Imagine a little kid gets hit by a car, and they break their arm. They run up to you and they are crying, and they try to tell you about their broken arm.
#1: Do you say to them:
“You’re not talking about your broken arm in the right way. If you would do it without crying, or without yelling, or without all this drama, then I’d be able to listen to you and help you.”
NO. YOU HELP THEM.
#2: Or do you say,
“Ugh, this is WAY TOO PAINFUL FOR ME to deal with. I’m so confused and hurt and sad by the car accident, I have to go into my house, and take a minute to breathe, because this is way too hard for me to deal with. I can’t help you because I have to deal with my emotions first.”
NO. YOU HELP THEM.
#3: Or you say, “Dude, you should have known better than to get in front of a car, that’s something you should work harder to fix,” all the while kids keep getting mowed over by cars because the intersection doesn’t have a stop sign.
NO. YOU GO GET A STOP SIGN PUT IN SO PEOPLE STOP GETTING HIT BY CARS.
#4: Do you say to the kid with a broken arm, “Hey, this other kid over here, he didn’t get a broken arm, so try to be more like him—he managed to remain unscathed, why can’t you?”
NO. YOU FIX THE BROKEN ARM IN FRONT OF YOU.
Instance #1 is called “tone policing” — it’s when you tell someone that their message isn’t right because it wasn’t shared appropriately. They were too emotional, angry, upset, or “not nice” enough in their request. If you think to yourself “I wish they would have said that in a nicer or more palatable way,” or “you’re so angry” you’re doing #1 to people.
Instance #2 is called “centering” — this is when you make it more about you than the person in front of you. People might be dying or injured, and your response is about your feelings and emotions over their lived experience. If you say “I’m heartbroken, or saddened, or distraught, or devastated by what’s going on,” —> consider that you’re leading with your emotions and your experience first. Try saying “Are you okay?” Or “ugh! That looks terrible, let’s get that arm fixed.” In racism conversations, that sounds like “It’s time for black people to stop being killed and dying at the hands of our institutions and our policies.” Or “This is wrong.” Stop making it about you and your feelings first.
Instance #3 is called “blaming the victim,” that is, making it the fault of the person who got hurt rather than looking at the system and the pieces at play. It was a CAR and ANOTHER HUMAN that hit the person and broke their arm, but all we see is the broken arm and blame them. “You must have done something wrong,” we assume, “that’s why you got hurt.”
Instance #4 can be called “gaslighting,” but it’s also a problem of American and Western hyper-individualistic culture and our love affair with the protestant work ethic. We love to hold up an example of someone that has beaten the odds or not gotten hurt and say, “Hey, this little fella didn’t get hit by a car, you should be more like him,” but when we do that, we fail to acknowledge that the context, system, and environment was set up to kill people and when you don’t acknowledge it, you’re complicit because people are dying every day while you ignore it.
Black people shouldn’t have to convince you or go through hoops just to have you believe that they are injuring and dying. They don’t have to say things in the “right” way or “protest correctly.” They don’t owe it to you to make you (or me) feel better and they shouldn’t have to make you feel better because you feel uncomfortable about it. And it’s not their job to fix systemic racism that was built to sacrifice their lives and consistently kill them. It’s white people’s job to fix it, and if you don’t see anyone crying or with broken arms right now, you aren’t doing a very good job of listening, learning, or understanding. People’s arms and lives are broken, and it’s way past time to HELP.
If you’re not doing anything, saying anything, or you’re sitting this out, you are failing right now.
Places you can donate:
Northstar Health Collective: a Minnesota-based medical organization that provides support for protests, working on reducing the rate/impact of COVID-19 in minority communities.
Minnesota Freedom Fund: provides cash bail to disproportionately targeted low-income, minority communities.
- The Loveland Foundation: makes therapy a priority for black women and girls.
Black Visions Collective: a Minneapolis-based organization aimed at generating awareness about the kinds of issues plaguing Black communities across the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
Reclaim the Block: an organization aimed at holistically uplifting marginalized communities in Minneapolis through housing support, violence prevention, youth programs, and emergency mental health response teams.
ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, which helps defend and advocate for the civil rights and liberties of our citizens.