I grew up in a family with liberal viewpoints. As a child I had a basic, uninformed understanding of politics: Republicans are racist and influenced policies that benefited the wealthy, and kept the poor stagnant; Democrats are not racist, they are progressive human rights influencers that create social and economic opportunities that are accessible for everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
Today my understanding has grown to be more informed. Look at Hillary Clinton, your favorite liberal, who referred to Black youth as “super predators without empathy.” Her husband, former president Bill Clinton signed the 1994 crime law which fueled mass incarcerations that disproportionately impacted Black and Latinx Americans and the poor. Hillary Clinton also said in a 2016 interview that she “carries hot sauce in her bag,” to relate to her Black audience. She even asked “if it was working,” after laughing off this comment. Now we know this woman does not carry hot sauce in her bag, nor do you get an award for attempting to relate with our people. These are the sort of politicians that so called progressives support and follow. Since leaving Michigan to pursue my career, I have live and worked in primarily white, liberal, communities and, overtime, I have experienced that they, too, are incredibly disconnected from people of color. This is for those who believe that they do good (and who make it a point to distance themselves from what is perceived as bad): also known as white progressives and liberals.
According to Oxford Dictionaries, gentrification is the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste; the process of making a person or activity more refined or polite. White liberals claim to be without prejudice, yet they live and thrive in communities separate from communities of color. They jog, walk their children, and bike in neighborhoods that they once would not have dared inhabited — let alone visit — 5-10 years ago. Sure, they are not blatantly racist and are convinced that they are “woke,” yet they would not dare live comfortably in Black and Brown neighborhoods. The biggest roadblock many white liberals face right now in fighting discrimination in their proverbial bubbles is that they comfortably exist with others just like them. These nice racist will move to historically Black and Brown communities and change what used to be known as the “East side” to some bullsh*t like “The Heights District.” They have no connection with the population that historically owned homes and businesses in the area prior to being forced to sell their homes and move out because the new Whole Foods on the block has increased the property value and they can no longer afford to remain in the communities that generations of their families once occupied. Could this be you?
2. They Have No Black/Brown Friends
White liberals are for equal rights and fair justice. For example, they hold “Black Lives Matter” signs in protest and then toss it in the trash before going to ski with their non-diverse groups of friends for the weekend. They major in Ethnic studies and join Teach for America because they want to “save” or “fix” the broken Black child, yet they have no friends of color — more specifically Black friends. No the token African boy adopted by your white neighbors that you played with growing up does not count. They love Beyonce’s new single, they think Rihanna is hip, and they cheer predominantly Black NFL/college alum football teams on each weekend, yet they have no real life connections with Black people in their personal spaces.Your actions mean very little if they aren’t following up with consistent actions in your everyday life! Could this be you?
3. Isolating Your Minority Co-Workers
I had worked as a college counselor in a majority Black and Latinx inner city school for years with a predominantly white faculty and staff. The white teachers would outwardly portray themselves as being “woke” because they took an ethnic studies class, read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, or purchased a Black Student Alliance t-shirt. Despite their outward ally appearance, they would isolate me consistently regardless of my initiatives to bridge stronger connections with them to better support our students. This was interesting because the students related strongly to me, they came in droves to my guidance center for support, and I was a direct influencer in the college enrollment increase among Black and Latino students at this school. I began spending time with a Black teaching assistant who also shared how “fake friendly” the white teachers were towards her. When we met it was like a sign of relief to know we did not have to endure alone. It is unfortunate because Black students are more successful when they have Black educators, but in this case my new teacher friend had been so discouraged by her experience she decided not to pursue a permanent employment opportunity with the school. She would talk about how unsupportive and isolating her experience had been and would often come to my room for lunch to vent with a fellow sista. It was relieving to know that I was not pulling the race card as it was confirmed by another Black peer that the microaggressions and exclusion of us were indeed happening. Prior to this revelation, I was grinning and bearing micro and macro aggressions and calling them a coincidence in order to avoid playing the “overused race card.” Many minorities have that “Lone Ranger” feeling on the job. My issue was that these people claimed to be conscious, to be well educated on the Black experience yet were hesitant about forging genuine connections with their equally educated and dedicated minority peers. Could this be you?
4. Complimenting Black people on aesthetics and athleticism
Many progressives do not realize how deeply connected those superficial compliments are to racism. There was a time when white people and FAULTY science believed that Black people were better athletes because of extra tendons. Ignorant thought processes like this continue to this day among progressives. I once had a student refer to a larger framed Black male as a waste of talent because he did not play football and with “those genetics” he would be a “killer.” I was in such a state of disbelief that I could not gather my emotions in time to ask why he felt this young man’s genetics were made for football? This speaks volumes to the ignorant culture pervading liberalism. Other things White people should stop saying to Black and brown people: “You are so articulate”, “Can you teach me how to twerk?”, “My hair is so nappy”, “Your hair is so unique,” “Is that your real hair?”, “My ancestors immigrated here after slavery so I should not be held accountable for slavery” “I’m not racist because …” “Did you see 12 Years a Slave?” “Can you explain white privilege to me?” Comparing the plight of Black people to the plight of the LGBTQ community, Jews, women, or any other group of oppressed people’s. While I validate these struggles they are not entirely intersectional when addressing the needs of the Black community. Could this be you?
You may refuse to accept the existence of structural racism and its results, but I will not engage with the emotional disconnect that you may be tempted to display by reading my (a Black woman ) experience. Maybe you never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white. Do not become defensive. It is not a single person of color’s job to prioritize your feelings. However, I encourage you to not allow these words to hit a barrier of denial otherwise you won’t get any further, but to take them as the perspective from an oppressed people. If you seek to make a person of color feel like a true equal, then fear not embracement. I cannot have a conversation with you about the details of this problem if you do not even recognize that the problem exists. To the white person who might be willing to entertain the possibility of said racism, but thinks we enter this conversation as equals. We do not. I understand it may feel strange or uncomfortable given you have always had permission to speak and feel indignant, but finally you have been tasked with just listening. Could this be you?
Written by Daylisha Reid, who is currently living in Northern Thailand serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Prior to that she spent many years working in under-resourced public schools, has recently began writing and considers herself a womanist.