Yesterday, I woke up to the following message in my Instagram inbox:
“…just in case you’re one of those people who thinks all whites are demons then I’m here to tell you that you are wrong. I have busted my ass, got my ass beat, and beat ass for my black friends from all the racist MOTHAFUCKAS out there. I been jumped cause I’m white and I have jumped white people for being racist towards my friends… I’ve come too damn far defending my people to hear other people say all white people are “N hating white trash.” So next time you say all white people are trash think of me mothafucka, cause if you was getting jumped by a racist then I would be the one to help you.”
Now, I definitely wasn’t prepared for this much so early in the morning, but I didn’t really have a choice. The kid who sent it looks pretty young and as I scrolled through his feed, I felt compelled to respond. However, I chose my response very carefully. Instead of responding with aggression, I chose to wish him a good morning and ask him where/when he felt that I was calling white people trash. The rest of this piece is a thank you note to the young man with whom I had this conversation.
You sent me a message yesterday morning that provided me with some interesting post-alarm reading material. When we started the conversation, I had no idea where it would go or how it would go, but I wanted to send you this note to give you a window into what your words did for me.
After the first message you sent me, you followed up with this:
“You sure do point a lot of fingers. Actions speak louder than words and if you throw shade at white people, it’s just as bad as me throwing shade at black people. If you find that incorrect you just as racist as my trashy ancestors.”
I could tell you were still pretty angry, but there was something about this response that made me want to keep you engaged. There was something about this response that made me feel like I was missing something. So, I decided to press the conversation a little further.
Me: “I’m wondering, have you read my blog or are you just making this up right now? Pointing out racism and the ways in which white people are complicit is not an act of racism. You seem young, but it’s important that you learn that. Your whiteness is not the problem. It’s what you do with it that matters. Your privilege is not an indictment of your decency, but what you do with it is. If there’s one thing in this moment that I hope you learn, it’s that.”
You: “I’m sorry. Every time I see one of these accounts it shatters me. That’s me being honest. The white community owes so much to the black community and we still fucking shit up.”
This was the moment in this conversation where I realized we were going to have a breakthrough. When I say we, I mean it. I could tell we were both going to learn something here and I felt myself lean in. Here you are, this kid who knows nothing about me and started a conversation mad as hell, and you just allowed yourself to be vulnerable and honest with me. You shared with me how much pain and guilt you feel. You told me you felt shattered. And with that word, you shattered any defensiveness I had left. More often than not, conversations like these go awry. But in this moment, I found myself wondering, how often is that my fault? How often do I just jump to the defensive and assume the worst without really taking a moment to explore what’s actually going on? Probably A LOT. But on this day, you challenged me to engage. You took a risk and opened up to me. And I am thankful to you for that. It made it so the rest of this could happen:
Me: “I really appreciate your honesty. And I mean that. You seem, based on this small interaction, like a person with the potential to be a great support to communities of color in their quest for equality. It’s a challenge not to feel defensive. Believe me, I am married to an incredible white man and he still struggles with that… It’s the hardest piece. But once you get past that and see that no one is demonizing you because of your race, it gets easier. We are all just challenging you to use your whiteness and your privilege to stand against oppression rather than perpetuate it. And it sounds like you really want to do that.”
You: “I do.”
Me: “:) that makes me happy. And if you ever need to chat or bounce ideas, reach out. It’s not easy to be what others try and shame as SJWs, but it is worthy.”
You: “The government is alright with this, ya know? If they really wanted to stop hate for each other, they could. I feel like it’s easier for them to control us if we are divided. This whole world’s pretty messed up. A lot of rich people not caring for those with nothing. A lot of people hateful towards each other because of a religion or skin color. If we would care for each other instead of pulling others down to life ourselves up then this world would live in harmony.”
Me: “I agree. And it seems like you really get it! I know you want to do the work. Just try not to be so defensive :). It’s super hard, but it’s important. We have to talk about this stuff and face it head on, you know? Only way to get past it.”
You: “Yea. Thank you for helping to explain stuff to me instead of getting mad back. You for real practice what you preach. I don’t see that a lot anymore.”
Me: “Thank you for saying that! You are absolutely welcome. I am happy to chat whenever.”
You: “Yea me too! Have a good day!”
Andy, this is why I do what I do. I can’t tell you how warm my heart is today. I can’t tell you how much hope this conversation gave me. I have no idea if you know how much this all meant to me at the time, but it was honestly the most validating and valuable conversation of its kind that I have had since I started this blog. I have gotten so much pushback about the way I have chosen to use my voice, but this is exactly why I do it. Conversations like the one you and I had this morning are why I do it. As much as you said I helped you, you helped me. You have challenged me to approach each interaction with the understanding that it is a learning experience. Each interaction has the potential to encourage growth and change. Each interaction has the potential to be positive and uplifting, even if it doesn’t start that way. If not for your message this morning, I honestly wouldn’t have realized how many similar opportunities for teaching/learning I might have squandered because I couldn’t see through the rage and the defensiveness we are all harboring. And so, I am grateful to you. As far as I can see, you have joined our ranks. We are at least one stronger today than we were yesterday and I feel pretty damn good about that. I hope you do, too.
All my best,