Advertisements

Guest Post: A post-election guide to changing hearts and minds

[Trigger warnings: sexual assault, racist police violence, anti-Muslim bigotry, anti-Semitism, child sexual abuse]

Valerie Aurora teaches the Ally Skills Workshop, which teaches people with more power and privilege how to stand up in small, everyday ways for people with less. She also trains people to the lead the Ally Skills Workshop. She is a long-time Captain Awkward reader and recommends the blog in every workshop she teaches.

Hey Awkwardeers,

Many of us are grappling with how to use our skills and influence to resist the upcoming Trump administration and the hatred and violence that it inspires. As Captain Awkward readers, we’ve been practicing setting boundaries, standing up for our values, and making it awkward for the right person. We are uniquely prepared for a crucial part of the next few months or years: changing the minds of people who support the Trump administration, and standing up to the abusers they are empowering. This post teaches scripts and techniques to do these two tasks, along with the theory behind them. It’s for people living in the U.S., but it may be useful to people living elsewhere as well.

First, some terminology: an ally is someone who uses unearned advantages that society has given to them (a.k.a. privileges) to reduce inequality, with the goal of eventually ending privilege altogether. Targets are people who suffer from oppression – systemic, pervasive discrimination present throughout society that benefits people with more privilege, and harms those with less.

The first question to ask yourself is, how likely is it that you can act as an ally? Here are some things that might give you more privilege in the U.S.: being white, male, cisgender, straight, a natural-born U.S. citizen, a white Protestant (or can pass as one), abled, rich, middle or upper class, university-educated, securely employed, or in a position of power. If you have any of these characteristics, they gives you more power to stand up for targets and work to end oppression (and your own privilege).

Most people have some privileges but not all of them. That means that in some situations, you can act as an ally, and in other situations, you can’t because you are the target of oppression. For example, a Jewish man can act as an ally when someone is being sexist, but will be a target when someone is being anti-Semitic. It can get more complicated: a white Jewish person often can’t use white privilege to be an ally against white supremacy since that system often also includes anti-Semitism.

If you have relatively few opportunities to act as an ally, you can always encourage like-minded people with more privilege to learn ally skills. Either way, remember: you are far less likely to be attacked when you speak up for another group than when members of that group speak up for themselves. For example, a Black person in the U.S. speaking up about racism is far more likely to get racial slurs and death threats than a white person speaking up about racism (who may even get praise and gratitude for doing so).

So let’s get into a concrete example about a conversation likely to come up at Thanksgiving if you have Trump supporters in your family:

You’re a cis man visiting your family for Thanksgiving. Before dinner, you’re helping chop onions in the kitchen with several of your family members, including your loudest, meanest uncle, Uncle Joe.

Uncle Joe: “All those women are lying about Trump grabbing them. Besides, even if he did it, boys will be boys, you know. No use trying to stop them.”

You: [Stops cutting the onions and puts knife down.] [Calmly] “I believe women have the right to not be sexually assaulted. I believe that Trump assaulted those women. If you want to condone sexual assault, you can do it without me.”

You leave the onions half-chopped and walk out of the kitchen, leaving Uncle Joe to deal with the discomfort he created. In the living room, you see your younger cousin Fred, who overheard the conversation. Growing up, he was a sensitive kid who loved playing with you.

You: “It’s really hard when family members act like sexual assault is no big deal.”

Fred: [Looks troubled] “Well, my friends say that sometimes women lie about it for the attention.”

You: [Looking Fred in the eye, speaking kindly] “Hey, I used to think that too: that people who were complaining about being hurt were just whiners who wanted attention, or maybe money. Then a friend of mine told me that when her high school coach pinned her against the wall and put his hand in her shorts, she didn’t tell anyone because she didn’t think anyone would believe her. And then she told me that half her friends have a similar story. I felt so bad for her. I realized that most sexual assault victims never say anything at all because talking about it ruins their lives. Now I assume women are telling the truth about sexual assault until I have a good reason to think otherwise.”

Fred: [Looks a little shocked and taken aback]

You: “Hey, I didn’t mean to lay that on you all at once. But if it’s hard for you to hear that, imagine how hard it was for my friend to actually have that happen to her for real. And on top of that, she couldn’t tell anyone about it. It really sucks.”

Fred: “Huh, I never really thought of it that way. But don’t women lie about rape sometimes?”

You: “Yes, rarely. The thing I realized is, plenty of people believe all women are lying. My job is to be one of the few people supporting them. That’s how we find out the truth.”

Fred: “Wow, I didn’t think of that.”

You: “Yeah, I didn’t think about any of that either until my friend told me about her coach. I’m so grateful my friend trusted me enough to tell me that. I want to support people like her because I want to end sexual assault.” [Long pause] “Hey, so what do you think of the Steelers this season?”

Conversations like this follow a broad pattern. We’ll summarize that pattern, then go into more details about it, and end with some more scripts and examples.

  1. Start by evaluating your ability to influence others in this situation: Who respects you? Who wants something from you? What can you give or take? Who might retaliate against you if you act?
  2. Identify whether you are likely to influence or persuade anyone (including the audience), and choose one of the following:
    • If you are unlikely to change anyone’s mind, just set a firm boundary about not doing that behavior in places you control, and enforce it.
    • If you think someone might change their mind, state your position once, firmly but calmly, then set the boundary and enforce it.
    • If you think someone is likely to change their mind – they are a potential ally – then follow the next steps to start a warm, compassionate, safe conversation with that person.
  3. Figure out what values you might share with the potential ally.
  4. Make a gentle statement about how your shared values shape your understanding of the topic at hand.
  5. If they become defensive or angry or argumentative, de-escalate the situation and change the topic while making it clear you still hold to your values.
  6. If they respond with curiosity or confusion or even apathy, keep going.
  7. Find a way to express compassion and understanding for how the potential ally ended up with the opinions they have now (tip: develop compassion and love for your past self, who was almost certainly more racist, homophobic, etc. than you are now).
  8. Make yourself vulnerable in some way: share a time you made a mistake, or something you feel ashamed of, or a time you were hurt.
  9. Share a personal story about the topic: something that changed your mind, or an “aha!” moment when suddenly you understood why something was wrong (but be sure to preserve the privacy of others when appropriate).
  10. Help them have compassion for the targets of oppression: talk about how the target must feel, make an analogy with a group the potential ally has an easier time empathizing with, share your own feelings of compassion and love for the targets.
  11. Restate your values and how they inform your opinion on this topic, warmly and clearly.
  12. If they have another comment or question, repeat from “Find a way to express compassion” until they run out of questions, or you run out of energy.
  13. End by changing the subject to something you both enjoy, or expressing your feelings of warmth and connection for the potential ally.

All of these guidelines are intended to help you: spend your time and energy in an effective way, build psychological safety so the potential ally feels comfortable asking questions and expressing doubt, serve as a role model by consistently acting warm and compassionate while also sticking to your values, continue the discussion only as long as the potential ally is still making progress, and end in a way that makes them feel safe coming back to talk to you again.

Here are a few example scripts for each part of the conversation. Let’s start with the example comments that you would be responding to:

  • “What I think is that if Black kids would just stop playing with toy guns, they’d got shot a whole lot less.”
  • “You have to admit, it just makes sense to be more suspicious of Muslims trying to get into the country. I don’t know that I’m against the ban on Muslim immigration.”
  • “I can’t believe how rude my granddaughter was. Why didn’t her mother tell her she had to hug her grandpa? Can’t you talk some sense into her?”

Setting a firm boundary and enforcing it:

  • “It’s important to me to value and respect people of color. I won’t participate in a conversation that doesn’t respect that.” + leave the conversation if they don’t stop
  • “I believe we should judge people by their actions as individuals, not by their religion. If you disagree, take it outside.” + broken record of “Not here.” “Take it outside.” “We can’t continue until you leave.”
  • “Girls’ right to control their own bodies is non-negotiable for me. Let’s change the subject.” + keep suggesting new subjects until they get distracted

Gentle statement about shared values and the topic at hand:

  • “I think every kid should have a safe and happy childhood, so it makes me incredibly sad that Black children are being shot by the police more often than other children.”
  • “I think part of what makes the U.S. great is our founding value of religious tolerance, so excluding people from the U.S. just because they are Muslim makes no sense to me.”
  • “It’s so important to me that every young girl learn that she has the right to decide who touches her body, so when you tell her to hug someone she doesn’t want to, I think about what message she is getting about saying no in other situations.”

Express compassion or understanding:

  • “You know, I used to wonder about that too.”
  • “I remember having that question too.”
  • “That’s a really good question, and it took me years to understand the answer.”
  • “I can see that.”
  • “I hear what you are saying.” + kind and compassionate recap of what they said

Make yourself vulnerable and sharing your own mistakes:

  • “Sometimes I still get nervous when I’m walking on the street and see someone who looks like a mugger on TV.”
  • “For many years, the only Muslims I could name were terrorists who had killed a lot of people.”
  • “I remember feeling annoyed and suspicious when one of my relatives told me that our uncle made her feel uncomfortable when he hugged her or looked at her. I thought she just wanted to get attention.”

Share a personal story about when you changed your mind or had an “aha!” moment:

  • “But when I read about Tamir Rice playing with a toy gun and getting shot when he was only 12 years old… I remember so vividly playing with my BB gun in my neighborhood when I was 10, and I was only worried about my mean neighbor Bill shouting at me. Not getting shot by cops. I suddenly realized that the reason I’m alive and Tamir isn’t is that my skin is a different color.”
  • “Then in my poetry class, we read some poetry by Rumi. His poems were so beautiful, about love and freedom from fear. I started reading more about Sufism, which is a very mystical part of Islam, and realized that Islam was just as complicated as Christianity. Some Muslims are pacifists and some are moderates and some are fundamentalists. I realized it made as much sense to assume all Muslims were terrorists as to assume all Christians were televangelists.”
  • “Then I found out years later that that same uncle had molested one of my cousins several times. I felt sick when I realized I’d been on a camping trip with them during that time. I think that if we had taken my relative seriously about not wanting to hug my uncle, maybe my cousin would have felt safe telling us what was happening to her.”

Help them have compassion for the target:

  • “I just imagine, what was it like for Tamir, being 12 years old and playing, and how terrified he must have been when the cops arrived, and what it was like in the seconds before he died? No one should have to go through that.”
  • “I thought, what would it be like to be someone who cared deeply about love and peace and kindness, and have people look at me with fear and revulsion. How would I feel if I got on a plane and the person next to me called the flight attendant and got me kicked off for acting suspicious, because I looked Muslim to them? I’d feel sick all the time.”
  • “I felt sick just knowing I was nearby when my cousin might have been molested. How much worse was it for her? Knowing that even if she told us what was happening, we would probably accuse her of making it up, the way we did with my relative who didn’t want to hug him. How lonely and afraid she must have felt.”

Restate your values and connect them to the topic:

  • “I just think all people are humans, and deserve the same care and respect I get automatically for being white.”
  • “I want to live in a country where people can feel safe from religious persecution, and part of that is not keeping people from immigrating based solely on their religion.”
  • “I want girls and women to feel in control of their bodies, and that means supporting girls when they say they don’t want to hug someone, even if they are a relative.”

Reassure them that you still feel warmly towards them, and change the subject:

  • “Thanks for listening to me, your opinion means a lot to me. Hey, have you watched that new superhero movie?”
  • “I’m really glad we could talk about this, even if we don’t always agree. So, what colleges are you applying to?”
  • “I really appreciate you thinking about this, even though it feels uncomfortable. Do you think it’s time to check on the chicken?”

Now it’s your turn, commenters: What are some the ways you developed the skills necessary to follow these scripts? How did you learn to feel compassion for someone who shared your values but believed something horrible because they’d been lied to all their life? How did you learn to recognize your sources of power and influence? How do you stay calm when someone doesn’t mean to be cruel, but says something awful anyway?

Thank you to Mary Gardiner, Y-Vonne Hutchinson, Leigh Honeywell, and Kendra Albert, who all contributed to the Ally Skills Workshop and this article. This post is licensed Creative Commons Sharealike-Attribution 4.0 – please reuse and modify with attribution to Valerie Aurora and the above co-authors.

Advertisements
70 comments
  1. Michelle said:

    The more I figure out what I like on the internet, the more I realize those people are already talking to each other—so glad to see Valerie here.

  2. lkeke35 said:

    Reblogged this on Geeking Out about It and commented:
    This is a positive blog for the most part, so I won’t get into cataloging the daily injustices being heaped upon marginalized people, as we have plenty of websites that already do the kinds of things that will keep you fired up in this post-election malaise.

    But I can signal boost positive messages of encouragemnet, coping mecahnisms, and things like this, that cam familiarize those who would like t be allies with marginalized peoples, with things like basic terminology, self care for marginalized people who are feeling overwhelmed, and coping scenarios for family and friends who are Trump supporters.

  3. This is so comprehensive and smart. Thank you for the guidance!

  4. sam said:

    I find that a lot of people, even well meaning, people-who-could-be-allies, get very defensive about the entire concept of “privilege”, because they’re defining it at the individual level of “having things”, rather than at the systemic level that it’s meant to be used at. I like to tell a story that comes from my own family’s life that I think pretty well explains it.

    My dad grew up poor. and I mean POOR. South bronx, projects, single, widowed mom who had been shunned by most of her family because she had married a non-jew (who himself had been disowned for marrying her), who proceeded to die when my dad was three months old.

    But he was a scrapper, and he had talent – not book smarts, he barely graduated from high school because he couldn’t do math so well, but he’s an artist and a creative genius. went to FIT for a while (didn’t graduate), got drafted into the army, got really “lucky” that they sent him to Germany instead of Vietnam (probably because they figured a short, nebbishy “fashion design” student wasn’t going to do them a lot of good on the front lines), and when he came home got a really low-level job working for a pretty successful commercial illustrator at his ad agency.

    One night, my dad was doing some grunt work on one of their accounts – basically hauling a bunch of displays out of a client’s office on Park Avenue, arms laden-down with packages. He gets to the lobby, and there’s man in front of him who steps into the revolving door, but doesn’t “push”. Basically expecting my dad to push the door for him. my dad, who is carrying a bunch of boxes, shouts at the guy “hey buddy, are your arms broken or something”, so the guy gets startled and pushes the door for himself and my dad.

    It’s only when they get outside that they guy turns around and my dad realizes that the guy is the CEO of the client – one of the richest men in the world, running one of the biggest companies in the world. CEO beckons my dad over and asks his name and who he works for. My dad tells him, assuming it’s so that he can get fired.

    Within a week, my dad has been offered a job at said company, because the CEO liked his “moxie”. 20 years later, my dad retired as director of marketing for that same company.

    The really important part is this – one day recently, my dad and I were sitting and watching the news, which was reporting on one of the many black lives matter protests, and my dad, who is generally a pretty good, liberal guy, got a little…bootstrappy – the whole, “I grew up with nothing…” etc. And i turned to him and I said, “do you know that great story you told me about how you told off [CEO] and somehow ended up as the Director of Marketing for [Company]? even ignoring all the other things in your life that were necessary to happen to get to that moment, do you think that interaction would have happened the same way if you hadn’t been white?”

    And my dad looked at me, and thought for about two seconds, and said “No.”

    ***
    So that’s the story I use when I try to explain privilege to people. It’s not about “having things”. It’s (not entirely but) largely about the fact that certain groups get the benefit of the doubt while others don’t.

    And it’s not about taking that benefit of the doubt away from people. It’s about giving it to everyone else.

    • Cannibal Queen said:

      That’s a helpful way of thinking about it, Sam, thanks.

    • twomoogles said:

      That was a great post and a great story, Sam! I think conversations about privilege get tangled up so fast,because like you said, people personalize it. And we can all say, because we’ve done the reading and know the history, “well, it’s not about you personally . . ” And it shouldn’t be but it still will be. Which is why I think most of the time just telling somebody “well you have white/male/etc privilege” without contextualizing it like you did with your dad doesn’t really do any good especially with people who don’t really know much about the concept to begin with.

      I think sometimes we (me included . . ) can get caught up in this idea that well, we’re right so why should we have to pander to people, it’s their problem if they don’t get it . . But it’s nice to see ways to help people get it. Because sometimes it can feel impossible.

    • VG said:

      Sometimes I wish privilege weren’t the term we used, exactly because it has such strong associations with economic status and family connections. People hear “privilege” and imagine someone who grew up going to prep school and skiing in Switzerland and getting a new car for their 16th birthday, and then after graduating from Yale, being hired at some Fortune 100 firm through one of Daddy’s golfing friends. That’s so far from most people’s experience (even if they didn’t grow up “poor” per se) that their first reaction is to think the person telling them they’re privileged must be nuts, and then to stop listening. I don’t know if changing the term would change the reaction, though, or if it would just be transferred to whatever other word we used instead.

      • Halpful said:

        “That’s so far from most people’s experience (even if they didn’t grow up “poor” per se) that their first reaction is to think the person telling them they’re privileged must be nuts”

        That’s a really good point; humans tend to assume that what they grow up with is “normal”, and calibrate their expectations to that. Society often seems set up to hide the less fortunate from the more fortunate, which is a feedback loop; when they do see it, they feel uncomfortable, and tend to retreat back to their status quo without noticing.

        There’s also the issue that someone may have a few kinds of privilege, but be struggling anyways, whether from other sorts of discrimination or bad luck or whatever. Being white and having friends and family with disposable income, I’m still alive, but privilege won’t stop my muscles from trying to destroy me or make my body more responsive to painkillers. (It will help me look into medical marijuana without as much fear, though!)

        I realised recently that privilege might partly explain the conflicting information I got from my parents growing up – my dad was very laid back and expected things to work out in the end, while my mother was the opposite extreme, to the point that I was scared of getting in trouble for not being upset enough about things. Her dad was a farmer; my dad and his siblings were mostly programmers. (yes, programming has been a thing that long. punchcards were involved. 😉

        • sam said:

          That’s why I think stories like mine/my dad’s help – it gives it a real, tangible context that the buzzwords often lack.

          It’s certainly not that my dad didn’t work hard to get where he got, but it was a combination of hard work, talent, luck and yes, privilege, that got him to where he is.

          My dad now lives in a fancy manhattan apartment (although my stepmom may have something to do with that one!), with two kids with advanced degrees from top-notch schools (I went to law school at Penn and my brother got one of his masters (yes, he has more than one) at the London School of Economics). I’m a terrible capitalist vulture, of course, but my brother is out trying to make the world a better place – he designs and coordinates educational programs for displaced/refugee children for the international rescue committee.

          And sometimes I sit and think about which of these things was made possible by that encounter on that street that night that was half pure “luck” and half the privilege of being given the benefit of the doubt. What kind of success would my “everyone tells me he’s a marketing genius” dad have made of himself without that encounter? How do you even quantify something like that?

      • It might help.

        The problem I have with the word “privilege” is that it lacks nuance. For instance, if a white guy is stopped by the police for speeding and feels zero fear that he’ll get shot, it’s because he has privilege. If the same white guy drives drunk, kills three people, and gets zero jail time because his expensive lawyer convinces a jury that he’s a victim of “affluenza,” that’s also privilege. When we say we want to eliminate privilege in the speeding scenario, we mean that we want to extend that lack of oppression to everybody. When we say we want to eliminate privilege in the drunk-driving scenario, we mean that nobody should have it.

        New words to distinguish these concepts would come in handy. Unfortunately, it can be hard to advocate for them in the middle of a discussion about privilege without appearing like you’re oblivious to your own privilege.

        • I hadn’t thought about that distinction before. Thank you!

      • VG, I suspect it would be both.

        See also as an example how American conservative politicians and spokespeople have successfully reframed the word entitlements to the general population. An entitlement is something you are supposed to have because you are entitled to have it; it is already yours, and you don’t have to “win” or “earn” it. FEELING entitled, conversely, is someone claiming some benefit or bonus they are not supposed to have. By reframing entitlements like Social Security as things we allegedly FEEL entitled to have, rather than things we already have because they are already ours, conservatives gin up resentments.

        Having privilege due to factors beyond one’s control such as race or country of origin or gender identity is different from being economically or materially privileged and experiencing that level of financial comfort. Many articles have been written on how difficult it is to explain to a poor white cishet dude that he has inherent societal and cultural privileges just by being, at the very least, white, straight, male-identified and male-bodied.

        I’m not sure that calling entitlements or privilege by different words will correct misconceptions that are often deliberately fostered by those who [A] don’t like that we are entitled to [to use a typical scenario] getting the FICA withdrawals from our employment checks back in our old age, when we can no longer work and want to privatize a system that is actually working very well and nowhere near going bankrupt (and which doesn’t contribute to the debt and could be ‘fixed’ by raising or eliminating the FICA payroll tax ceiling which hovers around $130k/year, IIRC) and [B] don’t like it when we pay attention to inequalities and social constructs that benefit one or more groups over another group / other groups, and call attention to privileges and disparities and unfairnesses, especially when the challenged group or groups happen to be the threatened societal / cultural status quo power-holder(s).

        Some say we have already lost the battle over the definition of “literally” (in that some people use it when they actually should say “figuratively” because they don’t really mean something “literally” happened). We may have also lost the battle over “entitlements” and “privilege,” but that doesn’t mean we can’t still fight.

        P.S. I also get mad when [to grossly simplify] people don’t understand that pre-Civil Rights-era US Republicans were liberal/progressive folks, and pre-Civil Rights-era Democrats (see also: Dixiecrats) were conservative. It’s often glossed over in the red states, I think. Nothing is more exasperating and exhausting (on a kind of “Just overheard someone insist the Earth is actually flat” level) than hearing, repeatedly, that present-day conservative Republicans are the exact same party as pre-Civil RIghts and pre-Southern Strategy-era liberal Republicans from sixty years ago or more. I have to say I pretty much discount anything else someone has to say about politics when they fail to grasp this much, so sue me.

    • Marisheba said:

      One of the things I love about the dialogues in this post is that they speak very directly about human situations and stories, without using too much in the way of labels and jargon. It makes it a lot less threatening for people to hear. People are at different places in their development on understanding racism and whatever role they may play in it. If they’re not ready to hear about their privilege, then trying to talk to them about it will just shut them down, and shut down the conversation. Once peoples’ minds have been opened to a certain degree in seeing the role of race in America, how it affects POC vs white people, then they might be open to a conversation about privilege. But you have to meet people where they’re at on sensitive topics. One place that I think identity politics has really gone the wrong direction is in the focus on calling people out, because it shuts down conversations and deepens divides, more often than it helps people learn and empathize. The examples in this post are such perfect examples of how to navigate these situations with integrity and–when warranted–compassion, and side step calling people out completely.

      • Kelley said:

        One of the most brilliantly insightful comments I have read in a long, LONG time… Just, wow… 🙂

  5. AwesomeSauce said:

    THANK YOU

  6. Nefalef said:

    My only concern with the examples given is avoiding outting victims of sexual assault ( or other things that carry stigma). Depending on the cisgender male in question and his friend group/family “female friend who played high school sports with a male coach” or “female cousin” may be identifying enough to out the victim; of course this depends on how many people he knows in those categories. Unless the victim has explicitly said that they are comfortable with their story being shared publicly I would prefer to err on the side on anonymizing the story as much as possible. Using something that happened to someone who is comfortable with it being discussed publicly/a general scenario is also an option.

    “My friend was raped by their teacher in high school” is a good example of the former and
    “children sexually assaulted by priests and threatened into remaining silent” is a good example of the former.

    While I am grateful to allies, an important part of alliship is protecting people who are more vulnerable. I have been sexually assaulted and if anyone shared my story without anonymizing the details I would feel unsafe, even if the story were shared in this kind of context. Maybe especially this context, since it’s being shared with someone who victim blames and who might view me as a liar or deserving of being raped.

    Depending on the individual the examples given in the post may be vague enough to not out anyone, but I want to emphasize that it’s important to get people’s explicit permission prior to sharing their stigmatized experiences in a way that is potentially identifying.

    • DropTable~DropsMic said:

      Yeah, and I would stay away from using the examples about one’s own family (“my uncle molested my cousin”) in that family group, even if everyone knows about it and no one involved is present.

      Part of using a real world example to make a point is that you open that example up for discussion. This is relatively harmless when the people in the example will never meet the people having the discussion. But the mental image of a family sitting around and having an argument which might include “did Cousin ask for it?” as one of the talking points when Cousin will e flying in from college the next day is pretty sickening.

      • DropTable~DropsMic said:

        …not that people SHOULD say such things. But sometimes they do, and part of being an ally is taking the risk that you might hear really disturbing statements as part of this process.

    • This is why there’s the caveat “but be sure to preserve the privacy of others when appropriate” in the post.

      • Nefalef said:

        I’m sorry that I missed it.

  7. Emily said:

    I’m about to spend Thanksgiving with my cousins’ family, My cousin and wife are cops and feel they quite unfairly treated by “liberals.” I have no idea how I’m going to deal with that.

      • This. Also, only a handful of jobs give you the ability to wound or kill another human being (most of the other jobs are military in nature, and the wounded or killed person is not a fellow citizen). That is a terrifying power to have, and when it is misused, it is understandable that people get upset about that.

        That said, most people do very difficult jobs without taking is personally when someone else doing that same job is scolded or disciplined for causing harm to someone. Teachers do not feel collectively abused or mistreated if a fellow teacher is disciplined or fired for overstepping the bounds of authority and hurting a child in their care (which happens). Firemen do not feel unfairly treated is a fellow fireman is caught being an arsonist (which happens). Doctors do not feel unfairly treated if another doctor is called out for medical malpractice after hurting or killing a patient due to preventable mistakes. I do not understand why cops feel the need to take it personally when another officer is caught killing an unarmed citizen and other citizens get justifiably upset about it. If you are a good cop, you may not get any cookies or praise just for doing your (incredibly difficult) job, and that’s unfortunate, but few other people get praise just for doing a job they signed on to do.

        So, yeah, officers, you may not get any praise for just doing a competent job and not shooting any little kids dead lately, but maybe you shouldn’t expect any. Not until cops (and anyone else making the argument that “good cops need praise, too”) start to go around praising everyone else for simply doing, with competence, the bare minimum requirements of the job that they willingly applied for and were hired to do. Also also, my understanding is that police departments DO reward competence among officers with raises, bonuses, elevations in rank, medals and awards, so maybe being just “good” and wanting praise for being adequate is not the way to go, and trying to be more than “good” so you get those choice benes and perks from your fellow officers who intimately KNOW what makes a great cop, maybe that’s what you should focus on. Not the general public failing to make a point of calling out “good” cops as often as they get upset over “bad” cops fucking shooting unarmed children, especially those with darker complexions, all the dang time.

        I would advise anyone trying this argument to be a lot more tactful than I’m being, though.

        • (P.S. My comment directly above is also an example of why it is not a great idea to try an engage on a difficult subject if you are currently feeling raw or upset about it. If I was feeling all churned up in that moment, I would probably opt to excuse myself rather than risk escalating things with sarcasm or frustrated commentary. But you do you. You know your limits better than I know your limits.)

    • sam said:

      I would say for that – start off with a presumption of good faith, whether or not they deserve it – “I know you guys are always trying to do the right thing…yadda yadda”. Because while what we see are the end results of individual “bad cops”, the issue is really a systemic one – where everything from recruitment, to training, to resources, to the sheer “militarization” mindset creates an us vs them situation that only heightens tensions rather than one that can be collaborative and problem-solving.

      Or maybe its not a conversation about policing at all, but some other aspect of what’s been going on that can serve as a way to open a door.

      • Emily said:

        Yes definitely! It helps because I truly believe they are good cops and can tell them honestly I wish every cop was like them.

  8. allreb said:

    My grandfather used to lean very hard on the “I’m older than you are! I have more experience and know more than the rest of you!” card in our family. Somewhere around age 15 I discovered I could counter that one with “But I have *different* experiences than you do, and those are important too.” (I wasn’t quite that eloquent about it, but that was the gist – it did actually get him to stop and listen for a minute.)

    Now as an adult I’d probably update that to, “But I have *different* experiences than you do, and those are just as valid as yours. Can you please take my experiences as seriously as I take yours? Otherwise, I don’t think I can continue this conversation.”

    • Ace said:

      Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. That is a script that I’ve been looking for forever. That card gets pulled a lot in my family.

    • CJ said:

      Oh my gosh, me too. Thanks for that simple script – here’s hoping it is effective with my family.

    • This is fantastic. Kudos!

    • Parenthetically said:

      One of my dearest friends diffused a potentially terrible argument with a similar script to that one. Someone was ranting about their experiences with something or other as a way to shut down a conversation about this post-election horror show, and she very calmly said, “I believe you. My experience is very different, though,” and proceeded to give a couple of examples. The other person responded much more openly and calmly. I just thought that, “I believe you,” was SO powerful, especially as an example of how we want others to respond to us.

  9. HindsightGraduate said:

    After my aunt saying, “We don’t need the mean ol’ government getting in the way of good people like you, case manager niece for a grossly underfunded program,” I’m pretty sure I know who she and my uncle voted for. Problem is, the most likely person to bring up politics is my mom, who I agree with on most political stances and STILL end up getting into… ‘spirited’ discussions with (she’s a talker and likes to control the conversation). The powder keg is going to explode someday, but depending on how things go on Thursday, I may be the first and only niece/cousin to step away from the holidays. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

  10. RedSonja said:

    This is lovely and compassionate advice. However, I’m really struggling with this piece: “Reassure them that you still feel warmly towards them.” But…. Right now, I don’t. I can’t get past my anger and fear and disgust. And I don’t know how to come to grips with that. Fortunately I still have time, we aren’t visiting until Christmas.

    • Jen said:

      Yeah, me neither. I’m not willing to open my house to them, either. Maybe I’ll get over it, but I’m scared shitless what this administration will mean for friends/family who’re PoC, religious minorities, LGBTQ folks, etc.

    • twomoogles said:

      I get what you’re saying. I think this advice is good for when you do feel like you can engage, but I think it’s fine not to be. I like that it frames it as how somebody who *is* in the same position of privilege as the speaker can be an ally by saying things someone who didn’t have that privilege maybe couldn’t, but that doesn’t mean everyone always can do that.

  11. jabes said:

    On a one-to-one level, my dad is usually pretty compassionate, but gets caught up in mocking “politically correct” speech and things like that. I explained once that much of the “politically correct” speech he was mocking was used so as not to hurt people’s feelings, and that seemed to connect with him.

    • ladybear said:

      This. When I’m accused of being too politically correct, or a social justice warrior, or policing speech etc., I try to respond with some variant of “Whatever your opinion is about [topic], there’s no need to be rude to people/it costs nothing to be polite.” This can work especially with people who go tend towards pearl-clutching, possibly because it interferes with their image of themselves as the moral standards enforcer. It also works with devil’s advocates (*ugh*), because they aren’t being big or clever, they’re being an asshole.

      Though my favourite response to “I’m playing devil’s advocate” is “Why?” No one ever has a good reason.

      • Jackalope said:

        I can think of good reasons to play Devil’s Advocate, depending on the situation. Usually I would do it to try to see a different side, or to help the people I’m with see a different side, especially if everyone there agrees. If you’re in a group with people who tend to have the same values, it can get echo-chamber-y and then you miss out on the ways in which your ideas/opinions have huge holes in them. Plus sometimes I’ve learned things from arguing a side that I didn’t agree with; I even remember one time in a debate when I was assigned an arbitrary position to defend in a social studies class and ended up changing my mind and agreeing with the side I was arguing for. (Similarly, my dad and I used to divide up political issues [on minor things we didn’t have much of an opinion on] and debate them back and forth to try and get a feel for why someone would be pro or con.)

        Alternatively, I might SAY that I was playing Devil’s Advocate if I was a minority in the group and knew they all disagreed with something I happened to agree with, where I felt like it might not be safe to state outright that I agreed with the thing. For example, I had a job once where I regularly worked with groups of people who had views strongly opposed to my own, who would work with me for a few weeks and then move on. They had the power to complain to my boss if they didn’t like something I said and get me in trouble at work. While I don’t know that I ever thought of it, looking back I might have used this as an option to try and put out alternate views without putting my job at risk. (A part of the nature of the job was that we spent a lot of “leisure time” together and it wasn’t realistic for me to keep my mouth shut all the time on things I was passionate about.)

  12. Hannah said:

    I wish I could talk to my trump-voting family. They don’t respect me. I always end up just feeling bad about myself when I try.

    When I first started become aware of feminism, when I was like 19, I would try to talk to my dad about sexism/racism. He was completely dismissive, and it actually became a sick game with him. He eventually started going out of his way to say horrible things to get a rise out of me, because he thought it was funny to see me get upset and angry. At the time I was a math major in college and I was the only girl in my program. I was being harassed by my classmates (I stuck out even beyond being female- I love makeup and fashion and I was socialized to behave very femininely too) and even one of my professors. I would try to talk to my dad about it and he would dismiss what I was saying without listening, and go into troll mode. And he wouldn’t let up. It was always end up with me crying and telling my dad I hate him, I would try to get away from him because I was so upset, and he would follow me into my room and corner me. The only way to get him to stop would be just like shutting down, becoming silent, not making eye contact, just waiting for him to go away. One time I made it to my room in time to slam the door in his face. He broke into my room, grabbed me by my face, and said he was going to punch me if I didn’t apologize for slamming the door. He wouldn’t let go of my face until I apologized. It was humiliating. I hated my dad for years until I moved.

    My dad didn’t even vote for trump. He is a lifelong democrat, albeit the blue collar/white man/labor union kind. Even he was devastated by trump’s win. The entire rest of my family is rabidly conservative. And I have never fit in with them. They live in Michigan and I live in Washington now. I know it is my responsibility as a white person to try to educate my white family, but how? I recognize that I have so much privilege, but no one in the world makes me feel less respected than my own family. My best friend’s family does the same thing, so I thought people here have experienced this too.

    Does anyone here have family who acts like this? Have you been able to reach them in any way? Whenever I have these conversations I always end up feeling like I’m a stupid person, and it seems like the other person is actually more racist. I have decided to just wait for them to die and if they leave me anything I will donate it all to an anti racist organization. But if anyone has any ideas to get them to even listen to my ideas so we could have a conversation like the one in the original post I would like to try.

    I have never posted a comment here but I lurk a lot. Reading what you all say, and how supportive you are of each other has helped me a lot, even though I have not participated. Thank you all.

    • Zelly said:

      It is your place to educate where you can, using what privilege you have. It does not have to be your own family, which sounds abusive in this comment. This is where the set a boundary and hold that boundary despite awkward comes in as a tactic. You might not educate them but you will let them know where you stand and make them do the emotional labor of making things less awkward. If even that is dangerous do you have a strong reason tp attend? Could you instead go to a “friendsgiving” or something else more enjoyable?

    • Madison said:

      You are focusing on your privilege as a white person and not seeing that as a daughter speaking to her dad, you are also the target of a person with more privilege. This is a place where you do not have the influence of equality, unfortunately. When you are speaking to your dad about sexism, you are a part of the marginalized group that you are advocating for. When you are speaking to your dad about racism, you are still a young woman talking to an older male. Therefore, you have not been afforded the respect necessary to have influence with him. And in fact, it increases your chances of experiencing personal violence for speaking up (as you have already experienced). Your safety is important too! In this situation, it is NOT your ‘responsibility.’ Just because you are white, that does not mean that all white people will treat you as an equal. There are white women, white transgender people, white lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, white immigrants, white people who belong to minority religions and Atheists/Agnostics, disabled white people, white people who live in poverty, white people who are uneducated, white people who are homeless or unemployed, and all of these people are on unequal footing when it comes to dealing with a white male, cisgender, straight, natural-born U.S. citizens, Protestants (or someone can pass as one), abled, financially-secure, higher class, university-educated, securely employed persons, or a white person who is in a position of power (such as a boss). Even age can be a factor. Unfortunately, just being white doesn’t automatically endow us with All The Privilege. Intersectionality is A Thing That Exists. It is not your job to educate All the White People on Every Axis of Privilege about All Forms of Inequality. It is our job to influence and educate who we can, where we can, when we can. But sometimes, in some places, with some people, we just can’t. It is not your fault for being someone with less privilege and influence in certain areas. It is not your fault that some people – even if they do share your privilege – will not afford you the necessary respect to hear what you have to say. If your dad won’t hear you, because he doesn’t respect you as an equal (or see you as an authority), then save your efforts for people who will. Those people are out there.

    • Halpful said:

      *jedi hugs*

      what Madison said. pick your battles 🙂

    • Somebody who breaks into your room and threatens to punch you if you don’t submit is not somebody you can reason with.

      • I have to agree with cinderkeys. That is not a safe person to have a meeting of the minds with, if you are not permitted to have boundaries and you have been physically restrained and forced to recite an apology script. You do not have to risk your own safety or peace of mind in this way. Stick to people who will converse with you respectfully, or at least who won’t leap over (or through) your boundaries and grab you and demand you to perform subservience rituals to appease them.

    • LilyR said:

      I’m in a similar boat (grew up in Michigan, moved to East Coast city, family still in Michigan) and I also struggle with whether and how to engage my family, especially when I don’t see them often and doubt I have much political credibility with them. After the election, I put together a FB post that I tried to make as non-partisan as possible expressed why I was scared and worried: Trump’s cabinet picks, the spike in harassment, etc. The only action I asked for was for people to pay attention, and consider calling their representatives specifically to express concern about teh appointment of white nationalist Steve Bannon.

      I also cited as wide a variety of sources as possible (10-15 different newspapers and websites) to try to combat the prevalence of fake news. My goal was not so much to change minds (that’s a long-term project) as to make it clear that reasonable people have good cause to be concerned; they can have and express doubts about Trump’s actions since the election without turning in their “conservative” credentials; point them toward new information sources that might not immediately be dismissed as “liberal bias”

      You do what works for you ❤ every little bit helps. I'm also happy to hear suggestions on this topic

    • Hannah, I had to double check to make sure I did not write this post. My dad was the same way. Stubborn, mean/emotionally abusive just to get a rise out of me when I had something I cared about, unbelievably racist, sexist, and homophobic, but believed himself to be very socially liberal and open-minded.

      You did a great job trying to stand up to him and it’s not your fault he didn’t change his mind. Some people have closed their hearts to the possibility that they might be wrong about anything, and that is not a place of useful negotiation to start from. You can do your best to protect yourself emotionally and physically from these situations (if you MUST interact, can you text a like-minded friend during the visit? I used to do this a lot!) and hold your ground by refusing to engage and finding a way to keep cool. I know how hard it is when you feel the blood boiling in your veins, but your dad WANTS to make you angry so he can feel good about himself. Don’t let him win. Appeal to other family members if you think they may be of help.

      It’s a drastic approach, and has its own consequences, but your father’s feelings for you may be a point of leverage. You can threaten to break contact or not come home for visits or holidays unless he can control himself. However, you MUST be prepared to follow through on that if you choose that route.

      Hugs, you’re not alone.

  13. And sometimes family will surprise you in good ways. It’s okay to hope.

    I felt some trepidation about discussing police violence last year with an older-than-me, wealthy, conservative white relative, but he totally agreed on the subject; specifically that the profession attracts a) people who want to help people and b) bullies who want power/authority. He’d had a nasty encounter with the latter when he was younger and seen it firsthand. He mouthed off and walked away but recognized that things would have gone very differently for someone else.

  14. Hollis said:

    Apologies if this is too off-topic, but does anyone have any tips for the following situation?:

    You have family members A and B. You feel that B is unpersuadable, have never really liked them anyway, and do not want to have a relationship with them at all anymore. You feel that A is also unpersuadable, but much less egregious, and because you are closer to A, you still want to have a relationship with A. A wants to have a relationship both with you and with B. You don’t want to hurt A (or at least, you want to minimize the pain you cause as much as possible). How do you break the news to A? How do you tell A stuff like, “I respect your right to continue to have a relationship with B, but I refuse to be in the same room as B ever again” or “If B is at Christmas dinner, I won’t be”?

    • DerpKitten said:

      I’m afraid that telling A stuff like, “I respect your right to continue to have a relationship with B, but I refuse to be in the same room as B ever again” or “If B is at Christmas dinner, I won’t be” will damage the relationship you have/want to have with A. While you’re entitled to feel whatever your feelings are toward B, A also is entitled to their feelings. You can simply tell A, “I find being around B is too distressing for me to tolerate, so I’m sorry I won’t be able to come to Christmas dinner. However, can we perhaps have coffee/lunch/dinner at some other time during the holidays? I really do want to spend some time with you.” This keeps A from feeling like you don’t respect A’s relationship with B while at the same time making it clear that you do not and will not countenance being in the same space as B.

      I have an older relative who is incredibly negative and toxic on a variety of subjects. After having put up with this relative for years, I finally decided I would no longer invite this person to my home and would not attend functions being hosted by this person. I know that I have no right to dictate to other members of the family who they can and cannot invite to their homes, so if I know that both I and this relative have been invited to mutual relative’s home, I will usually excuse myself unless the gathering is so large that I can have a reasonable expectation of being able to avoid the negative person. Although many relatives have played the “but FAAAAAAAAMILY!” card repeatedly, they have been brought to the realization that I have the right to choose my associations (and several have admitted to me privately that they wish they had the nerve to cut this relative off).

      Would it be possible to go to A’s house and simply ignore B as if they were not even present? You may want to ask A if they would find such a situation to be too awkward to handle, and let their response help you decide what to do. If you can ignore B completely – not even a brief greeting – it may be that B will become so obnoxious that it will be obvious to everyone that B is the one who is bringing the awkward, not you.

      I hope you will be able to find a solution that works for you. Families can be the best or the worst, and we don’t always get lucky. Jedi hugs if you want them.

  15. My 2 cents:

    I think it is important to keep in mind is that it’s not possible to prove something by invoking principles the other person is not familiar with. I cannot reason about trans rights by invoking anything about intersectional feminism or gender as a construct because those are theories developed to approximate reality, which my conversation partner needs to be able to understand and accept. And perhaps there isn’t enough time to delve into them.

    But I can perhaps say that there is all sorts of possible ways for people to be and even if they look ‘strange’, they have the right to walk safe and night, and mention the violence I’ve witnessed when I’m accompanying trans friends as a reason for why they need extra consideration for their security. I am unsure if, when I do that, and throw the other person a bone by admitting that trans people can look strange, I could actually be doing harm? My reasoning is that, as a cis person, I am trying to empathize with the (privilege-based) alienation cis people can feel and tell them to look past it, instead of telling them they should not be feeling it. If a trans person thinks this is a wrong way to go about it, please let me know so that I can be a better ally.

    • sam said:

      I can’t speak for trans people, but I can tell you a slightly funny story about why, when trying to explain/logic with someone, particularly on a “101” level, it *is* definitely important to come at it from their perspective, rather than to throw a bunch of stuff at them that is just going to get their back up.

      A million years ago, otherwise known as the early/mid-1990s, I did clinic defense up in Buffalo, NY, where I went to college. Buffalo was a pretty significant target for Operation Rescue after Kansas City (and after I moved away, the doctor at the clinic I defended/escorted at was actually murdered). One particularly “active” day, a protester was screaming at me that “Jesus died for my sins and I was going to hell”. I, being a snarky college student, calmly told this man that I was jewish, didn’t believe in either Jesus or hell, and that if he wanted to convince me I was wrong, he was going to have to use a different argument because threats of eternal damnation in the name of a religion that had no sway over me were not actually threats. I could literally see him doing the math of this in his head for about five minutes, and then he turned back to me, and said…”well that’s all well and good, but Jesus still died for your sins and you’re still going to hell.”

      So that was a failure of communication on many levels. I’m not saying that anything he said was going to convince me, because, well, look at the circumstances, but I was LITERALLY giving him a roadmap on who *I* was and how to make an argument to *me* as person with my own perspective, rather than just trying to scare me with an argument that I was telling him WAS NOT SCARY, and he couldn’t do it.

      Here’s the thing – I don’t think we’re going home planning to rant at anyone. But we all genuinely believe that we’re right on the merits (and we are!). The thing is – that guy did too. He just couldn’t get out of his own head in order to even put together an explanation that someone else could hear. Don’t be that guy – if your entire argument boils down to “you’re wrong, I’m right” (even if you’re using bigger, fancier words), you will lose.

      You DO need to sit in the headspace of the person who is uncomfortable, or resistant, or hostile. You need to do that to figure out where the cracks in THEIR logic are.

    • NotWhoYouExpected said:

      Hey, trans person here! And I pass pretty darned well for a much much younger cis guy (I’m 45 and I regularly get carded). The only people who misgender me these days are the ones who knew me before transition. I would ask you to consider using “different” or “not what you expect” rather than “strange.” They both acknowledge that some extra cognitive work needs to be done on the part of the person with privilege, but one puts the onus on the underrepresented person and one puts it where it belongs, though gently.

  16. I would love if we could have an open thread on Thanksgiving for solidarity and support (or just to report the unbelievable things that our relatives say). I am dreading Thanksgiving this year and feel like the only thing that will get me through it is if, instead of bracing myself for the ignorant comments that may be made, I could mentally reframe as, “I wonder if they’ll say something so unbelievable I can contribute to the thread!”

    • JenniferP said:

      Done!

      • D’aw, thanks, Captain!

      • Vicki said:

        I can’t find the open thread; the most recent thing tagged with “Open Thread” is from last December.

        • JenniferP said:

          I haven’t made it yet. Tomorrow.

  17. Wingardium Furiosa said:

    Thank you for this post. I think that speaking up to other white people is everything right now. We are where we are now because we haven’t spoken up enough against oppression that we don’t experience. I can think of so many times in the past year and before where I didn’t speak up, and I regret it so much. I should have taken it more seriously.

    One of the times I regretted was here, on a post instructing men on how to support women in jobs where we’re underrepresented. (For reference, I’m a white cis woman. She/her.) That part was good. But Black women have systemically and repeatedly endured harm and abuse from white women at work. White women have colluded and enabled harm to Black women by men. There is extensive writing at Gradient Lair on this topic, to name just one site.

    There is generally little to no recourse for Black women experiencing this harm. In the threads that followed, I thought we should also ask white women readers to find ways to support Black women colleagues, or to support Black women’s access to career development. I didn’t actually say anything though. I cringe to think how much I’ve been quiet. No more. And regardless of who they voted for.

    I agree that it is most important to stay, resist and refute harmful words aimed toward oppression we don’t personally experience. The only thing I do not agree with here is the idea that white Jews often don’t experience white privilege – they do. Ask Black Jews their experiences of repeated microaggressions/ full-on aggressions at predominantly white synagogues. It’s not pretty, and they’re not isolated experiences. White Jews can experience anti-Semitism but still enjoy, benefit from, and exploit white privilege.

    As far as when to speak up: if, for example, a relative or acquaintance starts saying abusive, fat-hating things and you experience fat oppression, I don’t think you’re obligated to stick it out with them.

    But otherwise, white people have to stop being silent and enabling racism. More white women voted for Trump than for the rest of the field combined. Those voters had more fear of losing their whiteness and privilege than they did of a culture that’s ok with sexual harassment and assault. To paraphrase another writer: they’d rather be white and assaulted than not white.

    Realize also that these voters will give more legitimacy to what we are saying as white people than they will to people of color, and use your voice to de-normalize racist comments and assertions.

    For some further discussion and actions, here are links to articles on white racial comfort; white fragility; and a storify I made on actions for white people, from another user’s TL and with her permission.

    (I hope these hyperlinks work, links below in case not.)

    https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-fragility-why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism-twlm/
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anna-kegler/the-sugarcoated-language-of-white-fragility_b_10909350.html

    • mossyone said:

      ‘One of the times I regretted was here, on a post instructing men on how to support women in jobs where we’re underrepresented. (For reference, I’m a white cis woman. She/her.) That part was good. But Black women have systemically and repeatedly endured harm and abuse from white women at work. White women have colluded and enabled harm to Black women by men. There is extensive writing at Gradient Lair on this topic, to name just one site.’

      This is very important. It reminds me of something I saw from tumblr user wretchedoftheearth (a black woman)- to paraphrase the post it was something like: ‘it’s funny when white women complain about when men bump onto them or won’t move out of the way on the street, because white women do the same thing to me all the time.’ It’s a real wake up call for white women (inc.myself) that we don’t seem to have learned anything from the sexism we experience. In fact we do the same things to black women, probably without even realising. But that’s no excuse, and we need to be more aware. (Though, I think I remember the CA post you’re talking about and it really was addressed mainly to the men who wrote in, not the assumed non-black women being helped.)

      One thing about the Captain Awkward community-and I may be very wrong about this but I don’t think I am- I don’t think there are many black people here. Which is, of course, not the same as saying that everyone is white. I know for a fact they are not. But there is the question- why not more black people. I think it could be something like at the bisexual meetup I went to a few weeks ago, where they talked about not many men attending, and someone said ‘in groups like this, if there are already lots of men there, more will come, and if there’s majority women, more of them will come. Black online spaces tend to be very clearly and obviously black spaces. For example, you mention Gradient Lair, where Trudy was always very clear that she was curating a space for black women, first and foremost, with secondary interest in reaching other POC and other black people. I think this is an issue of safety and relevance, Trudy’s talked about that a lot as well. Maybe I’ll look for the links later.

      Hope this makes sense, might add to it when I’m not at work.

      • Wingardium Furiosa said:

        Hi! Thanks for your reply. I worked a lot last weekend too (even though it was a holiday in the U.S.)

        Yep, completely agree about our wake-up call. And yep, I think that it’s the same post we’re remembering. It did address men, but any time we reply as women and don’t include the experiences of Black women, Native women, WoC…then we’re only focusing on how white women are harmed; we evade responsibility for the harm we cause.

        If a topic is about supporting women, then we should be strategizing to actively support ALL women. Centering Black or Native women will include sexism that white women also experience (and can help tremendously in understanding sexism) – in addition to intersecting with racism. So we as white women have nothing to lose by centering Black women.

        I think it’s not so much about attracting X number of Black readers to the site, as it is about making changes to be supportive to Black women and WoC readers generally.

        My understanding of the Black womanist spaces online that I frequent is that white people generally shouldn’t engage in the conversation or comments. There are a couple of insightful exceptions but when in doubt, close the mouth. Talk to other white people if you’re feeling defensive. I’m here for this!

        And, if we read a lot or learn from the writer’s unpaid work, then absolutely shell out some cash to them. “Learning” is not code for plagiarism, which happens too frequently on non-academic, non-institutional-affiliated, personal sites. I could certainly be wrong, but I haven’t seen requests for white people to never visit a site.

        I don’t know if that’s a departure from your musings, hope it’s useful in some way.

  18. Jackalope said:

    Okay, so here’s a question: I have a close family member who has spent most of his life being the top of the heap, so to speak. You know, white, straight, Protestant, middle-class cis male, no disabilities, etc., etc. He is one of those people who is not knowingly prejudiced (for the most part) and would never say something like, “We should totally build a wall,” but is blind to the concept of privilege because for the majority of his life he has had none of those issues (he’s getting older and I think is experiencing some issues now because of that, but nothing before this) and has no frame of reference to see that his experience isn’t the norm.

    So he wasn’t a Trump supporter (not sure how he voted, didn’t ask), but is now convinced that everyone who is afraid is just crying out needlessly that the sky is falling, and everything will be fine once the dust settles. I tried to explain to him some of the things that are happening and he wouldn’t take me seriously. Either it’s an exaggeration or it will all blow over. Honestly, I hope he’s right and the people doing the nastier sorts of demonstrating right now will fade back into the woodwork, but I’m not seeing reason to believe that will be the case. (We also had this conversation just a couple of days after the election when I was still crying every day and heavily in the shock and emotional grief phase, and his response to that was more or less, “Oh, and here I thought you were upset about something IMPORTANT.” He didn’t actually say it in those words, but that’s the feeling I got.)

    What would you do in a situation like that? There’s nothing explicitly prejudiced about what he said (he might say, for example, that the stories I shared were true and they just happened to be the only 5 stories like that happening in the US, it’s just that they’re the ones that make the news), but… when he said that everything will be fine, I kept wanting to add, “For YOU. Not everyone is as lucky as you.” (But couldn’t. Because of not wanting to cry in public and had to hold it together.) How do you explain things to someone who doesn’t support Japanese-style internment camps for Muslims, thinks immigration is complicated and a wall won’t solve our problems, abhors sexual assault, AND thinks that no one else really thinks that either because he hasn’t experienced it? Or that it’s just a few isolated cases of people going overboard? Thoughts?

    Also, I just wanted to say thank you for pointing out that there are many groups that are rightfully afraid right now. I’ve heard a number of (white) people lecturing white people about how we have no skin in the game since we’re all going to be fine, and aren’t at risk. I have been concerned all along about Trump’s racism, and afraid for people in this country who have darker skin. I am especially concerned for immigrants of whatever kind (documented, undocumented, naturalized citizens), many of whom are in precarious situations right now. AND I am also concerned about the fact that while Trump has said terrible things about what he wants to do in the future to people of color (building a wall being the most iconic example), he has also BRAGGED about committing the crime of sexual assault against multiple women, and multiple women have confirmed that this is in fact the case. I have also heard of a case in my area where a woman was surrounded by a gang of men who assaulted her shortly after the election. I make my commute every day alone and there are lots of places where I could potentially be at risk. I know that being white is protecting me from some of the ugliness that’s happening, but some of it is directed towards other groups as well (women, members of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, etc.), and my whiteness doesn’t keep me from the risk of being sexually assaulted. (I understand that being a woman of color would put me at higher risk. And yet I’m still afraid.)

    • Dia said:

      I wonder if it would make a difference for him to read personal accounts and personal fears rather than what I gather from your comment were news stories. For example I got a really personal feel from the things I read on tumblr after the election. Reading people say “if insurance gets bad, I might actually not survive” or seeing screenshots of tweets where people are saying “hey if he can grab pussy and be president I can do whatever I want to women” and people’s worried reaction to that, or “my community is having to talk to our children about what to do if we get deported” really drives it home in a way that a less personal news story doesn’t.

      For me though I do spend a lot of time reading stuff like that as opposed to news stories, so I may be feeling a connection that someone might not get after being shown only a few things, but it might help some?

%d bloggers like this: