I’m challenging fellow people of color to call out white fragility.
Why is the bar set so low when it comes to white accountability?
This week, in another example of “white wokeness,” a white woman started fundraising for her nonprofit. Her goal was to promote unity, equity, and start conversations about differences.
Seems legit, right? Wait for it …
Her grand idea was selling “I Love Your Melanin” t-shirts, then donating the money to a charity of the buyer’s choosing.
I don’t know about you, but I love, love, love it when random white people tell me how much they love parts of my body. That is not objectifying in any way. I cannot wait until I’m walking down the street and some random white person puffs out their chest at me — not to show dominance or superiority like they normally do — but to show solidarity with my melanin situation. Now that’s what I call progress.
I’m honestly wondering, who co-opts a positive movement and turns it into a gimmick? Oh wait, white people do.
Seriously, how did this go down? Because it seems like this woman just happened upon some black people talking about how beautiful their melanin-filled skin is, cheering themselves on, building each other up, and thought: “Wow, I can totally capitalize on this, but in like…the good kind of way.” And it seems that must have been immediately followed by “We all must never forget that white people have melanin too! Praise the power of unity!” *high fives all around*
When people of color took to social media to criticize this campaign, it ended how it always ends when dealing with self-described allies — with people, including other PoC, defending the white woman as “well-intentioned,” and shaming those who challenged her. This nice white woman, we were told, was being personally attacked and threatened by mean, angry black folk, and it just wasn’t right.
White people, you see, have this thing called good intentions. And we’re told these intentions — which only white people have, while people of color just have suspicious behavior and sassiness—trump impact, everyday.
It’s like we — the too-angry, bitter, never-going-to-be productive PoC — get so caught up in fighting for liberation that we totally forget white people will literally die if we don’t constantly reassure them that they’re good people.
Who cares if we’re abused and killed by the system. Who cares if our societal worth is based on the color of our skin. Who cares if loving our melanin is a radical response to Eurocentric beauty standards. We can’t criticize a campaign like this, because any criticism of a white woman’s actions equals personal attacks, threats, abuse, and vilification.
The reality is, before the first word was even uttered about this project, white savior status and victimhood were claimed. The woman ended the campaign not because she recognized she’s way out of her lane but because she, somehow, was the victim. (I’ll take fragility for 500, Alex!)
She could’ve just admitted she fucked up and apologized — no excuses or justifications. She could’ve used what she learned to be a better person, then gone forth into this shitty world to make a difference.
But she didn’t. And she didn’t in part because she wasn’t held accountable.
Which leads me to where I’m going with all this: What the actual fuck, friends of color? Where were you when she came up with this bullshit? Yes, you. The ones who willfully defend good intention regardless of the harmful impact. The ones who happily participate in and bolster campaigns like this.
This isn’t only about white fragility — it’s also about all the PoC who enable white fragility.
Below is a letter I wrote just for you. Don’t worry: I sealed it with a kiss just to make it clear that I’m not threatening you. Despite what you’ve been told, assertiveness, unapologetic realness, and blackness aren’t bad things…and they sure as hell ain’t divisive.
We are already divided — the only way to bridge these gaps are to be honest, real, and unlearn the shit society taught us.
Dear Valiant Defenders of White Honor,
This is gonna be hard to read. Just realize that while you’re reading this, I’m calling you in, not out. Our liberation depends on you being in — and not peddling white supremacy.
You’re a PoC like me, and many others, and we all live in a giant racist ass society. So, tell me: Does it bother you when white people objectify, fetishize, and exoticize you? Yes? No? Maybe so? Shit. Stop lying. Maybe so ain’t an answer.
It bothers you. It bothers us. No matter how many good-intentioned white folks we surround ourselves with, those good intentions don’t protect us from their racism.
Why do you condone white people harming other PoC? Why do you defend their nonsense? The truth is, for every aggression perpetrated against us, there are five excuses and five justifications ready and waiting. We hear it time after time: “he’s one of the good ones…he doesn’t burn crosses in my yard.” “I don’t know about you but she’s one of the only white people who doesn’t hate me because of the color of my skin.” We, so freely, give white people cookies for not setting our lawns on fire.
We can’t keep doing this. We can’t keep being grateful that they aren’t killing us at this exact moment. Do y’all hear me? Stop giving cookies to white people for being semi-decent human beings.
Raise the goddamn bar.
The worse part is, we give the most cookies to the very people we should be holding to the highest standard: our white friends. Do you know why you don’t call them out? It’s because you, just like me and every other PoC, has been conditioned not to. When we do, we compromise our relationships, mental health, livelihood. When we share our experiences, our truth, we risk losing the limited safety we managed to secure for ourselves in this oppressive society. It’s no secret. The system is built this way. There’s no holding white people accountable without us suffering. Either we fight and push forward or we comply with white supremacy and accept the status quo. Honestly, is this really the world you want to live in?
No, it isn’t and you know it isn’t.
In our society, white people avoid responsibility for their racism. PoC risk way more by calling them out than white people will ever risk by acknowledging, apologizing for, and changing their behavior. We rationalize their racism just to make it through the day, just to have “productive conversations.” Just to survive.
But the last thing any of us should be doing is forcing their racism down our own or each other’s throat. It doesn’t matter how good of an intention a white ally has. Being a semi-decent human being is not a qualifier for immediate respect or forgiveness. You don’t have to let it be just because their feelings are hurt. Their feelings, time, and energy are not more important than your safety or right to exist. They sure as hell ain’t more important than mine.
People fuck up; what matters here is holding those who fuck up accountable. It’s not an attack to criticize someone’s shitty behavior. Most people are capable of learning and growing. Why do you expect so much from PoC you don’t even know, but not nearly as much from your white friends? Is it because it’s easier to place the burden on yourself, on other PoC, than it is to deal with white fragility?
You don’t have to be the perfect minority. Seriously, you can react to racism. You can feel anger. It doesn’t make you any less of a human being to be angry. You aren’t a trope, no matter how hard they try to make you out to be one. Why do you expect other PoC to let it slide, to just let it go?
As if there’s no such thing as righteous anger. As if any reaction other than straight up coddling and praising white people is bad.
Our white friends invade our space, co-opt our language, appropriate our culture, violate our existence, and we don’t call them out because we know what we’re risking when we do.
We know the power is never truly in our favor, even when it rightfully should be. This isn’t just about you. This is about all of us. We’ve all been conditioned to give white people the benefit of the doubt while subsequently throwing ourselves under the bus. We must fight for true liberation, not some whitewashed concept of equality. Our freedom won’t come from a crackerjack box full of pleasantries, hugs, and hand holding.
I’m constantly reminding myself to raise the bar, to surround myself with white people who value my humanity, who don’t judge my existence on how nice I am to them. White people in my circle aren’t there because of their good intentions, they’re there because their actions back up them up, because I let them stay there. I can’t make all white people acknowledge, understand, and actively fight racism, but I can hold my friends accountable. It’s tough and it hurts. It’s raw and brutal. It’s tedious and repetitive. But as they’re unlearning and relearning, as they’re becoming and being better human beings, allies, and friends, the space I secured in this world is growing. A space where you’re welcomed in, loved, respected, and valued. A space where you matter, your life matters. A space where you don’t have to hide who you are, where you can be real and feel without bullshit expectations and repercussions holding you back.
It’s come down the basic truth that a real ally, a real friend, will be there and support you, will fight for you and will fight by your side, regardless if you’re nice to them or not. They will do the work because your life matters, because you matter. If you can’t be real with the white friends, then what’s the fucking point?
Oh, and we also aren’t exempt from being shitty toward each other just because we’re PoC.
If you want progress, start where you’ve laid your roots. Stop tone policing other PoC. Stop placing hurt feelings over actual harm. Start by holding white people in your life accountable. Start by holding yourself accountable to other PoC.
Raise the goddamn bar.
A productive and angry black woman
Apple Roselle is a contributor to The Establishment.
This originally appeared on The Establishment. Republished here with permission.