…and start doing the work yourself
Imagine that you are someone who has studied chemistry for years. Not only that, but you come from a line of chemists who performed long, arduous, personal resource-draining experiments that eventually achieved success and changed the field, eventually inspiring you to care about the science. Now, imagine that you’re performing another one of many countless trials of an experiment in your lab when, suddenly, in bursts someone who has no idea how chemistry works, aside from maybe the course they took in high school. They begin insisting that they know how to do this experiment perfectly and with success. You watch them take over your equipment and create a gigantic mess—then, they turn around and say in all sincerity, “why’d you screw up the experiment so badly?”
That is how it feels every time a white person tells me how I should be protesting a cause I care about.
Never mind that I’m privileged enough to be studying social justice topics at a world-class university and definitely know more about the history, execution, and heroes of protesting than the next person. Even if I weren’t pursuing an education in topics such as race relations, misogyny, ableism, homophobia, etc, being a queer brown girl who deals with mental illnesses is education enough on discrimination in those areas.
One of the other recurring arguments that white folk throw my way is “being loud and in my face isn’t the way to get me to agree with you! That’s not how change was brought about in past generations!” Yeah, I’m sure everyone thought Marsha P Johnson, Viola Desmond, MLK Jr, and Co. were peaceful—not. It’s easy to look back at civil rights heroes with rose coloured glasses. They made as much of a scene as we are today, and they were even angrier—believe that.
I have put up with racism, misogyny, ableism, and more for my whole life—of course I’m angry. Wouldn’t you be if you weren’t in the most comfortable social bracket? When the very same people who marginalize me try to tell me how I should be educating them on how to stop marginalizing me, I am baffled that they can’t see the irony.
Confronting your privilege isn’t supposed to be a cakewalk; it’s not supposed to be a calm conversation. I try every single day to make sure I’m doing my best to keep my own privileges in mind and stay in my lane. This includes but isn’t limited to: listening to Black and Indigenous folks in conversations about colonization and racism, instead of talking over them because they face racist violence at much higher rates than I do; actively trying to un-learn problematic language that marginalizes transgender people; and diversifying my pool of things to read and watch to include stories that aren’t my own.
Of course, this isn’t always easy—sometimes I think I know all about something and talk over a Black or Indigenous person in a discussion that I should just be listening to, or I mess up someone’s preferred pronouns, or I partake in the consumption of media that uses marginalized people as punchlines to jokes. It happens and it’s embarrassing, and being called out feels like an attack because we are ashamed—but it’s not an attack, it’s a plea to learn and grow.
Putting your ego in front of the opportunity to learn is a sure-fire way to make sure you never change. Admit that you have certain social privileges and that having said privileges has made you ignorant. In essence, you should be willing to admit that, if you’re not Black, you have definitely engaged in and continue to unconsciously engage in anti-black behaviour—you should be willing to admit that you have been racist. Acknowledge it. Everyone else already knows you’ve been racist, pal.
If you are waiting for a brown or Black or trans or First Nations person to sit down and calmly teach you how to be less shitty, you’re purposely ignoring the facts. You’re ignoring that, for one, marginalized folks are tired of being disrespected by you and don’t always have the energy to teach you how to respect them after they’ve spent all day navigating everyday discrimination and two, there is a wealth of resources out there that you can seek out for your own education.
I have been protesting my entire life just by existing in a brown body and it has made existing difficult, so don’t tell me how to do it in a way that makes learning easy for you in your white body.
If you care as much as you say you do, then pick up a book or watch a documentary or just pay attention.
Some good places to start:
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
even this page is white by Vivek Shraya