I just finished listening to a fantastic podcast from Poly in the Cities with Kevin Patterson from Poly Role Models. Turns out white folks in the poly community routinely try to tell Kevin Patterson about his experience as a Black person: When Kevin names race in conversations with some poly folks and event or group organizers, it all too often turns in to an adversarial interaction instead of a collaborative discussion.
White people in poly communities and elsewhere, please listen to a sister white woman who is flawed and still invested in equality: We are not doing well enough at addressing race in US society. From education to health care to (in)justice, the poly community is not the only place we see evidence of white people failing to deal with race in any realistic or direct way. When the liberal white people are too afraid to talk about race, the only white people who will speak of it out loud are the white supremacists, which makes racism seem all the more fringe. In truth, racism is everywhere, deeply embedded in the social structures and institutions of the US.
How can you avoid being one of those white people who argue as if they know POC’s experience better than the POC do? How can you be an ally instead of part of the problem? Try these five not so simple steps, and keep practicing becuse it can be challenging. You may not be perfect at first, and that is OK. Keep trying!
- Set your defensiveness aside — Discussion of race and white privilege do not have to be about white people and our egos. Evidence that you are becoming defensive includes a desire to rebut what your conversation partner so strong that it distracts you from hearing what they are saying. If you are searching for flaws in your opponent’s argument, it means that you are not collaborating with your conversation partner if they are your opponent, and you are not truly open to what they are saying because you are not listening. You can be an ally even if you have been an “inactive beneficiary”* of the white privilege surrounding you as long as you can set aside your need to “win the conversation.”*
- Listen — This means more than just keeping your own mouth shut. This means really listening to and thinking about what the other person is saying, rather than formulating your rebuttal. If you are not sure what to say or how to say it, listen for a while and clarify your thoughts. If you are tempted to interrupt — especially to correct or disagree with your conversation partner’s explanation of their own experience or areas of expertise — take a deep breath and keep your mouth closed. This can be difficult for white folks who have always been very verbal and used to people listening to them.
- Educate Yourself — Do not expect people of color to educate you about racism — that is exhausting for them and inappropriate for you. There are books, websites, podcasts, and You Tube presentations on white privilege (be aware of the white power folks on You Tube who also engage with the term, they are coming from a very different philosophical orientation than this blog). Plus, Google exists. Take some self-responsibility for your education and start expanding your envelop. Tim Wise is a great place to start. If you are in Atlanta, come to the Sex Down South Conference and see my presentation on Thursday October 13, How White People Can Be Allies to POC in AltSex Communities. You can also check out my blogs on using the term white privilege and some of the benefits of being uncomfortable about race .
- Acknowledge White Privilege — Out loud, every time you can, with your family, friends, grocers, neighbors, and strangers on the street. To successfully acknowledge the (very blatant, once you start looking for it) evidence of white privilege in your social environment, you have to recognize it yourself. Educating yourself on white privilege helps you to recognize it as well.
- Lean to Tolerate Racial Discomfort — Race is uncomfortable in the US, and white people have been able to shift that discomfort on to people of color for far too long. It is going to be profoundly uncomfortable for white people to talk about race — and that is OK, we should still do it with open hearts and open minds. People of color have been beyond uncomfortable with the effects of racism, and is past time for white people to share that load of social discomfort and change. Take a deep breath and use your relationship skills to work on your relationship with race.
- Quotes from Kevin Patterson on the Poly in the Cities podcast