10 Unhelpful Ways Liberals React to My Recent Story of Racism (Your BLM Signs, in Metropolitan areas, Are Cute)

A handful of days ago, I wrote a blog post chronicling my run-in with racism in a small, rural town on Lake Superior in Wisconsin. My main takeaway was the posts’ eponymous title: You keep your Spotted Cow, I’ll keep my life.

I shared the post on Instagram and Facebook (an online mom’s group, my personal page), and it’s been shared by two other people in a few other social forums.

In terms of people who think of themselves as allies, or non-racists at least, reactions can be broken down into 10 different categories – most of which are not helpful. 

1 | Silence 

I’ve noticed that many Facebook family and friends have not commented on the narrative. I don’t know how to interpret the silence. Especially when it comes from dozens of people I know who regularly post anti-Trump, anti-racism posts and who attend anti-racist workshops. 

Working hypotheses I have include: 

  • —Guilt (White guilt)
  • Bystander Guilt – because they know they would not have spoken up or acted out on my behalf. In racial inclusivity workshops, White allies are all taught “If you see something, say something”. But no one is ever taught what that “say something” sounds like. People are conflict averse. People value manners. People don’t want to interject themselves into hostile situations.
  • —White Discomfort. White Discomfort, a term I heard coined on a podcast by one of Trevor Noah’s correspondents, is real. I imagine that some people who read my narrative are writhing in it. White Discomfort means you avoid confronting or approaching racism in ways that make you feel threatened or embarrassed or scared. Telling an unhinged racist man, who’s castigating a Somali woman in a hijab at Walmart to “F-ck off” is not something we want to do or know how to do. Fighting racism shouldn’t mean having to put your personal comfort, mental health, or safety at risk. That burden is to be born exclusively by POC.
  • —White Comfort. We approach racism, as a White Ally, in comfortable and non-threatening ways. Some examples include #BLM signs in the lawn of your (mostly) all-White neighborhoods. Discussing To Kill a Mockingbird in your church book club. Sponsoring a family from Togo. Being disgusted when you hear a story about racism being recounted. And chiming in with a story of racism that you witnessed. Not because you did anything to intervene and make it better (because you didn’t), but because you want to (virtue) signal your sympathy and your ally-ship.
  • —Fear of Saying the Wrong Thing. People don’t want to talk about race or racism, because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing and being misconstrued as a racist. I kind of get it. It’s happened to me; I’ve been called out for being anti-Black because my words (that I could have chosen better) were misconstrued. But sometimes in order to be an ally, you have to risk losing your ally status. That’s something I’ve learned. Being misunderstood 10, 15, or 100 times and being thought a racist is still a luxury compared to the everyday experience of many POC in the US.
  • — Feeling Angry or Called Out by Words in My Post or the Comment Thread. I’m guessing a fair number of people are feeling offended, and wrongly maligned, by my observations about Race, White Comfort, and White Discomfort. For example, I know that one of my college best friends choose to be an “anti-racist warrior” by educating people in social media threads but he will not confront or engage in real life.

Silence has been the most hurtful reaction – more hurtful than ignorant comments from non-intentional trolls. (See #4 and #5.) 

2 | Open Shock and Disgust 

90% of readers, the majority of whom identify as White Liberals, have expressed shock and disgust that I experienced such unabashed, bald-faced racism. They weren’t aware racism like that (still) existed in America.

This saddens me. And yet I am also aghast at how much I was stunned, too. I also did not know that this type of racism still existed.

I didn’t think people would baldly hate you because of your melanin.

Yes, I know that Black people are dying because of their race.

But with pretext.

I had thought there was always a pretext. Like you were trespassing, or driving 3 mph above the speed limit, or seemed like a burglar, or disclosing you had a gun on your person when pulled over.

I had also thought that this level of pretextual racist ire was reserved for Blacks, non-English speaking LatinX, and women wearing hijabs. I didn’t think culturally White Asian women, wearing Gap and Old Navy and in-grouped with blond-haired, White companions, bore the brunt of that type of racial hate.

3 | Anger and Disbelief 

In at least one online forum, people have responded with shock and disbelief. A moderator in one group turned off comments and said that she received messages telling her to take down my offensive, defamatory post.

A friend had shared it. I remain glad they did.

4 | An Assertion That I Am a Coward 

“Writeonetruesentence,” wrote one woman, “needs to be brave and say where this is. How are we to help if you are afraid to speak out.”

Gentle madam: What the AF would you do to help, with the courage that you insinuate I lack, to name the bar and town? Write a nasty, anonymous Yelp review?

And after you have “helped” at that particular bar and town, how will you advocate against racism in the 62,000 other bars that exist in America? 

5 | Condemnation of My Use of the Word “Chink” and “Colored” 

First, I have to say I find your own description “coloreds” disturbing. When I hear anyone referring to themselves or anyone they care about as “bitches”, “niggers” or, as in your case, “coloreds”, I don’t understand that. I have yet to hear an explanation for that, so if you have one, I’m all ears.

That’s one comment I’ve read. 

There are other people who share this White Woman’s sentiment. I find her use of the N-word, without changing it to n-ggers, to be disturbing and disgusting. She’s not Black.

I used the word “Chink” and “Coloreds” to describe how the particular people in my narrative feel about me and about other people of melanin. And how hostile and uncomfortable those words, and the attached sentiment are. 

I’m not offering an explanation for the all-ears woman who inquired. 

Stay in your lane, Karen. It’s not your place to be offended. 

If you hear another White person using these words, in a derogatory way (i.e. “No offense, but there are a lot of Coloreds who go there”), feel free to correct them. 

If I share with you a story about how racist people treat “coloreds”, there is intention behind that word choice. And as a non-White, I have a right to re-use a word that racists use to reference me.

I want to say more, but it’s not my job to educate you. How can you learn if I/we don’t teach you? Use Google. Watch documentaries. Read the biographies and autobiographies and recorded accounts of BIPOC. Listen to your BIPOC friends. Listen without interjecting and centering yourself. Leslie in Accounting, who you’ve gone to Happy Hour with twice, is not your friend. Make BIPOC friends who have BIPOC families and live in BIPOC communities.

It’s not your place to have an opinion on when Black people call each other the N-word or take issue with words I use to narrate how I’ve experienced racism. Take your opprobrium and apply that vigor to something that will actually help BIPOC people and their communities.

6 | Anger and Offense That I’m Angry and Offended 

I’ve had a White family member tell me they are angry and offended that I am angry and offended that this happened. 

Their viewpoint is quite definite. “This was a totally predictable occurrence. This is what small-town America is like everywhere. I’m angry and offended that you’re angry and offended. How could you not expect this?” 

I was also told, “This is why I don’t go to bars. This is what happens when you go to bars.”

By their logic, I shouldn’t be more angry and offended today than I was a month ago, weeks before that racist incident unfolded. Because the amount of racism in America has not altered. Thus my response shows how naive and stupid and hypocritical I am.

7 | Remarks that Racism is a Natural, Human Evolution Designed to Keep Us Safe 

Now, gentle reader, un-clutch those pearls. I don’t disagree. As humans, we are wired to fear outsiders. It’s kept us alive as a species for over 200,000 years (or 6,000 years depending on your view of creation.)

Lions and tigers and bears are ominous. Humans are terrifying. For eons, foreigners in your midst meant your community was under siege. You were being raped and pillaged. Humans are programmed to fear strangers and to “other” other people

Jesus’ talk about showing hospitality to strangers was radical. It was a life-and-death risk to break bread with community outsiders. 

This doesn’t excuse racism. But it underlines how deeply embedded it is in us to fear outsiders. Race should not be how we “other” other people, but it’s often the most visible display of one’s alien status. 

Yes, when a POC is experiencing racism directly they want you to say something on their behalf. Your silence shows your complicity. Speak up and say it’s not ok.

8 | Sharing Their Learnings from Diversity and Inclusion Workshops at Work or Church 

This has come from multiple quarters. I’ve openly bemoaned how (self-identifying) White Liberal Allies aren’t actually serving as Allies in a useful way. 

Some have told me, with great confidence (that I envy) that the way to defeat racism is to believe people of color when they say they have experienced racism, to always say something when you see it happen, and to role model good behavior for children.

Well hot damn. 

I know that educating me on how they’ve been trained to respond to racism is meant to be helpful. It’s from such a kind place. 

But I, too, have received the training for this multi-pronged approach. I’ve learned it in college and a couple of workplaces. If you’ve attended a liberal arts college, or had a workplace “committed to diversity”, you’ve heard a similar version too.

The problem is I’ve never actually seen anyone “say something” – unless it was to a close friend or to a family member when there was no threat of discomfort or abuse. Words like, “Dude, that’s not funny. Come on, that’s racist.”

Can we move beyond that? 

If I were White, I don’t think I would have the courage to actually “say something” to a stranger in defense of a POC. If I were White, I think I would have an All Are Welcome yard sign, BLM yard sign, a handful of progressive bumper stickers, and an NPR tote bag. Oh, and a requisite yard sign telling people that I believe Science is Real. I would probably have a pink pussy cap and go to BLM rallies, hoping for mini donuts and corn dogs. I would bring flowers to the George Floyd shrine a few miles away. A few times a year, I might make it a point to support a minority-owned business online.

But directly responding to racism I bare witness to? No thanks. Cos that’s, um, scary.

So I kind of get it. I think I would be performing actions to signal inclusive beliefs without doing anything that is helpful to a POC as they are experiencing racism

Intervening on George Floyd’s behalf could have got you killed. 

Telling a racist man at Goodwill (“No offense, Sweetheart, but you’re the reason why people don’t like immigrants”) that he is an abhorrent racist will likely not get you killed. But you already know this.

Maybe you can’t change them. Maybe you can’t shame them into not airing their racist views in public. Maybe they will freak out and berate you. There are always a thousand more reasons to do the comfortable thing instead of the right thing. 

If you are not going to speak up on my behalf, why are you pushing for diversity at work, or reading stories to uplift voices of people of color, or hanging an All Are Welcome sign on your lawn?

Maybe race and inclusion workshops should include scenarios where people roleplay what they will do and say. I don’t think they need to first use offensive, racist names. Maybe there’s a flashcard synopsis, and people say what they will do in that moment.

9 | Join Community Groups to Fight Back 

It’s been suggested that should be my response. That’s a great place to channel your frustration and your energy, trying to transform thoughts and prayers into public policy.

I feel like that’s what you do after you’ve had days or weeks or months and years to mull over an issue.

I am looking for on-the-spot ally-ship when the racism unfurls.

10  | Ugh – This is All Because of Trump 

Many White Liberals have told me this with great certainty. They are convinced the racism I experienced in Wisconsin is directly correlated to Trump. Racism has never been this bad. Our country has never been this bad. Racists have never felt so emboldened.

There is an increase in the reported incidents of racism that are happening now vs perhaps 20 years ago, but let’s be clear. Saying racism now is the worst it’s ever been, or that Trump was the most racist president ever, is utter nonsense. 

  • — Um slavery. We’ve had presidents who owned slaves.
  • — FDR supported the “Tuskegee Syphilis Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male”. In the name of research hundreds of Black men were allowed to die or suffer blindness and disfigurement, even after a cure became available.
  • — In the 1990’s, a series of court orders said desegregation (via busing) was no longer necessary because conservative and liberal Whites alike were opposed. (Busing was extremely effective at closing the racial achievement gap, even though it made it harder for parents to make PTA meetings or children to participate in extracurriculars further away from home.) Instead of Black children and other children of color receiving a more equitable education, White parents did not want their children “punished” by receiving a lesser education and suffering extra long bus rides. Schools are more segregated now than ever now.

As a kid, I was called “N-gger” by other children in my neighborhood and at school.

By around age 10, the racist name-calling stopped. Did my peers become less racist, or had they learned that social decorum dictated they conceal, or at least tamp down, their racist views? 

In the aughts, I would meet with daily racism when living abroad. Everyday people, in polite and publix society, would chink their eyes at me and ask where I was from. I was spat at and called a China girl. (Or however else one might translate, “On dirait une Chinoise.”)

Long before Trump was in office, I’ve been told it’s offensive to tell people that their country is racist. (As in describing the unwanted racialized attention I received while living there.)

Long before Trump, people have taken issue with how I define myself: American. Or sometimes Asian. I don’t identify as Korean. I’m not ashamed of my ethnicity, but I don’t have more ties or familiarity to Korea than my family members do to Germany (their biological ancestors’ country of origin.)

And come now. When a white man scowls at me on Memorial Day in a veterans’ cemetery, and tells me “My brother died in Vietnam…you shouldn’t be here”, why would telling him “I’m Korean” make it better? What is that man going to say? “My bad. We’re cool.”

I’m American. And it can be confusing, but we Americans don’t all look alike. 

Your BLM Signs Are Cute 

Cute might be too dismissive or disparaging a term. But having a BLM sign in your yard is not doing the work of being an Ally in any sort of meaningful way. 

It’s enabling you to be an Ally on your own terms. Or at least to declare your Ally status on your own terms. 

Frankly, I’m jealous. I’ll admit it. 

I’m jealous you get to be an Ally on your terms. 

I don’t get to be a person of color on my terms. 

You get to be an Ally in ways that are easy and safe and that feel good. You want to lighten the load of BIPOC people everywhere, but you don’t have to (want to) carry any of the weight or assume any of the risk. 

It’s a loaded statement, but it makes me think DAMN. No wonder so many Jews in Europe had to die. 

We Don’t Need a Reckoning on Racism; We Need a Plan on How to Respond to It 

Racism awareness or diversity workshops talk about racism in a really esoteric way. There are usually slides and bullets and workshops to help people understand White Privilege (in a way that causes minimal White Discomfort). 

And then there’s the multi-prong approach: Believe BIPOC, See Something and Say Something, and Be a Good Role Model. 

That’s like Critical Race Theory 101, or maybe Theoretical Racism 110. 

We need Applied Racism 101.

What will you do when you see someone being aggressed because of their race or ethnicity or gender or religion while it’s happening? 

I appreciate that so many people share my indignation and are outraged; I do. I am glad that you see racism happening. That’s why you have BLM signs. Or share anecdotes of racism you’ve seen; you want to corroborate these stories and bear witness.

But we need more than witnesses. We need people of pallor who can intervene, or at least say something. A defined path of action you will take, as an Ally, is a part of the solution.

Maybe it’s giving someone a tongue lashing.

Maybe it’s a “That’s not ok, that’s racist” to the speaker or aggressor. 

Maybe it’s saying “not ok” to the aggressor, and asking their target if they would like you to say something to the manager, or leave a review, or walk them to their car.

Even if your response causes a bigger scene and does nothing to lessen the racism in the world, you’re letting me, and other BIPOC, know that you aren’t going to stand by and do nothing. That is a very meaningful gesture that you have to extend.