oh and still, people of color are not going to feel comfortable taking a walk on a beautiful day. Fact.

Notice I didn’t say non-racist society. That’s because I’m listening to my black friends, who are teaching me that, at least in the view of some of them, nothing much has changed over the years. That’s because of institutional racism, something we have been unable to legislate out of existence. I get that. Intellectually. Because I’m white– I have no personal experience of it.

One black girlfriend said to me, “You know, you’re old enough to think things have changed, but they haven’t. Nothing has changed for us.”

It stopped white-girl me in my tracks because after I considered it, I could see how she would feel that way. The former guy in the oval turned over the rock so we could see what was always there. Some of us, especially white folk, didn’t notice it was always there. We felt civil rights laws and affirmative action were doing their job.

But once the rock got turned over, we had no choice but to see the vermin crawling out, now in full view. Hard to deny.

My black girlfriend says she is exhausted from having fought the battle her whole life. And she has sons. I can’t even imagine.

I can’t imagine

Those words are important: I can’t imagine.

Because we can’t. If we are not of color, we can not imagine. Not in our scariest dreams.

That’s where this white social media friend missed the mark. She thought she had the basis for an opinion on the N word.

Well, anyone can have an opinion. But we should strive for an educated opinion. To opine on something we have experience in. Not being Black, she had no real basis for her opinion. She’d have been better off listening. We don’t do enough of THAT.

Most of her social media friends called her out on it. Some called her racist. I explained some of what I’ve written here and when she still didn’t get it, suggested she wasn’t really listening.

As allies, I think it’s important we not call names but try to educate. It might be futile, but it might not. It might actually give someone an aha! moment. I, myself, have had that kind of moment on this topic more than once, so I know it’s possible.

When we see it, we have an obligation to call it out.

I heard a story about a social event at which people at one table felt very free to sling the N word around. Someone at that table walked away, saying to friends later that they left because they could not hear that word another time.

That white person lost an opportunity to say how inappropriate that language was. They didn’t have to cause a big scene at a party. But they could’ve said, “Oh no, we don’t talk like that,” before walking away. or “I don’t listen to that kind of language.” or “That word is highly offensive.” or “I’m shocked you would use that term.” And then walked away.

Instead, they just left the scene. Silently, but seething inside.

How many times have we done that?

But we can’t afford to leave the scene. Not if we want a better society.

Yeah, I know. Not everyone wants to risk creating controversy. White fragility is real. And every time I post an opinion piece like this I lose a few blog followers.

And yet, who am I if I do not stand up for what I believe in?

Sometimes, we just have to be willing to break some eggs.

13 comments on “When they just don’t get it, eggs must be broken
  1. adela says:

    Oh, Carol, I love how you write about this issue. I first learned about “THE TALK” from a blogger. I had no idea. At first, I thought it was just certain areas of the country. Now I know better. It’s difficult to be open to knowing what you don’t know, because like you said, “I can’t imagine” what is so far outside my experience.

    Listening is an important step. On both sides. Trying to understand what people are afraid of is important, too. It’s not always about being racist. Sometimes it’s just about being afraid of change.

    • Well, it’s that, yes, but the result is racist. It’s hard to hear that word and especially to see our own behavior or that of those we love in those terms, but fear IS a reason for racism– and if we don’t call the term out, if we don’t call the behavior what it is, then we’ll never end it. And of course, it will never be completely eradicated. But it should be. And there is way too much of it.

  2. Lynda Beth Unkeless says:

    Thank you for writing this, Carol.

  3. Laurie Stone says:

    So disturbing, how prevalent this casual racism is. I couldn’t stay at a gathering where the n-word was bandied around, and would probably say, “I don’t like that word.” What they do with that reaction is up to them.

  4. This will only get worse in the future if we write slavery out of school history book because it will make the white students “feel bad.”

  5. Diane says:

    Excellent article, Carol!
    I cringe to think that there are things I’ve said or done that are offensive. Fortunately, I have a daughter who points them out. Because, sad to say, I need them pointed out. This is NOT an excuse but I was raised in mostly-white Southern Alberta in the ’60s. And so many of those attitudes were part of the landscape. Like the old terms for licorice infants. Or Brazil nuts. All one has to do is think about it to realize just how offensive those terms are. Of COURSE they are! Then I feel so stupid for having to have it pointed out. I’m a work in progress. But I definitely AM working!

    • Diane, I have so many of those same thoughts about the past. Even the relatively recent past. All we can do is try. Just work at it. Work at learning and understanding best we can.

  6. This whole critical race theory argument makes me sick. It’s like we’ve gone back in time. I know it has always been there but as you mentioned, the previous “joker in chief” exposed it for all to see.

  7. Meryl says:

    It is so true that our generation – us older folks – didn’t realize how pervasive racism was/is and didn’t understand, or even think about, institutional racism. Now we know and it is our responsibility to work at making our society better. Great piece.

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