I’m going to try to keep this short.
Last night, after reading through my Twitter timeline and seeing one more white woman using her feminism to silence, ridicule, and harass Black women, I posted the following:
White people, sometimes (and a lot more often than we’re willing to admit), we need to just shut the fuck up. Seriously. Just stop.
I was asked to elaborate on what I meant by this statement, and agreed to come back to it this morning. So, here I am, trying to figure out how to address this without additionally co-opting space which isn’t mine to inhabit.
Here’s the thing. Whether we like it or not, whether we’re even conscious of it, as white people, we take up a lot of space in the world. I’ll go even further to say that we take up as much space in the world as we can get our hands on, and sometimes still don’t feel like it’s enough. Our narratives are the default, prescriptive, the “right” way to do things. This is individual, and it’s systemic.
I’m trying to be careful to recognize the space I take up, to listen more than I speak. I’m not perfect at it, and I appreciate when others take time to call me out (though I also don’t expect other people to actively teach me to to be a more thoughtful considerate person – nobody owes me their knowledge). I also feel some responsibility in addressing the space we collectively take up, because this isn’t just about me, or any other one white person. It’s about how 2/3 of the students in my school district are children of colour, and 2/3 of their teachers are white. It’s about how family structure and kinship care doesn’t always reflect the standards reinforced by white-dominated structures (even when those families who deviate from the accepted norm may also be white). It’s about how while this isn’t the Oppression Olympics, the impact of settler colonialism and trans-Atlantic enslavement do mean that our world (and our people) continue to assume that some people are more human than others.
When I say that white people need to stop talking, need to shut up and listen, I do mean all of us. And I hope that when other white people read me saying it, they understand that this isn’t about individual people and their individual acts and behaviours. This is about acknowledging that no matter what our conscious understanding, no matter how we frame ourselves as accepting, anti-racist people, we have systemic skin-colour advantage that validates our stories over all others. EVEN when we’re women. EVEN when we’re poor. EVEN when we’re queer, or trans, or disabled, or all of the above. ALL of us need to shut the fuck up and listen. I stand by that statement, and this sadly won’t be the last time I’ll find the need to say it.
This is already a lot longer than I’d hoped it would be. I hope it provides some clarity.