There has been a lot of talk recently about how us white folks should address sensitive issues around racism, free speech, and triggers. Up front, I am a white guy whose main faults are introversion and pending unemployment, so if you're expecting truly important or revolutionary writing, I'd advise searching elsewhere. This article represents nothing more than my way of working through highly sensitive issues, but here are some tips I've come up with in the past 22 years:
1. Trust Your Peers
A lot of the criticism I've heard about trigger warnings or being conscious of language has come from those who assume that what another person feels and experiences is somehow made up or disingenuous. I'm not sure if that assumption exists as a product of our cynical world or just hegemony, but it makes me sad to see that people jump to such an unreasonable conclusion. People have no reason to lie, so why would they?
2. Don't Assume Someone Else's Hurt Is About You
The perverse sibling of White Guilt is a tendency I'll call "White Paranoia." Here's an example I recently passed by: Person A says that they feel unsafe around white people recently. Person B, who identifies as a caucasian male, gets defensive because he likes to think of himself as a pretty reasonable dude. The argument gets heated, but why? Person B was never directly insulted, but he did feel implicated in the statement because of his own identity, and reacted acerbically. What he failed to recognize was that statement was not about him; it was about his friend, who felt hurt and unsafe. Dwelling on personal offense in that situation is like complaining about a sprained ankle in a car crash.
3. Don't Not Assume Someone Else's Hurt Is About You
To directly contradict my last point, sometimes Person B would have to realize that yes, they personally are actively participating in and benefiting from a system that is causing the hurt. While focusing on Person A first is important, swinging around after the fact to challenge what about Person B can change in themselves is just as key.
4. Civility Is Nice, But It Sure Doesn't Change Much
I am still 100 percent convinced that if we as Americans continue on our current trajectory, there will be an internal revolution in the next 25 years. Personally, I believe America needs to be challenged into relatively nonviolent change before that happens. Simply put, acting nicely and going through proper channels is conforming to an oppressive system, and a diplomatic protest could be considered an oxymoron. Disrupting the status quo and making things that seem a molehill to some into a mountain to rally around is absolutely necessary for society to advance; we never change unless we're uncomfortable. Take for instance the classic debate: #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMatter. Some argue that the latter could appeal to more people, but that's missing the entire point. Movements are meant to change the world, not please the masses.
5. Empathy Is Essential, But Understand That It Only Goes So Far
The great secret (that is no secret, really) is that I will never experience what it is like to be Black in America, and to think I do would just be arrogant. While I do try constantly to empathize with my peers and understand what I can do to reduce my own transgressions, at a certain point, no one can exit their own identity completely. I am no different.
6. Don't Apologize
OK, yes, if you personally have acted like an a**hole, be a human and apologize to the person or people you have offended. But to focus all your energy on constant show-stealing apology instead of either actively helping or just stepping back when your effort is not needed or desired is selfish. Again, another person's struggle is not about you feeling better about yourself.
7. We Are All Human
Everyone on all sides makes mistakes constantly; to assume you are any different is a strange flavor of naïveté. I consider myself a fairly progressive person, but that doesn't mean I don't constantly make offensive mistakes (in fact, I'm still somewhat convinced that this article is one of them). Recognizing that you are a flawed and evolving thinker and that you will never not be is the first step toward improving what you can.