At the end of an older post about perceptions of blackness, race & internalised racism, I sort of made this declaration in my comment response to Alexis, about being brave and a commitment to calling people out on problematic (& racist) bull-crap. Between then and now, I’ve been realising more and more, that it takes hard work. More than that, you have to really want to work at it. To put the theories into action—to live them (to use a women’s-studies-in-academia notion, if you will)—to embody what you say, by living and breathing the words, opinions and view-points that you write, takes extra hard work.
You have to want to work at it. More often than not, recently, I reckon this is easier for me to put into practice in writing, where I can blast back in words underneath effed-up facebook links and statuses, or blog comments and posts, trying to wrestle with some folks’ problematic world-views and deeply rooted racist ideas. More so, than in real life. I sometimes like to imagine myself in kinship with those folks tirelessly championing paradigm shifts and whatnot inside the blogosphere, some of whom have been doing it too, for an incredibly long time. All those people writing posts and calling people out on shit, in bylines, or even comments—there inside that post pertaining to race & racism over here, or that thread dealing with white female privilege over there, or the problems with mainstream feminism et al.—making folks unapologetically uncomfortable in the process. This too, takes work and a commitment to doing so.
Meantime, out in the world, my resolve oftentimes falls flat—where I imagine others don’t (or don’t as badly). My spine—or where there was one—wavers, cracks, then crumbles. Between the casual chuckle and the absence of self-consciousness around some kaka hole espousing some problematic, racist toots, carefully avoiding my [black person’s]eye, I shirk away. Because I feel invisible to him—both there and not there—it is easier for me to slip away. I quietly dig into my rice and beans. I wonder why my friend, who is also here, isn’t seemingly bothered. I go to some place inside of my head. I don’t say anything.
And you surely need a spine to counteract it. To engage with racist words and notions, zaps precious psychological strength. Well, at least for me. And I’m not sure that I always want to give it up, though I
feel know I should. When you don’t say anything—you give people a pass. When you don’t say anything AND you’re black and they’ve specifically addressed black people (as a lumpen monolith), you’re giving them a pass and complicit legitimacy. (Though it’s already way legit inside the heads of the people who say such things).
In addition to a spine that doesn’t collapse on you, you’d probably have to be at least a little bit brave too. You risk being a killjoy and judging others by unfairly harsh standards because of the company they keep. You risk thrusting a friend into an uncomfortable discussion. You risk your own discomfort. That funny, squelchy feeling in your gut. Elevated heart rate. Fury. Indignation. Pain. And anything in and around those spaces. But when you don’t engage in any of that, when you’re not even willing to discommode yourself—or the damn piece of burrito on your tongue, to do so—I truly have to wonder about myself.
Today, I was not brave.
Tomorrow, and the day after that and the days after those—I hope that I will be.