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In 2020 Listen to Black People When They Tell You Something Is Racist by Calvin Eaton
Recently (today) on my personal Facebook page I shared a personal experience from high school that has literally stuck with me ever since it happened. Here’s what I shared:
“I distinctly remember my white counselor telling me not to apply to RIT because my gpa overall was not high enough. Imagine if I had listened to this racism. Many young people do. I applied anyway”
I attended the predominately white high school, Brockport High School and graduated in 2003. This experience has stayed with me every since and added to the “baggage” of racist microaggressions that I and all black people have to carry every day navigating the systemic delusion of white supremacy culture. The irony of the experience; me a black young man attending a predominately white high school vis-à-vis an integration Urban Suburban Program being told not to apply to a historically predominately white private university. This white woman counselor in her position of relative power and influence had the potential with her ill-advising to change the entire trajectory of my life. I’m sure she has no idea the racist implications of her advising me with a 3.3 GPA not to apply to a four year college when I know (for a fact) that she did not advise all students with the same GPA in the same way. Her advising would have been ill-advising for any student but the effects on a black man adds insult to racist historical injury.
Almost immediately the comments came pouring in. Many were from fellow black friends and colleagues that shared similar experiences. In typical form a few comments came from “alleged” well meaning white colleagues sharing their confusion on how this situation was racist. It was the typical if something is not racist for me (a white person) personally then I will not accept that it is racist even if a person that is literally and historically directly affected by racism on an every day basis tells you that it is. Can white people stop doing this in 2020?
“Can white people stop doing this in 2020”
Seriously and for real. This “validity” checking is it in of itself racist. When you question the validity of a black person’s experience with racism as a white person you are more or less saying that that person’s experience is not valid because you do not deem it as valid. This is racism. White people taking it upon themselves intentionally or not to be the gatekeepers of what is and what is not racist; is inherently racist. This is what white people have done since the beginning of the colonizing of the Americas. This behavior is not only toxic but hurtful. When a black person tells you an experience, a system, an idea, a behavior is racist; the only thing you need to do is listen. Stop questioning the lived experience of black people when they share their experiences. Even if you don’t understand. Listen and leave it at that. Honor that the black person has enough intelligence to have already nuanced the complexities of a particular situation that they are sharing with you. Black people do not need anyone to nuance the context of their own lived experience.
“When a black person tells you an experience, a system, an idea, behavior is racist. The only thing you need to do is listen”
Apply the same energy:
- When a woman tells you something is misogynistic
- When a black women tells you something is misgynoir
- When a disabled person tells you something ableist
When any socially marginalized person tells you a story about a lived experience whether you were present or not, listen to what they have to say. Stop attempting to discredit their story or worse ” tell someone they are using the ____ card.” When you exhibit this type of behavior it is toxic, it fosters distrust and worse it makes people not want to share their lived experience. The absolute last thing black folks need is white people gate-keeping what is and what is not racist. Please do better in 2020. We are tired.
- School Integration Is Not Ancient History, The Century Foundation
- The Long, Ugly History of Racism at American Universities, New Republic
- Talking White: Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth. Slate
About Calvin Eaton
(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a community educator, digital content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, inclusion, equity, curriculum writing, and higher education.
540WMain will celebrate its 4 year anniversary with a party and extravaganza on Saturday June 18, 2020. In just four years the organization has become a pillar in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood and a convener and curator of important and vital community conversations, classes, and programs. Your financial support helps us scale up this work in 2020 and beyond with a year long fundraising goal of $40,000