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.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.