News 21 August 2017
In the Golden Age of Wokeness, I thought I was doing pretty well for a white girl from Wisconsin.
For as long as I can remember, I have actively sought out friendships with people different from me. I chose college courses that provided me a lexicon to adequately discuss race, intersectionality and bias. I know what a “microaggression” is. I have often checked friends and family members when oblivious, insensitive or privileged comments were made. I know to look for toys and books with black representation when buying gifts for my best friend’s kids. In any interracial relationship I have been in, I have known enough to address the fact that his mom, sister or girl friends may have an issue with me because I’m white. I very much understand why black people do not want you to touch their hair.
Then, on Saturday afternoon, my iPhone was flooded with push notifications from news outlets reporting on white supremacist rallies, states of emergency and people getting run over by cars. As I read each article and watched Facebook Live videos, an all too familiar rush of emotions and initial reactions began to overwhelm me:
“I can’t believe this is happening.”
“This is Trump’s fault.”
“Who are these people and how can this exist in 2017?”
“What can I do? I feel helpless.”
With each new article or social media post, I witnessed the same kind of reactions and questions from other white people. I also witnessed people of color, once again, crying out:
“This. Is. Not. New. Or. Surprising.”
I had a flashback to watching the viral Election Night SNL skit — where all the white people at the party have break downs because they just can’t believe so many other white people voted for Trump all the while Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock sit there wondering why everyone’s so surprised.
I was one of those white people on election night.
I was one of the liberal bubble people who was so shocked and cried because I just couldn’t believe that many people in our country, that many white women in our country, could dismiss racism and sexism as a logical reason not to vote for Trump. Clearly, I haven’t learned much since then because I am still having the same surprised/not-so-woke reaction almost a year later. So, it’s time to come to terms with the fact that I am, indeed, a Well Meaning White Person.
What is a Well Meaning White Person?
The term, “Well Meaning White People”, also known as “good white people”, is a way of describing well intentioned white folks who almost “get it”. They often identify as democratic or, at least, “socially” liberal.
Well Meaning White People are genuinely disgusted by overt racism and white supremacists.
Well Meaning White People usually consider themselves “allies”. They retweet, repost and use hashtags like #thisisnotus or #notallwhitepeople to try to demonstrate that they are on the right side and stand against racism.
Well Meaning White People are usually very concerned with avoiding the label “racist”, as if it’s a box that is either checked or not checked, instead of a continuum.
Well Meaning White People often believe that because they have loved ones who are people of color (PoC) they can’t be racist.
Well Meaning White People don’t always recognize or seek to understand the symptoms of subtle or silent racism.
Well Meaning White People sometimes think that they can’t offend a PoC if they weren’t trying to be offensive. They tend to believe that intent should matter more than outcome.
Well Meaning White People are all around us. While not derogatory, it is a patronizing term and it’s meant to be. It’s meant to describe the people who almost get it and say they really want to get it, but still don’t. Whenever I have heard it, I’ve known what it insinuated, but up until this weekend, I just didn’t recognize myself inside of it.
I have earned that description because I moved into a brand new high rise in a quickly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, despite being well aware of the harms of gentrification.
I am a Well Meaning White Woman every time I list my two best friends’ demographic profiles, as a black woman and a gay man, to gain credibility of my knowledge of marginalized communities.
Like so many others, my default Well Meaning reaction to Charlottesville is that I live in a liberal educated echo chamber, and that these “real” racial issues exist in other places and outside of my immediate sphere of influence (because, obviously, I am predominantly surrounded by well meaning white people.)
I am a Well Meaning White Person because I pick my battles when confronting microaggressions. I get to choose whether I call out someone else’s privilege or let it go and be “chill”. I get to manicure my online presence to be socially conscious enough to show I care but not too in your face so that people don’t unfollow me for politicizing everything. I get to do this because my identity and existence isn’t the one being questioned, stereotyped or threatened. I get to do this because my survival isn’t wrapped up in it, just my morality.
But most importantly, I am a Well Meaning White Person because, despite never knowingly oppressing anyone, I benefit from a system that has been set up to favor me and I don’t talk about that enough. I am a Well Meaning White Person because I understand my privilege but I don’t use my privilege to condemn the system that has propped me up and kept me safe.
It’s so easy to say that racism is now just showing its face in the age of Trump. That he is the match that lit the fire. But to believe that, is to admit you have not been paying attention and that it took getting hit over the head with Nazi Flags and a white woman dying to wake up to what people of color have been screaming at us for a long time.
While not a PoC, Nicholas Kristoff wrote an excellent seven part series for the NYTimes titled, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It” (This was written in 2014, by the way, way before a Trump presidency was even feasible):
“The greatest problem is not with flat-out white racists, but rather with the far larger number of Americans who believe intellectually in racial equality but are quietly oblivious to injustice around them. Too many whites unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes blacks… We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.”
I do believe that anyone who would attend, support or even feel apathetic towards a “Unite the Right” rally are the stark minority. Look around, it’s easy to be on the right side of what happened in Charlottesville. For God sakes, even Jeff Sessions condemned it. But, what are we, as Well Meaning White People, saying about de facto segregated schools in major cities? About how racism affects employment? How it manifests in dating apps? How courts are making decisions on whether or not dreadlocks are acceptable? Showing up at counter protests is one thing. Learning about day to day systematic racism is another.
So, back to that obnoxiously helpless question, what can I do?
As a Well Meaning White Girl, who doesn’t want to be on the sidelines — what can I do when the collective rage dissipates and my friends and I go back to posting pictures of our vacations, our scenic hikes and our avocado toasts instead of Martin Luther King quotes and viral Vice videos?
I can stay loud and get louder. I can continue to explain why reverse racism isn’t a thing. I can shed any concern of alienating people because I talk too much about unconscious bias and systematic oppression and, instead, talk about it more.
I can actively be educating myself about racism and not expecting people of color to teach me. I can arm myself with facts and arguments in order to cite them eloquently when necessary. I can take a diversity training course and learn how to approach hard but productive conversations. I can teach others what I learn.
I can take responsibility for our racist systems by acknowledging my privilege, using that privilege, and not shirking responsibility by saying #notallwhitepeople.
Finally, I can keep talking even though I have nothing new to say. Everything I have said here, I learned from a person of color who said it first (and who has probably said it hundred times). Conventional wisdom says most people need to hear something at least seven times before they get it. If it’s something they don’t want to hear, they need to hear it more than that.
And, sometimes, they also need to hear it from someone who looks like them.
What I can do, no matter how unoriginal, is keep talking to other Well Meaning White People about my own biases and shortcomings in order to create the space for them to talk about their own. I can start conversations that aren’t about shaming people for not being more aware but inciting their curiosity to heighten racial awareness. I can seek out and share research, data and historical references with people who may not seek that information out otherwise. I can participate, and maybe even lead, in a movement to take responsibility and change our community instead of trying to pretend I am morally above it because I am someone who “gets it”.
So, that’s what I am doing and I am looking for other Well Meaning White People to help. If anything here resonated with you, if you are interested in changing your community but don’t know where to start, if you know you should speak up more often but don’t know how or even if you disagree with me and want to talk about it, I’d love to hear from you.
By next month, the protest signs may be down and the media will most likely have moved on, but I will still be talking about this with Well Meaning White People. And I hope you will be too.
This post first appeared on Medium.
6 Min Read
Dating. Divorce. Marriage. Being single. None of it is easy.
I don't think any of us have the right answers or know exactly what we are doing when we navigate through relationships or breakups, even if we do take every Buzzfeed quiz there is out there. What I have found out though, is by writing this book, Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories about Dating, Divorce & Saying "I Do" most everyone can relate to some part of it, whether it is having an awkward date, being dumped, or falling in love. The short stories read as if we are talking over drinks at a bar gossiping about our love life. It's as if, you, reader, are one of my best friends. I hope by reading this book you are reminded that you don't have to be anybody but you and your mistakes are simply memories to learn upon. Get comfy, grab a glass of wine (or your beverage of choice), cuddle with your furry companion (pet or otherwise), and enjoy…
From the chapter "Kansas & The Firepit" from Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories about Divorce, Dating & Saying "I Do"
I had lost my dog to my ex. I was a mess. I thought this man was going to be by my side the rest of my life, I had gained a lot of weight. Not the kind of weight you gain when you tell your friend "OMG, Kelly, I, like, put on five pounds this summer because of all the partying I've been doing at the rooftop bars," but real weight. The weight that makes you feel totally inadequate. The weight that makes you say, Hey I might as well keep eating because it doesn't matter anymore. I was inconsolable during that summer.
I still wasn't completely out of my trash TV and alcohol phase, but I had switched to vodka, at least. Which, let's be real, just hides the fact that you're an alcoholic. I wasn't really talking to anyone about my problems. My mom tried to take me to fat camp. Yes, fat camp. When your mother says the reason why you're not happy is because you're fat, there comes a point where you really don't know whether to laugh, cry, or drink. I think I did all three. The reason why I wasn't happy was because I was going through a divorce, and my life was unraveling. I was not only unhappy but also fat, so I guess there was some truth to that. It was just what I needed to hear to get myself back to reality.
While cleaning the kitchen one day, I walked by a pair of boxing gloves. Boxing was something I had always been interested in. Watching it on TV and having some friends that had done it professionally, I figured I would take the plunge and put this "body after breakup" into motion.
There was only one boxing club in our area for fitness. I walked into the afternoon classes knowing that I was going to be a little out of my element, but I'm not afraid of a challenge. I'm an outgoing person and being sports savvy, I knew that I would catch on quickly. The guy teaching the class, Kansas, was very attractive. Ladies, you know how in yoga when you have to do the sun god pose? Well, let's just say he was what you would hope a sun god looked like. With sweat glistening down the side of his face, it was almost as if the ceiling parted and angels started singing as he stood over you telling you, "Ten more!" as you got down for ab rounds between punches. This guy was exciting. He was energetic. He was. . . constantly checking on me during class to make sure my form was correct, since I was new, and let's face it—I was totally OK with the attention. After class I signed up for a one-year membership and became addicted, not just because I loved the workouts but also because of the hot trainer.
I started coming to class three times a week, initially taking only Kansas's classes, but not wanting to look obvious when I really started crushing on him, I had to mix it up. I mean, this is Crushing 101. This was my first crush out of the gate post-divorce, so exactly what you think would happen, happened. Kansas became my rebound guy. I would make any excuse to linger after class (which, looking back, just made me look desperate), but then sometimes I would switch it up and leave. I mean, it was a game. I was trying to figure out if he was interested or not. It was exhausting. After talking after class for a few weeks, I happened to mention a home improvement project I had been thinking of working on. Being the good listener (stalker?) that I was, I knew he just happened to be interested in home improvements, as he did many of his own. I figured that would be a great way to get to know each other better and for him to fall completely in love with me, of course. Duh. Now I had a reason to cross something off my "list". I love sitting outside and having a glass of wine and listening to music by a fire. I wasn't really sure how I was going to accomplish this task on my own, but recruiting a fine gentleman like Kansas would be a good start. So, he agreed to my firepit project, and after gathering supplies at Home Depot, he came over, and I quote to you from my journal, I kid you not:
So today he shows up, and we are in the backyard digging the hole, and he takes his shirt off. His body is a wonderland! I mean sweat is just glistening down his torso. So I had to change the subject somehow and shut my gaping mouth, so like an idiot I say, "Oh, look, a callus on my hand," and he says, "Those on a woman are sexy." FML.
Ladies and gentlemen, do you want to know what I did that day? Something so adult and so mature: I pushed him into the dirt. I pushed that beautiful body into the dirt. I couldn't take it. I was like a schoolkid on a playground. Because that is the type of tantrum this lady used to throw. Kansas took it as flirting. I took it as frustration, because I couldn't tell a boy I liked him at the time.
This whole awkward flirting game went on for a few more weeks. Kansas would come over, and we'd dig more holes (to bury my dignity in) or set stones—I don't know. I thought rebound guys were supposed to be fun, casual things, but this wasn't fun at all. This was like homework in school. Every day I'd come home from "class," and I'd strategize on what I needed to do to make better "grades." If I had actually spent half the time in real school that I spent on Kansas, I would've had a 4.0. I was having to chase him, but I almost didn't know what race I was running. After all, I hadn't dated since 1884. So I figured if the firepit thing didn't work, then I'd write him a poem... Like a moron...